Psalm 24, 12 July 2015

'Lift up your heads', chorus in 1902 Novello edition of Handel's 'The Messiah'
‘Lift up your heads’, chorus in 1902 Novello edition of Handel’s ‘The Messiah’

Lift up your heads O ye gates,
and be ye lift up ye everlasting doors
and the King of Glory shall come in …

Thus opens this chorus half way through the second half of G F Handel’s oratorio The Messiah.

Following the structure of the poem, Handel chose to use this text from Psalm 24 antiphonally. A melodious trio by women’s voices (SSA) introduces these lines quite sweetly; mens’ voices then come in asking: ‘Who is this King of Glory?’ to be answered by the women: ‘The Lord stong and mighty’. By page 3, the combined chorus is in full swing — a harbinger of more fiery music to come as Handel moves towards Psalm 2 with two later choruses:

  • Why do the nations so furiously rage?
  • Let us break their bonds asunder.

If all that sounds familiar, you may also be thinking of the old hymn ‘Ye gates lift up your heads on high’ in various hymn books, including Together in song No 12, but also the old Scottish psalters, to the tune ST. GEORGE. Guess what? In this venerable arrangement, the men again get to sing: ‘But who of glory is the king?’ I wonder where A M Thompson got this idea from?

Ephesus: looks like bits of this one have already been lifted.
Ephesus: looks like bits of this one have already been lifted.

Something that often bothered me when I bothered more about things was what it all meant anyway? Gates and everlasting doors don’t have heads to lift up do they? And they should be just swinging open, albeit in grand style if they felt so inclined. You will have your own poetic images of this impressive welcoming ceremony.

And so to this week

Leaping with relief a couple of centuries ahead, we find more antiphonal settings in both PFAS and The emergent psalter — quite the thing, evidently:

  • PFAS 24E is a setting of a familiar Israeli tune (279 in TiS) The king of glory comes, the nation rejoices, with different words following the psalm text
  • Everett has used his typically innovative harmonies to write a simple but effective response with two lines that can be sung by two halves of the hall. Verses have been adapted to sing to the same tune – so our version will be responsorial as well as antiphonal!

Singers: let’s support David as he leads us this Sunday with the second of these fine offerings. All welcome, as usual.

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