About this Recording
8.554823 - Psalms for the Soul
English  French  German  Swedish 

Psalms for the Soul

The Book of Psalms has been described by one modern authority as "the most precious heritage which the Christians received from the Jews." Filled with vivid poetic imagery these texts have provided composers with inspiration over the centuries. This is only to be expected since they were written with the idea of musical accompaniment in mind from the start. One has only to call to mind the lines from Psalms CXLIX and CL, “O sing unto the lord a new song, Praise him in the sound of the trumpet, praise him upon the strings and pipe, or Sing praises unto him with timbrel and harp”, to realise that these are words to be sung. From the early years of the Christian church the singing of psalms was an important part of the services of worship. This was just as true after the Reformation within the Anglican tradition, to which the music on this CD belongs. Psalms were particularly prominent in the services of Morning and Evening Prayer where they were appointed to be read or sung in regular cycles. These services are no longer as conspicuous as they once were and we have lost that continual exposure which allowed phrases from the psalms to enter our common store of imagery – “out of the mouth of babes and sucklings”,or the strikingly resonant “valley of the shadow of death.”

Three of the psalms on this recording are treated by their composers - Herbert Sumsion, Lennox Berkeley, and Herbert Howells - as full scale anthems. The imagery of the text that Sumsion chooses, “They that go down to the sea in ships”, is deftly reflected in musical imitation or word painting. The melodic lines of the choir climb upwards to heaven and sink downwards to the deep, and later they stagger, if not exactly like drunken men, then at least like mildly inebriated ones. The organ meanwhile keeps up a constant, watery, lapping motion.

In choosing the well-loved Psalm XXIII as his text Lennox Berkeley was pitting himself against strong competition. The resulting anthem has a quiet intensity that completely confirms one writer's description of Berkeley's music – “broadly melodious, richly harmonious and translucidly polyphonic.” One might add that richly harmonious in this context means a gentle spikiness that gives the piece a contemporary feel without disturbing the overall calm that is an essential part of its message. Particularly effective is the return of the opening words of the psalm with the soprano line now harmonised for full choir, providing a sense of musical and spiritual growth for the listener.

The anthem composer has a great deal of freedom in the way he treats a text. In his well-known Like as the Hart, for example, Herbert Howells uses only the first three verses of Psalm XLII and recapitulates verses 1 and 2 after “My tears have been my food day and night….” The text speaks throughout these verses in the first person, but Howells differentiates the personal observations of the writer – “Like as the Hart... My tears...” - from the questioning cries of the whole congregation – “When shall 1 come to appear before God?” and “Where, where is now thy God?” The latter are given in full harmony by the whole choir, the more personal thoughts by single sections of the choir or by two sections in Howells' typically flexible and, in this context, rather mournful counterpoint.

The psalms cover a wide variety of types - hymns or songs of praise, psalms of thanksgiving, personal laments, laments of a community or nation, to name a few. These are poetic texts but, true to their Hebrew origins, they have neither meter nor rhyme. They do, however, have a very obvious parallel structure within verses. Take for example Psalm CXXI: “I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills - 0, whence cometh my help?” Or the opening of the lament that is Psalm CXXX: “Out of the deep have 1 called unto thee O Lord - Lord hear my prayer.” The very flexible nature of the psalm texts is both part of their beauty and at the same time a problem when it comes to providing musical settings. In the medieval church the psalm verses were sung to a musical formula - an opening little flourish, a long recitation capable of accommodating any number of words on a single note and then a closing flourish. Anglican chant is fundamentally an elaboration of this method in four-part harmony. It is not surprising that almost all the chant composers on this recording have had a close relationship with the Anglican church, either in its cathedral tradition or in one of the Oxford and Cambridge college chapels.

Henry Lawes, the earliest composer recorded here, was a Gentleman of Charles I's Chapel Royal and the recipient of a sonnet from Milton (with some poetic exaggeration):

Harry, whose tuneful and well-measured song

First taught our English music how to span

Words with just note and accent…

His robust chant is used for the words of Psalm VIII. The early nineteenth century is represented by a single chant, the one by Thomas Atwood Walmisley that is used to accompany the joyful Psalm CXLVIII. Walmisley, who was born in 1814 achieved the singular distinction of simultaneously holding appointments as organist at three Cambridge colleges as well as the University Church, and perhaps even more remarkable of being appointed Professor of Music while still an undergraduate.

In the nineteenth century England was described (not by an Englishman, it should be said) as the "land without music." Whether or not this was entirely justified the tide began to turn with the appearance of those two larger-than-life figures Parry and Stanford, who in later years commanded the heights of musical education in England, Parry as professor at Oxford and Stanford holding the same position at Cambridge. They each contribute a single chant; Parry, the gentle accompaniment to Psalm LXXXIV, and Stanford, music for that quintessential psalm of praise, Psalm CL, O praise God in his holiness.

