Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Psalm 150 verses 3-5a

Verses 3-5a of Psalm 150 present us with a list of instruments with which we should praise God.  How should these be interpreted?  The list can obviously be taken literally, enriching our liturgy with the instruments of the orchestra.  But the Fathers generally also add an allegorical level of interpretation to this.

Laudáte eum in sono tubæ: * laudáte eum in psaltério, et cíthara.
Laudate eum in clangore bucinae : laudate eum in psalterio et cithara.

ανετε ατν ν χ σάλπιγγος ανετε ατν ν ψαλτηρί κα κιθάρ

sonus, i, and us, m., a noise, sound.
tuba, ae, a trumpet.
psalterium, ii, n. a stringed instrument, a psaltery, harp, zither.
cithara, ae,.stringed instrument, a harp, lyre

Praise him with the sound of trumpet: praise him with psaltery and harp.
Praise him with the sound of a trumpet: praise him with psaltery and harp
Praise him in the sound of the trumpet; praise him upon the lute and harp.

In general the Fathers took the instruments to reflect the various characteristics of those doing the praising.  Prosper of Aquitaine, for example, suggests that:

"The instruments are the saints themselves, giving polyphonic praise through their deeds, and singing in tune with Holy Spirit who inspires praise within them."

The key to interpretation then, is to look at the characteristics of the instruments concerned, and what they point to.  Origen, for example considers that:

"The trumpet is the contemplative mind, or mind whereby the teaching of the spirit is embraced.  The harp is the busy mind quickened by the commands of Christ."
Laudáte eum in tympano, et choro: * laudáte eum in chordis, et órgano
laudate eum in tympano et choro, laudate eum in chordis et organo,
Laudate eum in tympano et choro : laudate eum in chordis et organo.

ανετε ατν ν τυμπάν κα χορ ανετε ατν ν χορδας κα ργάν

tympanum, i, n. timbrel, tabret, small hand drum or tambourine.
chorus, i, m.   a choral dance; a dancing and singing troop or band, a chorus, a choir.
chorda, ae, a string of a musical instrument.
organum, i, n. organ pipe

Praise him with timbrel and choir: praise him with strings and organs.
Praise him with timbrel and dance: praise him with stringed instruments and the organ.
Praise Him with the timbrel and dance, praise Him with strings and flute!
Praise him with timbrel and dance; praise him with strings and pipe!
Praise him in the cymbals and dances; praise him upon the strings and pipe.

St Augustine interprets the various components suggested here as follows:

The timbrel praises God when the flesh is now changed, so that there is in it no weakness of earthly corruption. For the timbrel is made of leather dried and strengthened. The choir praises God when society made peaceful praises Him. Praise Him on the strings and organ. Both psaltery and harp, which have been mentioned above, have strings. But organ is a general name for all instruments of music, although usage has now obtained that those are specially called organ which are inflated with bellows: but I do not think that this kind is meant here. For since organ is a Greek word, applied generally, as I have said, to all musical instruments, this instrument, to which bellows are applied, is called by the Greeks by another name: but it being called organ is rather a Latin and conversational usage. When then he says, on the strings and organ, he seems to me to have intended to signify some instrument which has strings. For it is not psalteries and harps only that have strings: but, because in the psaltery, and harp, on account of the sound from things below and things above, somewhat has been found which can be understood after this distinction, he has suggested to us to seek some other meaning in the strings themselves: for they too are flesh, but flesh now set free from corruption. And to those, it may be, he added the organ, to signify that they sound not each separately, but sound together in most harmonious diversity, just as they are arranged in a musical instrument. For even then the saints of God will have their differences, accordant, not discordant, that is, agreeing, not disagreeing, just as sweetest harmony arises from sounds differing indeed, but not opposed to one another.

Laudáte eum in cymbalis benesonántibus: laudáte eum in cymbalis jubilatiónis: 
laudate eum in cymbalis benesonantibus, laudate eum in cymbalis iubilationis
Laudate eum in cymbalis sonantibus : laudate eum in cymbalis tinnientibus. 

ανετε ατν ν κυμβάλοις εήχοις ανετε ατν ν κυμβάλοις λαλαγμο 

cymbalum, i, n. a cymbal, one of a pair of concave brass plates, which emit a ringing sound when struck together
benesonans, antis, sweet-sounding, high-sounding, melodious.
jubilatio, onisgladness, jubilation.

Praise him on high sounding cymbals: praise him on cymbals of joy
Praise him with melodious cymbals: praise him with loud cymbals. 
Praise Him with ringing cymbals, praise Him with crashing cymbals
Praise him upon the well-tuned cymbals; praise him upon the loud cymbals. 

St Augustine continues:

Cymbals touch one another in order to sound, and therefore are by some compared to our lips. But I think it better to understand that God is in a manner praised on the cymbal, when each is honoured by his neighbour, not by himself, and then honouring one another, they give praise to God. But lest any should understand such cymbals as sound without life, therefore I think he added, on cymbals of jubilation. For jubilation that is, unspeakable praise, proceeds not, save from life. Nor do I think that I should pass over what musicians say, that there are three kinds of sounds, by voice, by breath, by striking: by voice, uttered by throat and windpipe, when man sings without any instrument; by breath, as by pipe, or anything of that sort: by striking, as by harp, or anything of that kind. None then of these kinds is omitted here: for there is voice in the choir, breath in the trumpet, striking in the harp, representing mind, spirit, body, but by similitudes, not in the proper sense of the words. When then he proposed, Praise God in His saints, to whom said he this, save to themselves? And in whom are they to praise God, save in themselves? For you, says he, are His saints; you are His strength, but that which He wrought in you; you are His mighty works, and the multitude of His greatness, which He has wrought and set forth in you. You are trumpet, psaltery, harp, timbrel, choir, strings, and organ, cymbals of jubilation sounding well, because sounding in harmony. 

Psalm 150: Laudate Dominum
Laudáte Dóminum in sanctis ejus: * laudáte eum in firmaménto virtútis ejus.
Praise the Lord in his holy places: praise him in the firmament of his power.
2  Laudáte eum in virtútibus ejus: * laudáte eum secúndum multitúdinem magnitúdinis ejus.
2 Praise him for his mighty acts: praise him according to the multitude of his greatness.
3  Laudáte eum in sono tubæ: * laudáte eum in psaltério, et cíthara.
3 Praise him with the sound of trumpet: praise him with psaltery and harp.
4  Laudáte eum in tympano, et choro: * laudáte eum in chordis, et órgano
4 Praise him with timbrel and choir: praise him with strings and organs.
5  Laudáte eum in cymbalis benesonántibus: laudáte eum in cymbalis jubilatiónis: * omnis spíritus laudet Dóminum.
5 Praise him on high sounding cymbals: praise him on cymbals of joy: 6 Let every spirit praise the Lord. Alleluia

And you can find the next part of notes on this psalm here.

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