Psalms 74, 75

Book 3, as mentioned previously, is the home of the songs of the musician Asaph. His first five are not included in the lectionary, the next five are.

Psalm 74

Psalms for all seasons offers but one setting, the well-known O come, Emmanuel (VENI EMMANUEL 88.88 with refrain). This is an interesting choice, since it uses ancient antiphons rather than the text of the psalm. In particular, it draws on the ‘O Antiphons’, named for the invocations:Male voices Vézelay

  • O Sapientia (O Wisdom)
  • O Adonai (O Lord)
  • O Radix Jesse (O Root of Jesse)
  • O Clavis David (O Key of David)
  • O Oriens (O Dayspring)
  • O Rex Gentium (O King of the nations)
  • O Emmanuel (O With Us is God)

In the Catholic tradition, these antiphons are sung at vespers during Advent. Here, the call upon God’s various names reflects the communal despair and lamentation of Psalm 74, particularly at the destruction of the temple, which leads Asaph to turn to God on behalf of the people.

PFAS usefully suggests using both verses and refrain of this hymn as congregational song, with the sections of verses spoken or chanted in between.(1) A combination of the haunting early French plainsong (2) and the early antiphonal references thus provide a conducive ‘music space’ in which to contemplate the messages of words and music.

15C clock, Basel museumJohn Blow (1648-1708) wrote a motet O God wherefore art thou absent, drawing on the ‘How long?’ theme in the first few verses (see also Psalm 13). It’s arranged for SSATB and basso continuo, so won’t be heard in many halls.

Psalm 75

This short psalm is one of thanksgiving for divine justice, with a reminder to the proud and powerful not to rely on their own achievements for prominence or praise. That justice, pictured as a common draught of mixed wine from which all shall drink, will be a great leveler.

The thoughtful approach of Psalms for all seasons mentioned above is continued here in the suggestion that the psalm is quite like the Magnificat (Luke 1). So PFAS includes a nice traditional Irish version of this song, My soul cries out, to the tune Star of County Down.


  1. There are various sets of words for this old hymn translated from a Jesuit collection in Latin, Psalteriolum Cantionum Catholicarum, published in Cologne in 1710. Other verses (such as O Wisdom) were added later. The translation in PFAS (Augsburg, 2006) shows some slight improvements over the version in Together in Song (Neale, 1851).
  2. British musicologist Mary Berry wrote in 1966 of a 15th century manuscript containing the melody in the National Library of France.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.