Charles Hylton Stewart was in succession organist of Rochester Cathedral, Chester Cathedral and St Georges's Chapel, Windsor, and as one of the editors of the Oxford Psalter had a great influence on the way in which the psalms were performed in cathedrals and churches. He had a particular knack for writing subtle, understated chants, as is demonstrated by the two examples on this recording. Ivor Atkins, organist of Worcester Cathedral for more than fifty years, supplies a fine traditional chant for Psalm CXLIX. David Willcocks, his successor at Worcester, but better known for his work at King's College, Cambridge, accompanies the humble sentiments of Psalm CXXXI – “I am not high minded: I have no proud looks” - with gently modern harmonies, while Noel Edison shows his deep understanding of the psalm tradition with an elegant chant for Psalm CXXI.

In addition to the psalm texts, this recording presents a setting of the Reproaches. The central words are those of the crucified Christ to his ungrateful people and form part of the Roman Catholic Good Friday liturgy, where they appear during the Veneration of the Cross. Although not part of the original Book of Common Prayer, this liturgy has been adapted for Anglican use in a number of modern books for a similar Good Friday ceremony. Old Testament texts are interspersed with the so-called Trisagion – “Holy God, Holy and strong, Holy and immortal, have mercy upon us and the words O my people. What have I done to you. How have I offended you? Answer me!” John Sanders's setting, written when he was organist of Gloucester Cathedral, provides dense, moving harmonies for the refrain sections and leaves the verses as a single unaccompanied melody. The overall effect is wonderfully mystical and timeless.

Lastly, we have a setting of the Lamentations with texts taken from the Lamentations of Jeremiah. These formed a part of Jewish liturgy, where they were used in the annual commemoration of the destruction of Jerusalem. They have been interpreted in Christian worship as referring to Christ's Passion and are therefore used in Holy Week. The text set by Edward Bairstow was arranged by the Dean of York Minster as "a contribution to the liturgical enrichment of Lent and Holy Week." Bairstow's music is in essence a psalm setting with more than one chant and with the addition of a refrain - the words “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, return unto the Lord thy God.”

Much of the music on this recording belongs to a small, perhaps esoteric, tradition of Christian worship. Listening to these discriminating, imaginative performances, however, one is struck by its potential to reach a far wider audience. This is especially so in an age when the religious music of composers like Arvo Part, Henryk Górecki and John Tavener has become surprisingly popular. They, it is true, draw on quite different traditions, but Anglican psalm singing at its best can create that same awe-inspiring sense of mysticism that characterises the work of these New Age composers.

John Mayo

John Sanders: The Reproaches

O my people, O my people, What have I done to you

How have I offended you? Answer me! Answer me!

I led you out of Egypt, from slavery to freedom,

but you led your Saviour to the cross.

Holy is Cod! Holy and strong!

Holy immortal One, Holy immortal One,

have mercy on us, have mercy on us.

For forty years I led you safely through the desert.

I fed you with manna from heaven,

and brought you to a land of plenty;

but you led your Saviour to the cross.

What more could I have done for you?

I planted you as my fairest vine,

but you yielded only bitterness:

When I was thirsty you gave me vinegar to drink,

and you pierced your Saviour’s side with a lance.

I opened the sea before you,

but you opened my side with a spear.

I led you on your way in a pillar of cloud,

but you led me to Pilate's court.

I bore you up with manna in the desert,

but you struck me down and scourged me.

I gave you saving water from the rock,

but you gave me gall and vinegar to drink.

I gave you a royal sceptre,

but you gave me a crown of thorns.

I raised you to the height of majesty,

but you have raised me high on a cross.

[2] Henry Lawes: Psalm VIII

O Lord our Governor, how excellent is thy Name

in all the world: thou that has set thy glory above the heavens!

Out of the mouth of very babes and sucklings hast thou ordained strength, because of thine enemies:

that thou mightest still the enemy, and the avenger.

Well I consider thy heavens, even the work of thy fingers: the moon and the stars, which thou hast ordained.

What is man, that thou art mindful of him: and the son of man, that thou visitest him?

Thou hast made him but little lower than the angels: and dost crown him with glory and worship.

Thou makest him to have dominion over the works of thy hands: and thou hast put all things in subjection under his feet;

All sheep and oxen: yea, and the beasts of the field;

The birds of the air, and the fishes of the sea: and whatsoever moveth through the paths of the seas.

O Lord our Governor: how excellent is thy Name in all the world!


Glory be to the Father, and to the Son: and to the Holy Ghost; As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.

[3] Charles Hylton Stewart: Psalm XXIII

The Lord is my shepherd: therefore can I lack nothing.

He shall feed me in a green pasture: and lead me forth beside the waters of comfort.

