Psalm 19, 23 Jan ’22

Psalm 19 starts in an affirmative frame of mind. As we read on, phrases resonate in our experience and memories. Anyone who has sung Handel’s The Messiah will certainly recognise ‘Their sound is gone out‘ and have the tune of that chorus in mind (an exciting sing — even if it sometimes feels a little like practising your scales and arpeggios.)

Their sound is gone out‘ from The Messiah by G F Handel.

From verse 7 on we are reminded by this ‘Psalm of David’ how valuable in the search for an upright yet humble life is the divine guidance in the word, which is More to be desired than gold, yea, than much fine gold: sweeter also than honey and the honeycomb. (10)

Much more on this interesting psalm may be discovered in the page Psalm 19: Good guidance.

But for now, a medieval rabbit hole takes us into an antiphon to Psalm 19 in the old Breviary of Marguerite de Bar, from Verdun in France. How old? The manuscript in two parts is over seven hundred years old and carefully preserved and digitised.

Detail of an antiphon preceding Psalm 19 in the Yates Thompson 8, Breviary, British Library f.14r. Verdun, France, 1302. Eripuit me de inimicis meis; Deliver me from my enemies.

Eripuit me de inimicis meis looks like an offertory text Eripe me set to a psalm tone, or a chant that is quite close to a standard tone with extras. Eripe me quotes Ps 143:9, 10.

Closer examination reveals this not to be the case. We might overlook the variation eripuit (he delivers) and eripe (deliver, vocative case). But after that first line the texts diverge. So it is not Psalm 143, and it’s not psalm 19 either. Still, I’ve taken the liberty of throwing in a soothing clip of Lassus’ setting of Eripe me (below) for those interested.

Secondly, in the middle of third line of music, (protector meus . euouae) we notice a couple of almost vertical black marks, similar to bar lines, over the word euouae. — though they too had not been invented in that day. As for the ‘dotted’ i, that last word is not a word. The letters are the vowels of the final phrase of the Gloria, saeculorum, amen. This commonly told the singers which chant ending to use for that final phrase.

This text has interesting examples of the widespread use of shorthand codes for singers accustomed by daily use to this music. First, at top centre of this image is an elaborated ‘Glia‘. The dot over the i is not, in fact, a dot over the i, which is a more recent practice. In this case it is an indication of a contraction. So the word is Gloria. Further, it tells the assembled faithful to say (it precedes the music of the antiphon) the full Gloria (Gloria in excelsis dei … saecula saeculorum. Amen.) The same thing happens in the first line of the psalm (second bottom line) where gliam means gloriam.

Caeli enarrant gl[or]iam dei, et opera manuum; The heavens declare the glory of God: and the firmament sheweth his handywork. BCP)

Back in the present day, here is a nice modern composition and performance by the Sons of Korah, an Australian band dedicated to singing the psalms:

And along the same free wheeling lines, at Woden Valley Uniting sometimes (no psalm this week) we revisit the tune of Bob Marley’s Rivers of Babylon, which uses the Psalm’s final prayer:

14 Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart
    be acceptable to you, O Lord.

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