Psalm 119A, 12 Feb 17

Aleph א

In words reminiscent of Psalm 1, the first section begins by inviting us to walk in God’s ways.

Happy are those whose way is blameless, who walk in God’s way. (v.1)

Ps.119:1 in a 1450 Gregorian chant manuscript, Rice University
Ps.119:1 in a 1450 Gregorian chant manuscript, five-line staff, F clef on vellum. Rice University.

The preceding post discussed, perhaps inconclusively, what the divine way and the word of God might mean. It also listed some antiphons written for the whole of Psalm 119 rather than individual sections.

A good dozen classical settings are listed against this first section Aleph or just the first verse, a few for SATB but most for 5, 6 or more voices. The Latin incipit of this first verse quoted and illustrated above goes :

Beati immaculati in via

A search reveals several other motets, some listed against Psalm 119, others as separate compositions but clearly using the same text. Tomas Luis di Victoria used this text for his sole composition on this long psalm. On it is listed in his works as a ‘manuscript’ rather than one of his vespers psalms; and a note says it may not be by Victoria anyway. Another such (illustrated below) is a setting for seven voices by a leading Lutheran composer from Thuringia in Germany, Johann Walter (1496-1570, about 50 years before Victoria).Ps119a JohWalter

In more modern settings:

  • Everett introduces the first of his series of additive antiphons in TEP. These are built on two sets of couplets with repeating tunes. This first couplet is backed by alternating D minor and C chords for the first line. The same tune continues for line two for ease of learning, but musical depth is added by changing the backing chords to Bb and A minor.
  • Meanwhile in PFAS, the single song allocated to Aleph is a nice refrain and metrical verses by Lucien Deiss (1921-2007) a French liturgist and composer of many chants.
  • The setting in TiS dips in to sample several sections in a mixed salad.
  • Keeping what may well be the best wine to last, the refrain in New Century Hymnal is short and sweet: “Teach me O God the way of your statutes.” This quote is actually from verse 33, and is one of those generic refrains that is used in NCH and other psalters (see PFAS 119B to E) for all Lectionary selections whenever they arise.

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