28 Nov 2011

Getting used to new texts

I will not cross-post it here, because it is not entirely on-topic, but I will link to this short piece for those with a more general interest in liturgical matters: 'And with your spirit'. However, for our purposes here it is relevant to recall that Roman Catholic parishes are becoming accustomed, not only to new liturgical texts for the mass, but also to a revised Grail Psalter, which the Vatican recently mandated for English-speaking churches already used to the 1963 edition. As with the ordinary of the mass, many composers have written settings for the '63 Grail Psalms. Producing a new sung Grail Psalter will likely take some time. Why the changes? Here is a good explanation that applies in some respects to both the mass and the psalter:

When the Grail Psalms were first translated in the 1950s and early 1960s, the desire to retain strict rhythmic patterns similar to those found in their original Hebrew setting was a primary principle for the translators. In attempting to adhere to these rhythmic patterns, they would often abbreviate or paraphrase a text in preference to a more literal translation. By doing so, some instances of the rich biblical imagery of the Psalter were lost. Furthermore, in later decades, significant progress was made in the understanding of Hebrew rhetoric and how to incorporate the Hebraic style in English translation. Finally, there also arose a desire to return to a more elevated sacred language, in contrast to the informal and colloquial approach of the 1950s and 1960s.

Although my primary interest on this site is metrical psalmody, it must be admitted that the problems with the 1963 Grail Psalter apply in large measure to metrical psalms as well. This is not an argument against their use, but I do wonder whether Reformed churches ought not to consider ways of singing the psalms that do not necessitate altering, and in some cases abbreviating, the texts.


Bob MacDonald said...

Hi David. I have been working on 'seeing' the Psalter. Now I have started on 'hearing'. The libretto is very large - several grand operas worth of words. My work is experimental at this stage and while the English is not metrical, the music has scope for rhythmic variation and a language of leit-motifs following the voice and structure of the texts. Sheet music and a reading are here. This slightly wobbly performance won't win any prizes.

David Koyzis said...

This is great, Bob. I wish you the best in this. Please keep me up to date with this project. Thanks.