Psalm 116, 30 Apr 17

Here is one of those confusing points of discontinuity between the numbering of the Latin Vulgate Psalter and the modern western translations. 114 and 115 were combined into what is now 116 in our Psalter. This explains why settings ovr the years are listed as quoting from Psalms 114 and 115.  The incipit Credidi of Victoria’s setting of Psalm 116, for example, is Psalm 115:1 in the Vulgate, “Credidi, propter quod locutus sum; ego autem humiliatus sum nimis / I believed, and therefore will I speak; but I was sore troubled.” This is a nice four-part arrangement of odd verses only and thus identifiable as a vespers psalm. This verse now appears in the English Bible as Psalm 116:10, not even an odd verse. Cope.

ShadowLike Psalm 30 and others, Psalm 116 is a paean of thanks for deliverance from the power of darkness and, in particular in this psalm depending on the translation, the hold, anguish or entangling cords of the grave. So the psalmist resolves to walk in the divine presence in the land of the living (v.9) – a fine suggestion. The second half of the psalm is an act of dedication, so strongly felt that the psalmist’s declarations of trust and invocation are to be made ‘in the presence of all God’s people’, which we shall do in singing this psalm.

Such numbering disparities appear in the lists of other classical arrangements, whether having the same incipit Credidi, like those of Lassus and Monteverdi, or other titles listed as selections of Psalm 114 or 115. Besides this tempting piece from Victoria.

Paschal de l’Estocart (about 1538 – 1587) a French Renaissance composer from Noyon, who was considered to be quite an innovator, wrote a set of all 150 psalm settings including this one, J’aime mon Dieu, (Delixi quoniam which is Vulgate 114:1) from 1583. The melody is in the tenor, falsobordone style. The transcription bears the sub-heading: “Mis en musique pour quatre, cinq, six, sept et huit parties par Paschal de l’Estocart, de Noyon en Picardie.” His Psalm CXVI is for five voices.

Modern sources also call on different verses for the antiphon. As usual, the choice of medium will be influenced by the preferred message:

  • The five entries in PFAS, two being responsorial, are marked by simplicity, perhaps too much if measured purely on the musical scale, which of course is not the main game. So 116D offers eight notes for eight words: “I love the Lord who heard my cry.” (v. 1) An alternate refrain is alike in brevity: “I will walk in the presence of God“, quoting verse 9. Verses are sung to a tone.
  • The next choice, 116E, uses that alternate refrain of 116D with a melody (again simple) for verses added.
  • NCH uses the final phrase of verse 1, “I will call on God as long as I live”, in a refrain with a little more interest — some swing, the chords alternating between Bb and Ab, and an echo voice.
  • Everett’s refrain in TEP is predictably more syncopated. He goes for verse 8, focused on deliverance and guidance.
  • TiS 71 avoids the prosaic by providing a double tone for the verses, and two refrains. These are drawn from verses 9 quoted above, and 12: “How can I repay?
  • And finally, a home-grown chant features the verses sung on a single note. The verses have been paraphrased to sit more comfortably in this double-tone type of arrangement. Two cantors may sing a half of each verse antiphonally. No ornamentation is shown here but may be used in moderation in accordance with the cantors’ inspiration, or perhaps to subtly reinforce the chords changes moving around underneath. Superficial simplicity:ps116-hg

Psalms 107 and 49, 31 July 2016

NSEWPsalm 107 (we read the first nine verses with 43 tacked on the end) recalls the gathering in from all points of the compass of a fragmented and wandering people, hungry and thirsty, into safety under the ‘steadfast love’ of the divine hand.

It’s likely that the catalyst was originally the deliverance of the Israelites from exile. The song goes on to enumerate other crises, storms at sea and sickness, in which comforting divine love is to be praised.

The post for March 2015  drew attention to the relevance of this picture to the present days of displaced persons, families and even tribes seeking a home in troubled places of the world. Steadfast love is much needed in Australia and elsewhere against rising fears and harsh responses. (1)

Music

A still earlier post (November 2014) referred to some suitable refrains by regular writers:

  • Isaac Everett provides a great three-part setting that is thoughtful and fun to sing with a little practice.
  • Marty Haugen’s simple Consider the steadfast love of God (v.43) is found in the New Century Hymnal
  • Paul Kelly’s Meet me in the middle of the air is a great song — but is not based on Ps 107.

I even find one in the Library that I wrote, using slightly differing verses, for St Patrick’s Day — I now have no idea why, nor whether we ever sang it. Must be the Irish in me.

