Psalm 116, 18 Jun 17

Nutty Numbers …

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.

Tomas-Luis-Victoria-300x300This explains why some Ps 116 settings over the years are listed as quoting from Psalms 114 and 115. The incipit Credidi in a setting by the Spanish composer Victoria, for example, appears as 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, amongst other uses. 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’.

Besides this tempting piece from Victoria, those by Lassus and Monteverdi are identified with the same incipit Credidi. Such numbering disparities appear in the lists of other classical arrangements.

… but Nice Notes

Lestocart

Pascal L’Estocart; looked pretty much like 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 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 — a swing feel, 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. (He notes that it was sung “over a heavy trip hop beat”, whatever that is.)
  • 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 uses verse 1. It features the verses sung on a single note, against a falling bass line and some relatively unusual chords in the world of psalm settings. 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

Such a wide choice allows for a refrain and style suitable to most occasions, whatever the dominant themes.

The alternate reading in the Lectionary is Psalm 100. For one example of what has been done at South Woden in the past, please see the blog for 23 Nov 14.

Psalm 112, 5 Feb 17

Light rises in darkness

Light rises in darkness when justice rules our lives.

During a yacht delivery through the Barrier Reef a while ago, an overnight anchored in a remote cove was a welcome break. A refreshing sleep rocked by the movements of the boat in wind, wave and tide was a perfect precursor to a pre-dawn start. With anchor a-weigh, still dripping salt water and sand, the early light of dawn crept over the outcrops of the uninhabited island that was our silent but comforting host for the night. In such a tale, light and darkness are equally appreciated, necessary and used to advantage. No moral values either negative or positive are attributed.

When metaphorical dimensions arise in literature, darkness usually comes off worst by a country mile. Light is good, dark is evil. So it appears in Psalm 112 at first glance: but the implied moral values are by no means black and white. Light is valued in verse 4 but darkness is not necessarily bad, just limiting. There’s a time to sleep, and a time to pull up anchor. Illumination, as in Psalm 119:105, seems here to be a lamp to the feet and a light to the path of those who seek goodness, day or night. Translations differ. The New International Version is attractive:

Even in darkness light dawns for the upright, for those who are gracious and compassionate and righteous.

The paraphrase used as antiphon for a setting of Psalm 112 in Together in Song 69 is: “Light rises in darkness when justice rules our lives.” Strongly in its favour is the direct link to justice, a word wielding much more force in a modern context than the jargon of ‘righteousness’. The music for the opening phrase of the response rises step by step, like the sun rising from behind those dark outcrops, preparing for the final call later in the psalm to a life of justice and faith. The verses may be sung freely to the tone in the hymn book, perhaps with guitar accompaniment. A nice variation is to use the tune of the refrain as a tone, varying the pointing as desired.

Using the first line of verse 1, the refrains in both NCH and TEP say: “Happy are those who fear God”. (See remarks on ‘fear’ in the comments on the previous psalm, 111.) PFAS 112B skips fear and selects the second idea, that ‘those who delight in the law of God’ are happy. And while referring back to 111, the comment made there regarding Victoria’s vesper psalms could be repeated verbatim for this psalm, save for the title Beatus vir qui timet Dominum.Ps112 introit Victoria

Blessed is the man that feareth the Lord: he hath great delight in his commandments. (v.1, BCP)

Psalm 115

Psalm 115 is a song of praise to divine love and faithfulness (v.1), a source of security (9-11) and blessings.  Other psalms suggest ‘Our nation is better than your nation’, with a sense of preference for a chosen people. Here is refreshing humility, whether applied at national or personal level. And as we were reminded at South Woden recently, humility is not thinking less of yourself, but thinking of yourself less. The psalmist also rails against the worship of dumb idols of silver and gold. These days, the idols may not be graven images but frequently they are still materialistic.

The Emergent Psalter by Isaac Everett; Church Publishing .org

The Emergent Psalter

PFAS and TiS offer no antiphonal settings. Isaac Everett in TEP displays his familiarity with the roots of the psalter, declaring that the Hebrew lo lanu, lo lanu sounds so much better than the English. So he provides both languages for his simple but effective refrain that slides from E minor to D, to Dm and back to Em:

Lo lanu lo lanu, ki leshimka ten kavod / Not to us, not to us, but to your name give glory (v.1)

Amongst the classical composers Schütz can be relied upon for a major production. For Psalm 115 he wrote one for three choirs and instrumental accompaniment. Such motets are intended as anthems rather than antiphonal settings. However, following liturgical practice composers often inserted short introductory chants by a cantor, to which the whole work becomes a response.Ps115 Schütz introit

The introit to this work caught my eye, partly since the accidental on Na-men has a similar effect to that Everett response mentioned above. Starting with the reciting tone on A with a B natural that could be in a mode based on A (major or minor), this accidental B flat implies a modulation. It leads into the first F chord (which has one flat on B) of the entry, moving smartly into the relative D minor. Schütz pulls out all stops at the end with several pages of Alleluia, moving to final A and D major cadences.

More approachable for small groups, Non nobis Domine by William Byrd is a short motet for three voices, just one verse and one page. If you can field a quartet, go for the short Victoria vespers setting:Ps115 Victoria

Note: The set psalms for Sunday 4 Sep were discussed in recent blogs: see Psalm 139 and Psalm 1 (alternate reading). Choice of music does not still apply.

