Psalm 100; singing a new song

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. A new innovative work based on Psalm 100 is about to delight audiences at the Canberra Girls’ Grammar School auditorium on Wednesday 4 April. This is Jubilate Deo by Dan Forest, 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.

Pss 100 and 23, Mandarin

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

Excerpt in Zulu from ‘Jubilate Deo’ by Dan Forest

Several singers from South Woden, members of The Resonants or The Oriana Chorale, will be in the large choir.

Psalm 118, 25 March 18

This psalm of thanks opens and closes with resounding acclamations of divine love and mercy that endure forever. In between are statements about trusting in God rather than in rulers (8), relief at delivery from evil and opposition (5, 10) access to goodness (19) and causes for rejoicing.

Each year when this psalm arises on Palm Sunday, local practice has been to pick up verse 22:

The same stone which the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone.

As Paul Stookey has it in his song The Building Block, the cornerstone of a whole new world, one more resilient than the grand structures of antiquity — Shelly’s Ozymandius comes to mind.

Since there are half-a-dozen previous posts on this psalm — see April 2017 and March 2016, for example — that’s it for now. Almost… Continue reading “Psalm 118, 25 March 18”

Psalm 22, 25 Feb ’18

This psalm appears on Good Friday due to verse 1, which Jesus quoted on the cross, and subsequent predictions:

My God, why have you forsaken me?

However this reading on Sunday 25 (Lent 2) starts much later in the poem in verse 23. A different kettle of fish altogether, as the psalmist sings a hymn of praise to a powerful and just God who, ultimately, rules over the nations despite the  evidence of chaos all around. This is a divine kingdom of love in which “the poor shall eat and be satisfied”, and future generations will “proclaim God’s deliverance to a people yet unborn.”

Several previous post have canvassed ideas arising in this song: see Mar’15Oct’15 and Mar’16. This year at SWUC we return to In the presence of your people, a Hebrew song in TiS 727 that fits the theme but actually draws on verses throughout the psalm.

Psalm 147, 4 Feb ’18

This psalm, like others in this final handful in the Psalter, is a song of praise, calling us to rejoice in the creation and the ubiquitous evidence of divine love and care.

‘Starry Night’ by V van Gogh. Wikimedia commons

With sudden shifts of focus, a visionary sweep of the universe, the selected text (verses 1 to 11 in Year B) alternate between the earthbound to the heights, the present day to the distant past, from the stars to personal reassurance of the exile and outcast:

God heals the brokenhearted, and binds up their wounds. God counts the number of the stars; and calls them all by name. (3, 4)

We are encouraged to pull out our lyres again in order to sing those praises (7).

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Being a vespers psalm and therefore appearing frequently in evening prayer services in the Roman and other rites, classical settings abound. Guerrero, Lassus, Monteverdi, Victoria and others wrote several settings. In the vespers liturgy and the Anglican Compline, up to five psalms were accompanied by the Magnificat or other Marian verses.

Tomas Luis de Victoria‘s setting of this psalm would be appropriate if singers were available. Lauda Ierusalem, Salmo de Vísperas No. 6 (illustrated) is a series of short sections, one for each of the odd verses. It would have been sung antiphonally by a choir in the vespers service, the priest chanting the even verses. This motet is in Latin rather than the preferred English; so in the modern environment it could be used to inspirational effect as incidental music or anthem. It could also be interposed as reflective antiphons between readings or prayers.

If relishing that idea of naming each of the myriad stars, a refrain by Isaac Everett in The Emergent Psalter would be an excellent choice: ‘Jehovah with immeasurable wisdom calls each star by name’.

PFAS rolls out several responsive options, frequently just picking the ‘hallelujah’ theme. One (147A alt.) is even a familiar tune by Mozart. Mozart’s music is supposed to soothe the troubled breast: this is a canon in three parts, so it will keep the congregation awake and alert as they learn and enjoy their woven harmony.

Together in Song No 92 covers most of the set verses and, being by John Bell, is reliably tuneful and easy to learn. Although the composition includes a chorus it is presented, and will be sung at South Woden, as a congregational hymn rather than a responsorial psalm with cantor.

Psalm 111, 28 Jan 18

Psalm 111 is a song of praise in honour of the creative divine spirit whose very nature and deeds are awash in high standards of justice and goodness, “wrought in truth and equity”.(8)

These important attributes — standing out like sustaining pillars throughout the Psalter and thus much remarked upon in this blog, much desired in a selfish materialistic world — flow on to the ‘works’ or evidence on earth of divine influence. Bring it on; the pressing need for love and justice is patently obvious.

Introit verse 1 in Psalm 111, Salmos de Vísperas by Tomàs Luis di Victoria, c 1600. “I will give thanks to you Lord with my whole heart.”

A final verse notes that reverence to this divine nature is ‘the beginning of wisdom’. Most translations say ‘the fear of God’, which seems to this author to be a rather inadequate rendition of the honour and loving respect due to revealed divine principles and their source, as the psalmist would have intended. Either way, this final verse seems to set up the transition to the next Psalm 112, which starts: “Happy are those who fear God, who delight in the commandments.”

For further comment:

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Early composers such as Claudio Monteverdi, Wolfgang Mozart, Heinrich Schütz and Tomas Victoria all wrote several settings to this psalm, probably because this is one of the vespers psalms. (The introit shown above is from Victoria’s setting for odd verses. The previous psalm, 110, was included in Monteverdi’s famous Vespers of 1610; illustration at right>)

In modern sources:

  • A useful refrain by Jane Marshall, with a double tone for the verses, appears in Together in Song 68.
  • That in The Emergent Psalter is probably a little tricky for congregations to pick up on the fly.
  • Marty Haugen’s relatively simple refrain in The New Century Hymnal draws on verse 2: ‘Great are the works of God’.
  • A local adaptation of Haugen’s composition has been retrofitted with new words for the wisdom theme: ‘To honour God is the beginning of wisdom.’ Was it a little wimpy to avoid ‘the fear’?