There are thousands of musical settings of the 150 poems in the Psalter. Some of them are just a simple refrain of a few notes or an antiphon using the simplest chant without harmony, ranging up to grand elaborate works that stand alone as pinnacles of musical invention. In the latter category, the Psalmi Davidis poenitentiales by Lassus, with a short motet for each verse in two to six voices, are described elsewhere in these pages.
Psalm 100, being a short and lively song of praise, features frequently in the lists, including that Genevan ‘Old Hundredth’, All people that on earth do dwell, to a stately old tune drawn from the Genevan Psalter. Words and music are both from the 16th century and without refrain, so while it may be an old favourite for some, not a first choice.
This tune, probably written by Louis Bourgeois for Psalm 134, was a fixture in many old hymnals and psalters. Why? It came from the 1551 Genevan Psalter, a foundational collection of the Reformation movement. It was soon adopted in England and, sure enough, still appears in Together in Song at No. 59.
There’s a certain majesty and sedate elegance about these Genevan Psalter tunes, originally intended by John Calvin to be sung in plainsong without harmony (see illustration at left). However, they do not feature in our list of favourites as they are essentially hymns: we prefer responsorial or even antiphonal settings.
John Dowland, who wrote such lovely chansons for voice and lute produced an English arrangement for Thomas Ravenscroft’s The Whole Booke of Psalmes of 1621. It starts out with more promising energy:
Shout to Jehovah, all the earth!
This setting follows the fashion of the day by putting the tune in the tenor and arranging around it (‘falsobordone’; this had the advantage that soprano, treble or alto parts could be easily dispensed with if singers were not available or, it must be said, excluded from the choir by male dominance.) So Dowland’s piece has the same metre and sounds pretty much the same.
Josquin des Prez
The time is right for us to turn to an even earlier composition that might at first glance also be viewed as too sedate. This is the SATB setting by the great Josquin des Prez, a central figure in the Early Renaissance. Josquin was born a century before the publication of the Genevan Psalter and incidentally at about the time Johannes Gutenberg was establishing that first, so influential, printing press.
This setting of Psalm 100 has a generally restrained flow common to many Renaissance four-part voice compositions, but Josquin imbues it with a characteristic vibrancy. He conveys energy and inspiration by weaving, varying and imitating tunes and harmonies.
And while dipping into that 16th century era of Josquin, other settings rather more in the Genevan style of the Old Hundredth may be found by John Dowland, W Parsons in Day’s Musical Psalter of 1563, and this one from the 1551 Ainsworth Psalter:
A more modern setting on the next page, TiS 60, would be a fine choice if a cantor is available to interpret the verses, only in the music edition. Other options were listed in the relevant Crystal Ball entry.
Psalms for all Seasons has a stack of interesting choices, starting off with (you guessed it) that Old Ton with the words in a dozen languages. There’s a Punjabi one with bells and Orff instruments; there’s one from Taiwan with drums and bass xylophone ostinato; and then a Taizé round and more. Whew! We could have a full hour or so of Psalm 100 with that lot but will keep it for another day.
Looking further at the scope and variety of music for this psalm, an innovative work based on Psalm 100, Jubilate Deo by Dan Forest, takes the title being from the first verse:
Jubilate Deo, omnis terra; servite Domino in laetitia. Introite in conspectu ejus in exsultatione. / O be joyful in the Lord, all ye lands: serve the Lord with gladness, and come before his presence with a song.
The use of Latin in the text is hardly unusual. Such settings abound, particularly those from earlier years. However, this work samples languages and musical styles from around the world, as its seven movements interpret the five verses of this short but popular song of joy. Here are some of the other cultural connections:
Ve adthdor vador (from age to age, v.5) in Hebrew and Arabic
Ta cao chang (The sheep of his pasture, v.3) Mandarin Chinese
Ngokujabula (With great rejoicing, vs 1-3) Zulu
Bendecid su nombre (Bless his name, v.4) Spanish