28 Apr 2012

Psalms in English; Credo in Portuguese

Two items of interest from Lucas Grassi Freire:

1. Lucas has uncovered an English-language metrical psalter dating from 1767: The Psalms of David, with the Ten Commandments, Creed, Lord's Prayer, &c. in Metre. Also the Catechism, Confession of Faith, Liturgy, &c., Translated from the Dutch. This collection is an interesting amalgam, including a number of Genevan melodies, common-metre texts adapted from Nicholas Tate and Nahum Brady's "New Version" Psalter of 1696, and some original texts by Francis Hopkinson, including that for Psalm 23:
The LORD himself doth condescend
To be my shepherd and my friend;
I on his faithfulness rely
His care shall all my wants supply.
In pastures green he doth me lead,
And there in safety makes me feed,
Refreshing streams are ever nigh,
My thirsty soul to satisfy.
Hopkinson signed the Declaration of Independence as a representative of New Jersey, and he would later serve as a federal judge in Pennsylvania. He also contributed to the design of the first American flag:

2. Freire has composed a metrical credo in Portuguese set to be sung to the Genevan tune for Psalm 91: Confesso e Creio. Bravo, Lucas! Obrigado.

22 Apr 2012

Chabanel: Psalm 33

Although I have devoted my energies to reinvigorating the tradition of metrical psalmody for those Christians who have all but lost the liturgical use of the Psalms, I think Reformed Christians in particular need to explore more seriously the various ways of chanting the Psalms in prose translations. One effort that I find especially compelling is the open-source Chabanel Psalter, spearheaded by church musician Jeffrey Ostrowski. Although it is created with the Vatican's liturgical standards in mind, including USCCB-approved texts, protestants could do worse (and, sad to say, often do) than to use some form of the Chabanel psalms in their own worship. Here is the latest composition, posted only today:

20 Apr 2012

Psalm 23 and Herzliebster Jesu

Thanks to Lucas Freire for alerting me to this performance. Yes, it's Bach, but the tune is that of Genevan Psalm 23.

It seems likely that Johann Crüger borrowed and adapted this melody in composing the well-known Herzliebster Jesu, performed below as arranged by Bach for his St. Matthew's Passion. The hymn is best known to English-speaking Christians from Robert Seymour Bridges' translation, Ah, Holy Jesus, How Hast Thou Offended.

J. G. Vos on the Psalms

Thanks to Sean McDonald for finding this:

"Since Watts’ time, some Psalm-singing denominations have shied away from the proper names in the Psalter, and have tried to screen many of them out of it. Zion is changed to 'the church,' and Jerusalem likewise; many of the others are omitted or smoothed over in some way. This yields us a de-natured Psalter. No wonder the next step is to give up the Psalms in worship. They have already given up the real vigor and beauty and power of the Psalms by omitting the proper names" (J. G. Vos, Ashamed of the Tents of Shem?).

16 Apr 2012

Update: Psalm 81: singing in God's voice

I have now posted my versification of Psalm 81, along with my arrangement of the Genevan tune. Verses 4 and 5 of this psalm, with their references to Jacob and Joseph, indicate that it originates in the northern kingdom of Israel. If so, that would place its time of origin in the two centuries between the division of Solomon's kingdom and 721 BC, when it was conquered by the Assyrians. The psalm begins with a summons to the people to praise God in language reminiscent of the final three psalms, viz., 148-150. Instruments referenced are the tambourine, the lyre, the harp and the trumpet, to be employed at a seasonal festival prescribed by law.

At verse 6 God himself suddenly speaks to his people, reminding them of his faithfulness to them in the past in freeing them from slavery. He further reminds them of his promises of protection if only they would be faithful to him and his ways, avoiding the sin of idolatry and worshipping him alone. Here his tone is reminiscent of the final verses of Psalm 95. God laments that his people would not listen, and so he left them to their sinful ways. He reiterates his promise, which is still on offer to those who love him and obey his commands.

The last two verses see another shift of voice, as the psalmist echoes God's threat of punishment and his promise of prosperity.

Some Christians are uncomfortable singing in God's voice, that is, in taking on their own lips the words of God as if they themselves were God. I've heard this complaint made most often of contemporary Roman Catholic hymns, such as Be Not Afraid and I Will Be With You, but also of Lord of the Dance, which has found its way into a number of denominational hymnals. Those who do not like to sing in God's voice should remind themselves that those singing the psalms necessarily find themselves doing so on occasion. Psalm 81 is a good example of this. Nevertheless, there is a valid concern here, on which church composer Aristotle A. Esguerra offers some wisdom:

Singing in the “voice of God” becomes problematic when a lyricist puts words into God’s mouth — that is, either loosely paraphrases Scripture beyond recognition (similar to many based-on-a-true-story films), or worse, completely makes something up to place into God’s mouth (and subsequently our mouths when we sing it, and our ears when we hear it). At best, it is an imposition of private revelation on an act of public worship; at worst, it is a lie. Both are unacceptable, and neither are guaranteed to be God’s Word — for if “it is He Himself who speaks when the holy scriptures are read in the Church”, who speaks when the holy scriptures are paraphrased or someone puts words into God’s mouth?

My recommendation? Sing in the voice of God without worry if it’s really and truly the Word of God you’re singing, for God is speaking to you even as you sing — voice of God or not.

I found the Genevan version of Psalm 81 not especially easy to work with, mostly because the stanzas are short, as are the phrases within each stanza. The metrical pattern is 56 55 56. My own text thus contains ten stanzas for what is otherwise a fairly short psalm. The tune is in the ionian mode, which is equivalent to our major scale.

Immediately below the Komlói Pedagógus Kamarakórus (Teachers' Chamber Choir of Komló, Hungary) performs Psalm 81 followed by Psalm 119:

15 Apr 2012

Music of the Bible Revealed, encore une fois

As mentioned in an earlier post, the late Suzanne Haïk-Vantoura was convinced that she had discovered how the entire Hebrew text of the Old Testament was sung in ancient times, although her thesis has been disputed by biblical scholars and musicologists alike. In the new issue of the Journal for the Study of the Old Testament, David C. Mitchell has published an article, "Resinging the Temple Psalmody," whose abstract follows:

The French archaeomusicologist Suzanne Haïk-Vantoura made two important proposals that have never been fully investigated: first, that the te'amim or cantillation marks of the Hebrew scriptures did not originate with the Masoretes, but date back to temple times; second, that she had developed a system for their musical deciphering. This paper suggests that there is indeed evidence for the great antiquity of the Masoretic cantillation. It also suggests that the basic idea of Haïk-Vantoura's deciphering system—that the sublinear te'amim represent the steps of a diatonic scale—is confirmed by more recent archaeomusicological research. Finally, a comparison between the ancient tonus peregrinus to Psalm 114 and the cantillation of the same psalm deciphered according to Haïk-Vantoura's system provides strong evidence in support of her claims.

Coincidentally, a review of this book appears in the most recent issue of the Review of Biblical Literature: Burns, Jeffrey; David Bers and Stephen Tree, eds. The Music of Psalms, Proverbs and Job in the Hebrew Bible: A Revised Theory of Musical Accents in the Hebrew Bible. The review is written by Rebecca A. Mitchell and Matthew W. Mitchell. Whether the three Mitchells are related to each other I could not say.

10 Apr 2012

Aurél Tillai: Psalter Cantata

The Genevan Psalms continue to live in the hearts of Hungarians, as evidenced by this inspiring Psalter Cantata composed by Aurél Tillai, performed only last month and posted as recently as yesterday:

7 Apr 2012

Stolz: Psalm 19

The heavens are telling. . .