Psalm 4: Answer the call

‘Answer when we call’ – for justice (1)

After this opening prayer, the song is full of angles. Each verse seems to switch to a new related idea. Key words are of little use in poetry but verse by verse, important ideas appear — help, patience, cherish, ponder, trust, light, gladness, peace. And even a bed? Maybe David and his harp — the foreword says ‘To the leader, with stringed instruments: a psalm of David’ — were weary after a long day. The bed represents a safe, quiet private place

Ponder it on your beds, and be silent. … I will both lie down and sleep in peace; for you alone, O God, make me lie down in safety.

Psalm 4:4, 8
Psalm 4 begins in the Bosworth Psalter, in Latin with Old english interlinear and marginal gloss. British Library MS 37517, 10/11th century. The red letters read: IIII in finem in carminibus psalmus david, ‘Unto the end, in verses. A psalm for David.’


A trio for equal voices is a useful addition to the library when short of singers. So In pace in idipsum by Orlando di Lasso is an asset:1

Psalm 4 by Lassus, incipit of the entering superius (tenor) voice shown

In more modern settings the following are notable:

  • TiS No 2 is a Gelineau setting, nice and simple although it does not include all verses. It uses verse 6 as the refrain (‘let your face shine upon us’)
  • PFAS has two responsorial settings in 4B, one by Anthony Teague 1986, one adapted by John Bell from a translation from Malawi. Both adapt the last verse (8 – see above) for the people’s refrain.
  • TEP has a similar approach but uses verse 1 (Answer me when I call). As is his wont, Isaac Everett employs some more unusual and edgy harmonies based on an E flat major ninth that appeal to jazz sensibilities.
  • NCH offers a characteristically modern and interesting harmonisation of a simple melody by Peter Niedmann. (See also NCH 41)

1Lassus’ ‘Magnum opus musicum’, München, 1604