07 September 2022

Praying with USPG and the music of
Vaughan Williams: Wednesday 7 September 2022

‘O enter then His gates with praise’ … an open gate in Tombs Meadow at sunset in Stony Stratford (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Patrick Comerford

Before today begins, I am taking some time this morning for reading, prayer and reflection.

This year marks the 150th anniversary of the composer Ralph Vaughan Williams, whose music is celebrated throughout this year’s Proms season. In my prayer diary for these weeks I am reflecting in these ways:

1, One of the readings for the morning;

2, Reflecting on a hymn or another piece of music by Vaughan Williams, often drawing, admittedly, on previous postings on the composer;

3, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary, ‘Pray with the World Church.’

The Berliner Dom in Berlin, popularly known as Berlin Cathedral … the images inside the dome illustrate the Beatitudes (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The Gospel reading for today in the lectionary as adapted by the Church of Ireland is:

Luke 6: 20-26 (NRSVA):

20 Then he looked up at his disciples and said:
‘Blessed are you who are poor,
for yours is the kingdom of God.
21 ‘Blessed are you who are hungry now,
for you will be filled.
‘Blessed are you who weep now,
for you will laugh.
22 ‘Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man. 23 Rejoice on that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven; for that is what their ancestors did to the prophets. 24 ‘But woe to you who are rich,
for you have received your consolation.
25 ‘Woe to you who are full now,
for you will be hungry.
‘Woe to you who are laughing now,
for you will mourn and weep.
26 ‘Woe to you when all speak well of you, for that is what their ancestors did to the false prophets.’

Today’s reflection: ‘The Old Hundredth’

For my reflections and devotions each day these few weeks, I am reflecting on and invite you to listen to a piece of music or a hymn set to a tune by the great English composer, Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958).

This morning [7 September 2022], I invite you to join me in listening to Vaughan Williams’s arrangement for ‘The Old Hundredth’ or Psalm 100.

Psalm 100, as the Canticle Jubilate Deo, is one of the psalms said or sung as a Canticle at Morning Prayer in the Book of Common Prayer.

In mediaeval times, Jubilate was the second of the fixed psalms at Lauds on Sundays and holy days, and it was also sung at Prime. Thomas Cranmer did not include it in the first Book of Common Prayer (1549), but it was introduced in the 1552 Book of Common Prayer as an alternative to Benedictus. The 1662 Bok of Common Prayer specifies that it should be used when Benedictus is ‘read in the Chapter for the Day, or for the Gospel on Saint John Baptist’s Day.’

Vaughan Williams wrote this triumphant setting for Psalm 100 in 1953 for SATB, congregation and full orchestra, organ with brass fanfare, and it was first performed on 2 June 1953 in Westminster Abbey at the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II. The order of service that day directed just before the Holy Communion:

‘The organ shall play and the people with one voice sing this hymn: The Old Hundredth Psalm Tune. Text by W. Kethe (Daye’s Psalter, 1560-1), arrangement for choir, orchestra and organ by R Vaughan Williams.’ It was the first time at a coronation service that the congregation was permitted to join in the singing of a hymn.

Vaughan Williams’s arrangement of ‘The Old Hundredth’ was sung five years later in Westminster Abbey at his own funeral, with the Abbey Choir, and the London Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Sir Adrian Boult. His ashes are buried in the Musicians’ Aisle with his wife Ursula.

The stirring grandeur of Vaughan Williams’s setting of ‘The Old Hundredth’ has become a familiar component of many large-scale state and national occasions. It was originally scored for Full Orchestra, Organ, Choir and Fanfare Trumpets, with Vaughan Williams setting the fanfares for ‘all available trumpets,’ which ring out to introduce the first and last verses. It is without doubt the most thrilling setting of this much loved hymn.

‘The Old Hundredth’ is a hymn tune in Long Metre from Pseaumes Octante Trois de David (1551), the second edition of the Genevan Psalter and is one of the best known melodies in the musical traditions of the Church. The tune is usually attributed to the French composer Loys Bourgeois (ca 1510-ca 1560).

Although the tune was first associated with Psalm 134 in the Genevan Psalter, the melody receives its current name from an association with the version of Psalm 100 translated by the puritan William Kethe as ‘All People that on Earth do Dwell.’

Kethe was a Scottish evangelical polemicist and satirist who went into self-imposed exile in the reign of Mary Tudor. Initially, Kethe was based in Frankfurt am Main. But his extreme Calvinism led him to be received into John Knox’s congregation in Geneva on 5 November 1556.

Kethe’s literary talents came to the fore in the 25 metrical Psalm settings he contributed to the 1561 Forme and Prayers and Ministration of the Sacraments approved by J[ohn] Calvyn. This version of Psalm 100 is the most famous, and was set to a pre-existing tune by Bourgeois.

The Genevan Psalter was compiled over a number of years in response to Calvin’s teaching that communal singing of psalms in the vernacular language is a foundational aspect of church life. This contrasted with the prevailing Catholic practice at the time in which sacred texts were chanted in Latin by the clergy only. Calvinist musicians, including Bourgeois, supplied many new melodies and adapted others from sources both sacred and secular.

The final version of the psalter was completed in 1562. Calvin intended the melodies to be sung in plainsong during church services, but harmonised versions were provided for singing at home.

Vaughan William’s arrangement incorporates the harmonisation of the tune by John Dowland (1563-1626) from Thomas Ravnescroft’s Psalter (1621).

All people that on earth do dwell,
Sing to the Lord with cheerful voice;
Him serve with fear, his praise forth tell,
Come ye before him, and rejoice.

The Lord, ye know, is God indeed,
Without our aid he did us make;
We are His folk, he doth us feed,
And for His sheep he doth us take.

O enter then his gates with praise;
Approach with joy his courts unto;
Praise, laud, and bless his Name always,
For it is seemly so to do.

For why? the Lord our God is good;
His mercy is for ever sure;
His truth at all times firmly stood,
And shall from age to age endure.

To Father, Son and Holy Ghost,
The God whom heaven and earth adore,
From men and from the Angel-host
Be praise and glory evermore. Amen.

Sarah Purser’s mosaic of John Dowland in Sorrento Park, Dalkey, Co Dublin … Vaughan Williams’s arrangement of ‘The Old Hundredth’ incorporates the harmonisation of the tune by John Dowland (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Today’s Prayer, Wednesday 7 September 2022:

The theme in the USPG prayer diary this week is ‘Season of Creation,’ was introduced on Sunday by the Season of Creation Advisory Committee.

The USPG Prayer Diary invites us to pray today in these words:

We pray for climate activists, who devote their lives to raising awareness of climate change and teaching ways to adapt and respond to the effects of global warming.

Yesterday’s reflection

Continued tomorrow

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org

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