Thursday, April 1, 2021

Psalms 69 - Locrian mode? Laying out a psalm in some detail.

I have reworked the post on Psalms 69 to show the columns summarizing the musical shape. I manually put the music into what I think would be e-locrian. As part of the Psalms reading exercise, 69 is very suitable to the week for both Jew and Gentile. I have spread out the verses into 14 pages, 225 bars and placed the English in the accompaniment so you can read and hear the music together. Imagine creating an English underlay as a first step.

The opening diminished fifths create a very interesting motif for an inscription. 

e ill,e ill,e - verse 1 has the only two illui in the psalm. How many other psalms have a double fifth in their incipit? It's quite common too: Psalms 36, 44, 47, 49, 61, 69, 81, 85, are very similar having only the e reciting note, with two illui ornaments. All the inscriptions (except 36) are "For the leader. Of the children of Korah. A psalm."  Psalms 36 has the inscription: For the leader. Of a servant of Yahweh. Of David.

The interval of a fifth recurs frequently in this psalm through the rising and falling fifths the tonic e (silluq) and the dominant, Bb (munah). Fully half the verses begin with an opening jump of the fifth, almost as if it were a specialty to this psalm. (819 other verses in the book of psalms have such an interval so the 19 verses of Psalms 69 are not particularly notable for this property.) The same can be said for the interval B-e. It is common as we might expect harmonically. 12 verses of Psalms 69 end with this interval. 

Could the music be made to work with a flattened fifth? The ole-veyored as a cadence seems at first less effective, but it has some stability. One can get used to almost any mode. 

I find taking in the shape is by no means initially obvious. So I am spreading out the notes. I put in the English too. I will admit to being influenced by the prosody of English poetry and music in my English versions. I have laid out the work-in-progress so you can see the process. If you are going to write an arrangement, there is a lot of architectural thinking to do. 

The questions, once it is all laid out... Where are the strophes, the musical units? What sort of theme and recapitulation can we see? What twists and turns must we negotiate? 37 verses represent a substantial libretto. And of course, would another mode, or even several, be suitable? Imagine managing a cantus firmus derived from these melodies the way Bach does in the Confiteor. Right at this initial moment of course, it is all recitative. It is a blank slate awaiting the work of a genius composer. [See also the follow-up post next.]



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