Psalm 103: Justice for the oppressed

‘God executes righteousness and judgment for all who are oppressed.’ (6)

This song is a well-rounded tour of all the ingredients for worship — praise, why we are blessed despite the brevity of human life, and the kindness inherent in the divine spirit who pardons, heals and seeks justice. The verse quoted above is but one of many reminding the reader of the foundational themes including everlasting love and justice ‘to children’s children’. (17)


Verse 1 in Latin; a motet by Monteverdi

One of the benefits of writing about music on a theme is coming across composers of whom you have never heard … or completely forgotten. Like Ivo de Vento whom we met in Psalm 120

In amongst commonly appearing names like Jeremiah Clark, Lassus, Schütz and Tomkins, there are a good dozen names listed under Psalm 103 that are seldom heard. These include names like Stephen Jarvis, a sail maker from Devon who wrote a set of psalms; Henri Dumont, Flemish then Paris, 17th C; and Claudin de Sermisy in the French tradition of Luly and Couperin, whose Ps. 103 for vespers Benedic anima mea was first published in Paris in 1535.

Then we find in the Orthodox tradition that Messrs Voznesensky and Ledkovsky came up with introductory psalms, also for vespers in the all-night vigil. These are both arrangements of a popular traditional Russian and Slavonian melody. It will be instantly recognisable to those familiar with the great Rachmaninov All Night Vigil. Voznesensky gives the entry tune to the bass voice:

Screen Shot 2016-08-11 at 10.57. 1Rachmaninov has a sonorous alto solo sing that tune in the second movement of the Vigil, Благослови душе моя, Господа (Blagoslovi dushe moya, Gospoda; Praise the Lord, O My Soul). Listen to the YouTube clip in the post on Psalm 104 — which psalm begins with the same phrase.

Familiar territory

Closer to home, TiS and PFAS have a couple of unremarkable hymns including one by Tallis, of whom one tends to expect more adventurous scribbles. The latter source makes up for it by offering several other choices including a short Spanish responsorial setting, 103G, which comes from a longer work Sing all You Lands: Bilingual Psalms by Peter Kolar.

It also gives us at 103C a nice Taizé song using that same verse 1, Bless the Lord my soul. The congregation or a small group may continue to repeat the chorus in the background while a solo voice sings the verses. Each verse tune is a variation (and in a slightly different range) so could be sung by different soloists. The ostinato needs to be quiet and peaceful but the overall effect can be very inspiring. For South Woden: Two of the songs reviewed in this post will be heard at South Woden this coming Sunday 21 August, as Roger and Willa lead us:

A short extract, just a taste of Rachmaninoff‘s Bless the Lord my soul in both Russian and English, has served at South Woden as our music for reflection. The arrangement is sung by a male voice trio, not quite the Volga Boatmen, but valiantly attempting to pronounce Благослови душе моя, Господа. To be true to the All night vigil, we should also break into about ten or more parts to achieve the true depth of this work. That might take a little more practice.