Psalm 130: The Music

Because of its vast riches, I decided to devote yesterday’s entire post to meditating on the text of Psalm 130.  Today we’ll return to our URC Psalmody tradition of critiquing the Psalter Hymnal’s offerings for this particular psalm.  This, too, is a significant undertaking, because our songbook contains not one but four versifications of Psalm 130.

Sunrise in Bushkill

Sunrise in Bushkill

272, “Out of the Depths of Sadness”

Text: “Out of the Depths of Sadness” is the first Genevan/Dutch psalm in the Psalter Hymnal since Psalm 122.  And among its fellows, this Genevan setting is a real gem.  Dewey Westra’s text, as usual, is slightly “amplified,” containing extra-biblical but not un-biblical phrases like “Thou who canst fill with gladness” and “O Fount of consolation.”  Yet the versification in stanzas 3 and 4 couldn’t be much better.

I wait for God to hide me;
My soul, with longing stirred,
Shall hope, whate’er betide me,
In His unfailing word.
My soul waits for Jehovah
With more intense desire
Than watchers for the morning
To dawn of day aspire.

Tune: As a Genevan tune, CONTRITION is beautiful and fairly well-recognized.  This harmonization, though different from Goudimel’s original, is extremely well-written, and the even rhythm (also not original) suits the text well enough.  Should you desire the original rhythm, consider using the version in gray Psalter Hymnal #130 or the Canadian Reformed Book of Praise.

Stylistic comments: As with many Genevans, musicians must always guard against extremes in tempo when playing CONTRITION.  Once again, the normal rule of thumb for these chorales is to make each line about the duration of a normal human breath.  I would suggest clear rests at the end of each line to send clear signals to the congregation.  On organ, perhaps you’ll want to repeat the last line on stz. 4 and end on a D major chord; that would be a perfectly appropriate conclusion to this psalm.

The rendition embedded below is an excellent example of number 272.

273, “From out the Depths I Cry, O Lord, to Thee”

(Sung by Cornerstone URC in Hudsonville, MI)

Text: In West Sayville, “From out the Depths” is doubtless the most familiar version of Psalm 130.  It’s beautiful, unique, and easy to learn.  Yet the text of number 273 has some significant flaws as well.  The phrase “I love Thee, Lord, for Thou dost heed my plea,/Forgiving all” can hardly be considered a versification of Psalm 130:2; and the first stanza includes no reference to the vital phrase “that you may be feared.”  On the other hand, the poetic beauty present in the second and third stanzas can’t be overlooked.

Hope in the Lord, ye waiting saints, and He
Will well provide;
For mercy and redemption full and free
With Him abide.
From sin and evil, mighty though they seem,
His arm almighty will His saints redeem.

Tune: I’ve always enjoyed SANDON simply because it’s an “outside the box” kind of tune.  At the end of each unusually long 10-syllable line is an attention-grabbing 4-note cadence, which tends to line up nicely with the thrust of each stanza (“Lord, hear my call”; “Forgiving all”).  Because of its simple rhythm and repeated melodic pattern, SANDON is also particularly easy to learn, making it a great choice for small or unfamiliar congregations.  Dropping the key to F for the sake of singability is certainly a viable option (see gray Psalter Hymnal #256).

274, “From the Depths Do I Invoke Thee”

Text: Number 274 should win an award if only for its clarity and accuracy.  Even the poignant repetition of Psalm 130:6 is captured in the fourth stanza of this versification.  I haven’t a single complaint to make against this text.

Tune: EVENING PRAYER is simple and suitable.  The only potentially challenging spot is the sixth leap in the third line.  Other than that, this tune should present no problems to the average congregation and accompanist.

275, “From the Depths My Prayer Ascendeth”

Text: The best word to describe “From the Depths My Prayer Ascendeth” just might be “quirky.”  The text is basically a skeleton of Psalm 130, but it veers into strange territory as it changes v. 4 into “But the contrite in Thy mercy/Humbly trust.”  With three solid versifications behind it, I’m not even sure why the editors of the Psalter Hymnal felt the need to include this song.

Tune: The quirkiest part of number 275 is certainly its tune, BULLINGER, which possesses the absurd meter of 8.5.8.3.  The first few times you attempt it, you’ll feel sure you missed something.   As you play it, be sure to hold the tied notes for their full and precise length.  Hopefully, this will minimize the congregation’s potential for confusion.

Overall recommendation: My favorites are 272 for dignified beauty, 273 for simplicity, and 274 for accuracy.  And only 275 if you’d like a little excitement!

Hope in the Lord, O nation!
For with Him there is grace
And plenteous salvation
For all who seek His face.
He shall redeem His people,
His chosen Israel,
From all their sin and evil,
And all their gloom dispel.

–MRK

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