He shall convert my soul: and bring me forth in the paths of righteousness, for his Name’s sake.

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff comfort me.

Thou shalt prepare a table before me against them that trouble me: thou hast anointed my head with oil, and my cup shall be full.

But thy loving-kindness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.

[4] Richard Woodward: Psalm CXXII

I was glad when they said unto me: We will go unto the house of the Lord.

Behold, our feet now stand: within thy gates,

O Jerusalem.

Jerusalem is built as a city: that is at unity in itself.

Whither the tribes go up, even the tribes of the Lord: as was decreed for Israel, to give thanks unto the Name of the Lord.

For there were set the thrones for judgement

even the seat of the house of David.

O pray for the peace of Jerusalem: may they prosper that love thee.

Peace be within thy walls: and plenteousness within thy palaces.

For my brethren and companions' sakes: I will wish thee prosperity.

Yea, because of the house of the Lord our God

I will seek to do thee good.

[5] Herbert Sumsion:

They that go down to the sea in ships

They that go down to the sea in ships: and occupy their business in great waters;

These men see the works of the Lord: and his wonders in the deep.

For at his word the stormy wind ariseth: which lifteth up the waves thereof.

They are carried up to the heav'n, and down again to the deep: their soul melteth away because of the trouble.

They reel to and fro, and stagger like a drunken man: and are at their wit's end.

So when they cry unto the Lord in their trouble: he delivereth them out of their distress.

For he maketh the storm to cease: so that the waves thereof are still.

Then are they glad, because they are at rest: and so he bringeth them unto the haven where they would be.

(Psalm CVII, vv. 23-30)

[6] Sir Hubert Parry: Psalm LXXXIV

O how lovely are thy dwellings: thou Lord of hosts!

My soul hath a desire and longing to enter into the courts of the Lord: my heart and my flesh rejoice in the living God.

Yea, the sparrow hath found her an house, and the swallow a nest where she may lay her young: even thine altars, O Lord of hosts, my King and my God.

Blessed are they that dwell in thy house: they will be alway praising thee.

Blessed are the men whose strength is in thee: in whose heart are the pilgrim ways.

Who going through the vale of misery use it for a well: yea, the early rain covereth it with blessings.

They go from strength to strength: and unto the God of gods appeareth every one of them in Sion.

O Lord God of hosts, hear my prayer: hearken, O God of Jacob.

Behold, O God our shield: and look upon the face of thine Anointed,

For one day ill thy courts: is better than a thousand.

I had rather be a door-keeper in the house of my God: than to dwell in the tents of ungodliness.

For the Lord God is a light and defence: the Lord will give grace and glory, and no good thing shall he withhold from them that live a godly life.

O Lord God of hosts: blessed is the man that putteth his trust in thee.

[7] Charles Hylton Stewart: Psalm CXXX

Out of the deep have I called unto thee, O Lord: Lord, hear my voice.

O let thine ears consider well: the voice of my complaint

If thou, Lord, wilt be extreme to mark what is done amiss: O Lord, who may abide it?

But there is forgiveness with thee: therefore shalt thou be feared.

I look for the Lord; my soul doth wait for him: in his word is my trust.

My soul looketh for the Lord more than watchmen for the morning: yea more than watchmen for the morning.

O Israel, trust in the Lord, for with the Lord there is mercy: and with him is plenteous redemption.

And he shall redeem Israel: from all his sin.

[8] Sir Edward Bairstow:

The Lamentations of Jeremiah

How doth the city sit solitary, that was ful1 of people! how is she become as a widow! she that was great among the nations, and princess among the provinces, how is she become tributary!

She weepeth sore in the night, and her tears are on her cheeks: among all her lovers she hath none to comfort her.

The ways of Zion do mourn, because none come to the solemn assembley: all her gates are desolate: and she herself is in bitterness.

The Lord hath afflicted her for the multitude of her transgressions: her children are gone into captivity before the enemy.

All they that walk by clap their hands at her; they hiss and wag their head at the daughter of Jerusalem, saying, "is this the city that men call The perfection of beauty, The joy of the whole earth?"

Jerusalem! Jerusalem! Return unto the Lord thy God!

For these things I weep; mine eye runneth down with water.

From on high hath the Lord sent fire into my bones; and it prevaileth against them; he hath made me desolate and faint all the day.

My flesh and my skin hath he made old;

he hath broken my bones.

He hath builded against me, and compassed me with gall and travail.

He hath made me to dwell in dark places,

as those that have been long dead.

I am become a derision to all my people;

and their song all the day.

Let him give his cheek to him that smiteth him:

Let him be filled full with reproach.

Is it nothing to you, all ye that pass by: behold

and see if there be any sorrow like unto my sorrow.

Remember my affliction and my misery:

the wormwood and the gall.

