27 May 2007

Pentecost and Psalm 104

A little over two decades ago I wrote a hymn text titled simply A Hymn for Pentecost, which I have just posted on my Genevan Psalter website. Here is the text:

O Spirit of God, descend as a dove,
alight on our hearts, fill them with your love.
As once the apostles were touched by your flame,
so rest upon us that new life we may claim.

O Fount of our faith, come, grant us your grace
that we might believe and so find a place
within your blest Kingdom, as promised to all
whom God in his mercy has chosen to call.

O Breath of true life, breathe into our pleas
the words that we dare to speak on our knees;
for we are God's children and heirs of his love,
therefore may we call on our Father above.

O Source of all strength, make us to be bold,
as oft you inspired your prophets of old.
Now give us the courage plainly to declare
your life-giving message to all who will hear.

O Counsellor, come: our spirit renew,
and guide your elect in paths that are true.
O lead us through shadows that darken our way
that we may walk joyfully into the day.

Text copyright © 1985 by David T. Koyzis

The tune I chose was OLD 104TH, composed by Thomas Ravenscroft for his Whole Book of Psalms, published in 1621. I had recently heard a recording of Ralph Vaughan Williams' Fantasia on the Old 104th Psalm Tune, which was my introduction to this melody. My choice was influenced by the ancient tradition appointing the singing of Psalm 104 on the feast of Pentecost.

There appears to be a curious relationship between Ravenscroft's 104 and the Genevan Psalter's tune for the same psalm. The metre ( is identical save for two things: (1) That of the Genevan melody is double that of Ravenscroft (, and (2) the internal stresses are quite different. In Ravenscroft's Psalter this text is joined to his tune, as sung by the choral ensemble in Vaughan Williams' Fantasia. Yet it seems that in the Scottish Psalter of 1635 the Genevan melody was used, as indicated here. I personally find it more difficult to sing "My soul, Praise the Lord, speak good of his Name" to the Genevan tune than to Ravenscroft's, which better fits the text. Yet my own assessment was obviously not shared by many Christians in the 17th century.

There is obviously a story to be told about the relationship between these two tunes, but I don't know whether anyone has ever looked into it. It could, I suppose, make up a chapter in someone's dissertation, if there's a graduate student somewhere interested in pursuing the topic.

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