And speaking of different verses, that evocative phrase ‘Those who go down to the sea in boats’ inspired Henry Purcell to write a motet on those middle verses.

Carved saints, AugMusPsalm 49

Psalm 107 concluded by urging some deep thought:

Let those who are wise give heed to these things, and consider the steadfast love of God (v.43)

Psalm 49, in the alternative readings, invites the same, but to music:

The meditation of my heart shall be understanding. I will incline my ear to a proverb; I will solve my riddle to the music of the harp (vs 3, 4)

The song continues with a reminder that all people, of estate high or low, are equal and subject to mortality. Riches, pomp, status and wealth count for nothing.

Giving heed to these things, solving this riddle with or without the harp will surely lead to a conclusion that people should be treated equally and with steadfast love while, as the Dalai Lama says, we are visiting this planet.

Few classical settings appear for either of these psalms. Our more modern psalters similarly have few good antiphonal settings available; PFAS 107C is actually a repeat of one by Everett from The Emergent Psalter (2), telling us we can’t take it with us.

Timbrels

A good way to consider this psalm in depth would be to write your own tune. You may have to imagine the harp. Or as the psalmists often say (see comments on 150 for example), find any stringed instrument, trumpet, cymbal, timbrel or tambourine — whatever is to hand.

Notes:  Continue reading

Psalm 22, Good Friday 25 Mar 2016

Holocaust memorial,BerlinA review of the index pages tells me that Psalm 22 (lectionary readings here>) has been sung each year for the last three; but only one of those was for Good Friday. Singing is often very limited or even absent in this observance.

The occurrence of this psalm on Good Friday is of course due to verse 1, which Jesus quoted on the cross:

My God, why have you forsaken me?

Shadow Then  also the predictions:

They pierce my hands and my feet (v.16)

They divide my garments among them; they cast lots for my clothing (v.18)

There’s a lot more to it. Admittedly, it’s a dark day and there is plenty of angst running through the song. However, it only takes two verses before David, to whom the song is attributed, turns to recognise the holiness and greatness of the divine spirit. He flings out declarations of the many ways in which this eternal love has protected the psalmist against all sorts of evils — the sword, wild bulls, lions, even packs of dogs.

Written largely in the first person, Psalm 22 is a personal or individual lament, rather than a community tale as in Ps.44. Quite long, but it’s worth reading through all 31 verses, not only in association with the events of the cross, but as an independent personal experience. There’s light as well as darkness; see this post last year. And the quiet waters and greener pastures of Psalm 23 are not far away.

Music

As we have sometimes done in the past, we turn to the excellent Christopher Willcock setting in Together in Song No 9. Last year we used PFAS 22D alternative response.

I have also sometime in the past sung with admiration a lovely setting of Ps.22:1-3 by John Blow (1649-1708), My God look upon me. This is 60 bars of classic restrained imitation, the basses entering first with the theme tune, followed in turn by T, A then S. (Any starters?)

John 19:30 (Jesus dies) in the oldest intact book in Europe, St Cuthbert's Gospel, 8th Centrury. British Library Add MS 89000

John 19:30 (Jesus dies) in the oldest intact European book, St Cuthbert’s Gospel, 8th C. British Library Add MS 89000.

Psalm 116, 2 and 4 May 14

Just add a century from No 16 last week.  Skipping over a whole hundred psalms! Amazing – and there are 50 more if you do not count that old No 151. Such a rich treasury of imagery, inspiration, prayer, encouragement and song.

ShadowPsalm 116, like 30 and others, is a paean of thanks for deliverance from the power of darkness and, in particular in this psalm depending on the translation, the hold, anguish or entangling cords of the grave.

So the psalmist resolves to walk in the divine presence in the land of the living (v.9) – a fine suggestion.

The second half of the psalm is an act of dedication, so strongly felt that the psalmist’s declarations of trust and invocation are to be made ‘in the presence of all God’s people’, which we shall do in singing this psalm.

The Music, resonating to the awareness of a listening and caring God, is a simple antiphon (PFAS 116D) declaring ‘I love the Lord who has heard my cry’ (v.1).

The land of the living

The land of the living

Verses are sung by two cantors antiphonally to a tone which is close to the response tune.

Singers already have music but call if you wish to join. We celebrate the induction of Presbytery Minister Rev Geoff Wellington on Friday evening at Yarralumla then present the same setting at South Woden on the following Sunday 4 May.