Psalm 147, 7 Feb 2021

The last five songs in the Psalter, with 147 nestled in the midst, are all songs of praise and thanksgiving, calling upon us to sing and, in some cases, break out instruments to blow, strum or thump.

Saturated with the awareness that divine creativity is an ever-present, ubiquitous active and sustaining force in the universe, the poem sets the first priority as people: gathering exiles, healing the broken-hearted, binding wounds.

Then the psalmist takes a giant leap to sketch an unexpected picture of the grandeur of the universe, yet with a concurrent intimate divine knowledge of each element:

God determines the number of the stars;
    and gives to all of them their names.

Throughout, the needs of people and things are interwoven. So dust off your lyre:

Sing to the God with thanksgiving;
    make melody to our God on the lyre.
God covers the heavens with clouds,
    prepares rain for the earth,
    makes grass grow on the hills.
God gives to the animals their food,
    and to the young ravens when they cry.
An ancient lyre from Egypt, probably 15C BCE. Neues Museum, Berlin


To review some of the many musical offerings on this lovely psalm, please see the home page ‘Psalm 147: Heal the wounded’ here>. The theme of joy and grandeur no doubt inspired many composers. A search for Lauda Jerusalem, for example, will immediately turn up lively settings by Monteverdi and Vivaldi.

Less likely to pop up, but worth the search, is this Vespers psalm setting by the Spanish composer Tomas Luis de Victoria. It is presented here, appropriately, by a Spanish vocal quartet from Seville, La Columbina :

Why is this a mix of solo lines and short quartets? The cantor(s) in this tradition will sing the introit and even numbered verses, the choir or small group responding with the odd verses. So this setting by Victoria, whose crowning work was the wonderful Officium defunctorum of 1605, is for odd verses only.

Below is a snippet of the opening systems (full score here>; note that, in a typical trick in Renaissance music, verse 3 is sung by a trio without bass.) And listen for the clear cantus (soprano) note in the word tuum in bar 3.

At South Woden, Psalm 147 may not make it into the programme. We gather to recall the many years of music and fellowship in a last hurrah before amalgamation to form the Woden Valley Uniting Church. We shall reprise a men’s quartet version of Psalm 23, El señor es mi pastor (PFAS 23I).

Psalms 23, always popular, will also appear with a revisit to Paul Kelly’s Meet me in the middle of the air. Since we are in reminiscence mode, here’s the backstory. In 2014, the always innovative Rev. Rachel wrote to me:

… on 2nd November we will celebrate all saints and Thea’s baptism. I’d like to have lovely music for the service (as always!) … I’m playing around a little. On the 9th, there is this lovely reading in 1 Thessalonians 4* which they won’t be using.  I think we’ll pinch it for the 2nd. I thought we read it for all saints, and sing ‘Meet me in the middle of the air’.

Thea, where did those years go? Our heartfelt thanks for such contributions from Rachel and many others over the years to enrich our musical experience and stretch our horizons.

Elsewhere for Psalm 147, Together in Song 92, Sing to God with joy and gladness by John Bell might answer.


First image: ‘Starry Night’ by V van Gogh. Wikimedia commons

* 1 Thess. 4:17: ‘We … will be caught up in the clouds together with them to meet the Lord in the air.’

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