Something for the Kingdom Season

Fiddling with a tune – Oxford

Graveyard At St Davids
Graveyard at St David’s

The four weeks in November, between All Saints and Advent, now get their own form of Daily Prayer. The opening psalm for the mornings is a selection of verses from Psalm 42, “As pants the hart for cooling streams”. This metrical version, of course, goes to Hugh Wilson’s Martyrdom. It is one of the few psalms that has survived into modern hymn books, though sadly dropped from some of the most recent ones.

The Canticle that Common Worship provides is a selection of verses from Is 43, vv 15,16,18,19,20c,21. Common Worship calls it ‘A Song of the New Creation’ . In Book 6 of this collection, it is called ‘Forget Former Things’ after a prominent theme in the canticle. Here are the words.

1.     Thus says the Lord who cleaves a way – through sea, and ocean’s spring;
‘I am the Lord, your holy one – your Maker and your King’

2.     Forget what was, the former things; – what used to be for you.
Can you not see it leaping forth? – I’m doing something new.

3.     I shall lay in the wilderness – a way for those dispersed:
Make rivers in the desert flow – to quench my peoples’s thirst.

4.°    Since in waste places I provide, ~ water that’s clean not foul,
Even wild beasts will honour me ~ the wolf and desert owl

5.     I formed a people for myself – called to proclaim my praise:
A witness to all that I’ve done ~ through everlasting days.

The ° against v4 is to indicate that although this verse is in Isaiah, it is omitted from the selection in Common Worship. So it is optional. It could be left out.

The tune suggested in the collection is Oxford Old in A Minor. It may not strike users as a particularly exciting tune. It does though have an attractive ‘early music’ feel. It is in Playford’s psalter and goes back at least as far as 1564. Playford suggests it for Psalm 4 but it is not a tune that has survived to the present day. Playford also only provides three parts. The tune does not seem to have lasted long enough to have acquired a fourth part. If it has one, I have not been able to find it. So I had to attempt my own. The collection also offers it as an alternative to its provision for Psalm 4 whose recommended tune is Abbey. Here is the version in the collection at the moment.

1st version of Oxford
1st version of Oxford

It is in triple time but not quite a Playford set it out as his timing does not add up in the way we would now expect. He treats the end of each half line as a stop entitling him to start afresh. So this also has input from another three part version at hymnary.org .

However, using this tune in the last few days, I am not convinced the original rhythm works. It is not the triple time itself. It is the way it handles the rhythmic alterations to avoid monotony. So, here is a slightly different setting. The notes are identical, but I have reversed the rhythm of the third bar in the second half of the third half line. At the moment, I prefer the change and am minded to adopt it in the next edition of the collection. Let me know whether you agree.

Oxford v3 Nov 2015 version v2
Revised version of Oxford with reversed rhythm in third half line.

I am also offering this as an example of how one is not bound by what is on the paper. There is no obligation to be faithful to historical verisimilitude, no reason why we should not play with what has come down to us.  It would even be entirely legitimate to vary the rhythm between verses.

You may also, of course, decide you do not like my attempt at an alto part, and write your own.

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