Giving due precedence to the set psalm, the title above should read ‘Psalms 50 and 33’. However, you can read about 50 in a blog in February 2015. This post looks more at 33 which has not been covered previously.
This is a song of praise, one of the few in the first two books of the psalter. It reads as an immediate response to the final verse of the previous psalm 32, calling for the faithful to be glad and rejoice.
On reading this broad-ranging psalm you would think it had been fully discussed before. So many themes appear familiar from other songs (only one of many examples listed in brackets):
- Praise with harp, psaltery and lyre (Ps. 49)
- Sing a new song (96)
- God loves righteousness and justice (146)
- Let all who dwell in the earth stand in awe (111)
- A ruler is not saved by a big army (76)
- We set our hope in God who is our shield (3)
One of the strengths of the psalms is this revisiting of precepts that are remote and hard to fathom, approaching from different angles or saying the same thing different ways. Just as there are two quite different creation stories in Genesis, different angles provide additive pictures of realities that are difficult to imagine. One set of words, however poetic, cannot capture the full depth of many eternal concepts.
Jazz. Fresh from a jam session last weekend (not the one depicted, which is Ben, Wayne and Mike at the National Press Club), I am struck by a similarity to improvised music. Musicians have a common tune and chord structure in mind but play riffs and variations that are never identical, always painting a new colouration or mood to suggest the underlying harmonies. Sometimes the soloist will make an excursion into a tonality that seems to be a discord, a diversion or tangent, then resolves the tension to return to the mainstream. This causes the audience to listen harder to how the story line is being developed and woven, catching a deeper understanding of the song.
Classical. Back in the classics, we find many settings of Psalm 33 or extracts for four and more voices. Perhaps because it is a song of praise whose scope encompasses many fundamental themes, composers have pulled out a few more stops.
- Andrea Gabrieli wrote a Latin setting for two choirs of five voices
- The more obscure Tiburtio Massaino (Augustinian monk, 1550-1609) took the same approach of 2 x 5.
- Hans Leo Hassler wins the stops-out prize with one in German for four choirs of SATB (Exultate, justi, in Domino, published in Nuremberg 1615).
- More modestly, a quartet by Schütz caught my attention as it is chock full of hemiolae; the piece slips constantly between triple and duple metre, two groups of three beats alternating with three beats of two. This would be fun to sing, quartets, though English words would have to be provided to listeners somewhere:
Informal. In simpler style:
- The Everett refrain in The Emergent Psalter has characteristically relevant words using the last verse, and interesting chords
- The same can be said for PFAS 33A, on the same verse: ‘Let your loving-kindness be upon us as we have put our trust in you’ (Everett paraphrases to ‘constant love’ and nicely puts it into the present tense.)
- Even further into informality, Sinead has her own take on the song.