31 Oct 2012

Ein' feste Burg: Reformation

Two days ago I posted Ernst Stolz's rendition of Genevan Psalm 46. Today, as we observe the anniversary of the beginning of the Reformation, it is appropriate to post Martin Luther's christological version of Psalm 46, Ein' feste Burg ist unser Gott, known in English as A Mighty Fortress Is our God:

Here is a compelling musical elaboration of the same melody, Intrada: Ein feste Burg, arranged by English composer Ray Farr and performed by the Brassband Willebroek of Belgium.

29 Oct 2012

The Psalms: voice of the martyrs

Peter Leithart publishes his thoughts on the bloodshed in Nigeria, as Boko Haram continues its persecution of the church in that troubled land: Voice of the martyrs. The Psalms play a crucial role here:

In many churches, prayers for vindication and judgment are considered barbaric and sub-Christian. Things would look different, I expect, if Boko Haram were breathing down our necks. We would be eager to call on a defender. And things look different in the Psalms, the prayer book of the church. Pleas for judgment are not confined to a handful of fanatical “imprecatory” Psalms. On the contrary, few appeals are more pervasive and prominent in the Psalter than the cry for just vengeance.

It is implicit in Psalm 2: “Do homage to the Son, lest He become angry, and you perish in the way.” It is in Psalm 3: “Arise, Yahweh; save me, O my God! For You have smitten my enemies on the cheek; you have shattered the teeth of the wicked.” And in Psalm 5: “Hold them guilty, O God, by their own devices let them fall.” And Psalm 6: “All my enemies will be ashamed and greatly dismayed; they shall turn back, they shall suddenly be ashamed.” It is even more explicit in Psalm 7: “Vindicate me, O Yahweh, according to my righteousness and my integrity that is in me . . . [My enemy’s] mischief will return upon his own head; and his violence will descend upon his own pate.” And Psalm 9: “You rebuke the nations; You have destroyed the wicked . . . The enemy has come to an end in perpetual ruins.” In Psalm 10, David prays for a new exodus: “Arise, O Yahweh; O God, lift up Your hand. Do not forget the afflicted. . . . Break the arm of the wicked and the evildoer, seek out his wickedness until You find none.”

There are 140 Psalms left, and we already know that this is a hymnal full of war Psalms, cries of the afflicted, petitions for vindication and deliverance. These are the prayers shrewdly designed for a martyr church. The Psalter articulates the voice of the martyrs.

From one of the comments below Leithart's post:

Anyone who does the Roman Catholic liturgical hour of the Office of Readings knows well the Psalms of supplication and lamentation. They provide the trunk of the Office on which the sacred texts of the Readings depend. Thank you for calling attention to them as an integral part of the Christian heritage.

Reading through the Psalms on a daily basis is a good way to remember the martyrs and to pray for our persecuted brethren around the globe.

Stolz: Psalm 46

Is it coincidental that our good friend Ernst Stolz has recorded Psalm 46 only two days before we observe the 495th anniversary of the beginning of the Reformation? It does appear to be, given that this was the next psalm in the numerical order in which he has been performing them. In any event, this tune is one of my personal favourites, and Stolz's rendition is very nice indeed.

28 Oct 2012

Gaël Liardon - Ouverture et fugue sur le psaume 47

Imagine Bach composing a fugue based on Genevan Psalm 47, and this is what it might sound like:

Incidentally, this video and yesterday's were drawn to my attention by Lucas Freire.

24 Oct 2012

Sweelinck in Hungary: Psalm 24

Judging from the youtube postings, one would think that the whole population of Hungary is divided into hundreds of thousands of choral groups. This is the Óbudai Kamarakórus, conducted by Erdős Ákos:

20 Oct 2012

'To every generation': Psalm 145

This past monday the Redeemer Faculty Association hosted a retirement gathering for Dr. Jacob Ellens, who came to the university as a history professor the same year I did: 1987. During the 25 years we served together, I came to love and respect Ellens as a Christian man of utmost integrity and compassion. He brought to his work a strong sense of the communion of the saints and especially of our debt as Reformed Christians to the early centuries of the church. Ellens' profound catholic sensibility caused him to appreciate the larger christian liturgical tradition as well. Accordingly, Ellens was most supportive of my work with the Psalms, even though it took me well outside my field of formal competence.

During the gathering I was privileged to sing the first two stanzas of Psalm 145, according to my own versified text and arrangement of the melody, accompanied by my esteemed French colleague, Dr. Thea VanTil Rusthoven. Here are the first two stanzas:

My God and King, I'll tell abroad your fame,
and I will ever bless your holy name.
From day to day I'll bless your majesty,
and praise your name through all eternity.
Great is the LORD and worthy of our praises;
great is his name, surpassing earthly places.
Your works are told to every generation,
your mighty acts throughout the whole creation.

Upon the splendour of your majesty
and on your works I'll ponder ceaselessly.
Your mighty wonders we will celebrate,
and I will tell abroad your marvels great.
They'll celebrate your goodness overflowing,
and sing aloud your righteousness all-knowing.
The LORD is merciful and very gracious,
slow to be angry, full of loving kindness.

8 Oct 2012

Stolz: Psalm 43

Psalms 42 and 43 were almost certainly a single psalm in the Hebrew. Nevertheless, they are canonically distinct, as reflected in virtually every translation of the Bible and, of course, the Genevan Psalter. Ernst Stolz continues his steady march through the Psalms with Psalm 43:

2 Oct 2012

Stolz: Psalm 42

This is, of course, one of the best known of the Genevan tunes in the English-speaking world: