Psalm 24, 11 July 2021

Psalm 24 appears to be a gradual or entrance song, as the people ascend to the ‘hill of God’. It opens by declaring divine ownership of the creation, then asks who then can enter holy places?

Domini est terra, et plenitudo ejus (The earth is the Lord’s, and all that therein is); Verse 1 of Psalm 24 in the Rutland Psalter, British c. 1260. British Library MS 62925

The answer is ‘those with clean hands and a pure in heart’. In more general terms, a response to glorious creation — ‘founded firm upon the rivers of the deep’ — should include holiness. Verse 6 brings the additional insight that this might include whose who seek the ‘face’, the presence and influence, of the God of Jacob.

The psalm then goes on to the familiar “Lift up your heads, O ye gates” section, made popular in some old hymns and in Handel’s rousing chorus in The Messiah. (More…)

‘Lift up your heads O gates.’ Looks like bits of these ones in Ephesus have already been lifted.

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As intimated above Psalm 24, with its declaratory style as though entering a grand ceremony, has been a favourite for song settings. Assuming you can’t roll out the Handel oratorio, there are two in Together in Song. No 12 is the old hymn, while the responsorial No 13 is best done by a small choir, not recommended under the present face-mask régime.

Turning to the five settings in Psalms for All Seasons, we find that 24E is an old Israeli folk melody. This arrangement by Duba and Ferguson is similar to, but not identical with, the Betty Pulkingham arrangement in TiS 279, The King of glory comes. Convenient. While the tunes are essentially identical, the arrangements have different names — TiS has a tag. In any event, this tune will be well known and it swings along nicely. The words in TiS 279 refer to but do not follow the psalm.

Acknowledging a very old antiphonal tradition, why not have two groups sing alternate verses? The poetry is, after all, almost always in couplets, leading Renaissance composers (notably Tomás Luis de Victoria, but for the vespers psalms which do not include Psalm 24) to write settings for only odd verses or only even verses, assuming a cantor or priest would chant the others. Left and right sides of the masked-up congregation can probably manage to replace that discountenanced bare-faced choir. The purity of the song tones may be compromised but the participants will have more fun.

The ‘Contrafactum’ note indicates that the text has been retrofitted to an earlier Tomkins madrigal, a not unusual procedure in earlier times and today.

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