Jerusalem! Jerusalem! Return unto the Lord thy God!

Remember, O Lord, what is come upon us:

behold, and see our reproach.

The joy of our heart is ceased;

our dance is turned into mourning.

The crown is fallen from our head:

woe unto us, for we have sinned!

For this our heart is faint;

for these things our eyes are dim.

Let us search and try our ways,

and turn again to the Lord.

Turn thou us unto thee, O Lord, and we shall be turned; renew our days as of old.

It is of the Lord's mercies that we are not consumed: because his compassions fail not.

They are new every morning: great is thy faithfulness.

The Lord is my portion, saith my soul;

therefore will I hope in him.

O Lord, thou hast pleaded the causes of my soul;

thou hast redeemed my life.

Jerusalem! Jerusalem! Return unto the Lord thy God!

(Text selected from The Lamentations of Jeremiah by The Very Rev. E. M. Milner-White)

[9] Lennox Berkeley:

The Lord is my Shepherd

The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want.

He maketh me to lie down

In green pastures; He leadeth me

Beside The still waters.

He restoreth my soul;

He leadeth me

In the paths of righteousness, for His Name's fake.

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil;

For Thou art with me; Thy rod

And Thy staff they comfort me.

(Psalm XXIII, vv. 1-4)

Noel Edison: Psalm CXXI

I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills: O whence cometh my help?

My help cometh even from the Lord: who hath made heaven and earth.

He will not suffer thy foot to be moved: and he that keepeth thee will not sleep.

Behold, he that keepeth Israel: shall neither slumber nor sleep.

The Lord himself is thy keeper: the Lord is thy defence upon thy right hand;

So that the sun shall not burn thee by day: neither the moon by night.

The Lord shall preserve thee from all evil: yea, it is even he that shall keep thy soul.

The Lord shall preserve thy going out, and thy coming in: from this time forth for evermore.

[11] Sir David Willcocks: Psalm CXXXI

Lord, I am not high-minded: I have no proud looks.

I do not exercise myself in great matters: which are too high for me.

But I calm my soul, and keep it quiet, like a weanèd child with his mother: yea, my soul is even as a weaned child.

O Israel, trust in the Lord: from this time forth for evermore.

[12] Herbert Howells: Like as the hart

Like as the hart desireth the waterbrooks,

so longeth my soul after thee, O God.

My soul is athirst for God, yea, even for the living God:

when shall I come to appear before the presence of God?

My tears have been my meat day and night: while they daily say unto me,

Where is now thy God?

My tears have been my meat day and night.

Like as the hart desireth the waterbrooks,

so longeth my soul after thee, O God.

(Psalm XLII, vv. 1-3)

[13] Thomas Attwood WalmisIey: Psalm CXLVIII

O praise the Lord from the heavens: praise him in the heights.

Praise him, all ye angels of his: praise him, all his host.

Praise him, sun and moon: praise him, all ye stars of light.

Praise him, all ye heavens: and ye waters that are above the heavens.

Let them praise the Name of the Lord: for he commanded, and they were created.

He hath made them fast for ever and ever: he hath given them a law which shall not be broken.

Praise the Lord from the earth: ye dragons, and all deeps;

Fire and hail, snow and vapour: wind and storm, fulfilling his word;

Mountains and all hills: fruitful trees and all cedars

Beasts and all cattle: worms and feathered fowls;

Kings of the earth and all peoples: princes and all judges the world;

Young men and maidens, old men and children, let them praise the Name of the Lord: for his Name only is excellent, and his glory above heaven and earth.

He shall exalt the horn of his people; all his saints shall praise him: even the children of Israel, even the people that serveth him.

[14] Sir Ivor Atkins: Psalm CXLIX

O sing unto the Lord a new song: let the congregation of saints praise him.

Let Israel rejoice in him that made him: and let the children of Sion be joyful in their King.

Let them praise his Name in the dance: let them sing praises unto him with timbrel and harp.

For the Lord hath pleasure in his people: and adoreth the humble with salvation.

Let the saints be joyful with glory: let them sing for joy upon their couches.

Let the praises of God be in their mouth: and a two-edged sword in their hands;

To be avenged of the nations: and to rebuke the peoples;

To bind their kings in chains: and their nobles with links of iron.

To execute upon them a judgement that is written: Such honour have all his saints.

[15] Sir Charles Villiers Stanford: Psalm CL

O praise God in his holiness: praise him in the firmament of his power.

Praise him in his noble acts: praise him according to his excellent greatness.

Praise him in the sound of the trumpet: praise him upon the lute and harp.

Praise him in the cymbals and dances: praise him upon the strings and pipe.

Praise him upon the well-tuned cymbals: praise him upon the loud cymbals.

Let every thing that hath breath: praise the Lord.

Close the window