Victoria’s Requiem, 28 May 2016

Acclaimed early music performer Jordi Savall once wrote:

Culture, art, and especially music, are the foundation of an education that allows us to realize ourselves personally and at the same time, be present as a cultural entity, in an increasingly globalized world. I am deeply convinced that art is useful to society, contributing to the education of young people, and raising and strengthening the human and spiritual dimension of human beings.

He went on to urge that all Spaniards, and by extension anyone, should be able to:

… listen to live music from the sublime Cristóbal de Morales, Francisco Guerrero and Tomás Luis de Victoria

Tomas-Luis-Victoria-300x300I mentioned Morales in a recent post on Psalm 18. The last named composer, however, has long been a firm favourite of your Webmaster.

Victoria wrote a huge amount of sacred work. Unlike many of his contemporaries, he wrote no secular music. His Lamentationes Ieremiah and Officium Defunctorum are particularly compelling works, transporting to the listener, thrilling to the singer.

Psalms

Amongst his many works are a dozen or so psalms, including vesper psalms. Many of these are setting for alternate verses, either odd or even. The cantor would sing the other set of verses in antiphonal style, the choir responding. This call and answer style is implicit in many psalm texts (for example 136) and therefore is still widely used.

The Requiem

With a ‘masterpiece’ workshop and performance of the 1605 Requiem coming up on 28 May 2016 (hosted by The Oriana Chorale at 2 pm at RMC Duntroon, details here>), a little more on this magical work is in order.

The Requiem was written upon the death of the Dowager Empress Maria, daughter of one emperor, wife of a second, and mother of two more. As originally structured, it was preceded by a reading from Job entitled Taedet animam meus, set beautifully for four voices rather than the six of the rest of the mass. Together with a couple of other additions, the Requiem then forms the full Officium Defunctorum.

CDGIM-012Peter Phillips, director of the acclaimed group The Tallis Scholars (with whom The Oriana Chorale has sung in recent years), says in the program notes of their 1987 recording of the Requiem (www.gimell.com/):

Victoria’s ‘Requiem’ Mass has for many decades and for many people typified Spanish Renaissance music. Its mystical intensity of expression, achieved by the simplest musical means, obviously sets it apart from contemporary English and Italian music, and has led to comparisons with it of the equally intense paintings of Velasquez and El Greco.

Singers who would like to participate in this experience should contact the blog author or Oriana Chorale. Or just come to the performance at:

5:30 Saturday 28th May, chapel of RMC Duntroon.

Psalm 147, 3 Jan 16

Band in ParisThe last half-dozen songs in the psalter are songs of praise and joy. Each one begins with a Hallelujah or call of praise to God.

This one is longer than most. We start at verse 12, although to my mind the selection is best read in the context of the whole psalm. It rings as a little nationalistic, even exclusive, without the earlier rejoicing that the remnants of an exiled people have been saved and gathered, the holy city rebuilt (verse 2). As with most of this poetry the associated meanderings, in this case celebrating the creation’s being sustained and ordered by divine love and power, help to broaden the focus to a more inclusive perspective.

Music

We have previously sung the refrain from The emergent psalter on a couple of occasions, using a local SATB arrangement of both antiphon and tone rather than Everett‘s version of unison refrain and spoken verse. However, the reading then was the first half of the psalm, from which Everett uses verse 4 as an appropriate refrain:

Jehovah with immeasurable wisdom calls each star by name

This refrain is a little stranded when reading the second half of the psalm, but it could still be effective.

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.Tomas-Luis-Victoria-300x300

Victoria

Lauda Jerusalem by Victoria (1548-1611) still lurks in my files awaiting the moment when we can do justice to this nice setting.

Much early psalm music was composed using alternate verses, either odds or evens, for antiphonal singing with cantor and choir. All of Victoria’s eleven vespers psalms follow this pattern, the one cited below being odd verses. Victoria also arranged several psalms for two choirs.LaudaJerusalemExperienced Canberra singers interested in singing Victoria’s magnificent Officium defunctorum for six voices should think about joining the Oriana Chorale workshop on 28 May 2015.

Notes: Continue reading

Shadows and light

Recent speakers at South Woden have chosen the topics of light and water for their reflections. Meanwhile, during Lent we are conscious of the shadows and earth, complementary elements.

We enjoyed last week a lovely setting of Psalm 51 by Lassus. our people are involved in all sorts of other musical contributions. We mention but two here for tomorrow, Saturday 28th March in or near Canberra.

The Gospel Folk at Loriendale Apple Festival

Following a long tradition of appearances at Owen’s fantastic farm north of Canberra full of many varieties of apple and other fruits, The Gospel Folk sing at this very enjoyable annual charity event under Brian’s expert baton.

You can buy lunch and all sorts of fresh apple products, enjoy the lovely outdoor setting and listen to an afternoon of entertainment. The Gospel Folk will be singing in the early afternoon. Entry is by donation, all to charity.

Shadows and light

Later that afternoon, at 5:00 pm at Wesley Uniting Church, The Oriana Chorale presents works by Bach, Barber, Shepherd, Victoria and Gibbons.

The relevant Lenten connection is a varied and delightful series of Tenebrae responsories by Tomas Luis de Victoria.

Not to be missed.