Psalm 127, vespers

This psalm of ascent asserts that ‘unless God builds the house, in vain the builders labour.’ And without divine protection over a city, the watchmen are wasting their time. The song is clearly worth consideration by anyone undertaking a new project.

Then there’s a sweet section about the joys of having children, said to be an inspiration behind some of the poetry in Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet.

monteverdi_vespersTomas Luis de Victoria wrote two settings of Psalm 127 (126 in the Vulgate) for 4 and 8 voices. One is for odd verses only as a vespers psalm, allowing for a priest or cantor to sing the even verses.

And speaking of vespers there is the great Vesperis in Festis Beata Mariae Vergine, usually just called the 1610 Vespers by Claudio Monteverdi. This is much broader in scope than just one psalm; indeed, the whole work revolves around six psalms. 127 is included in this wide-ranging composition, along with several other vespers psalms like 122, 137 and 147, calling for a choir of six or eight voices. These are all separated by a variety of lighter motets.

Virginal in the Berlin museum of instruments

Virginal in the Berlin museum of instruments

The 1610 Vespers is usually accompanied by harpsichord, basso continuo and such early instruments as are available — theorbo, portative organ, strings and reed or horn. The whole work takes about an hour and a half, last sung by your webmaster many years ago with the then Bromley Singers in London.

This is not one to cobble together with a few keen volunteers on short notice.

PFAS 127B is worth a look. The refrain is antiphonal and, being syncopated, might take a little learning. Verses are sung to a nice tone.

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