Sunday morning listening: Ives, Psalm 90

Fresh from being blown away by the Detroit Symphony and their romp through the four number symphonies by Charles Ives, I remembered slogging through an Ives choral work in college, the Psalm 90. The slogging speaks to our abilities, not Ives’.

Unisons give way to carefully assembled tone clusters, which heighten certain meaningful words – ‘to another,’ ‘destruction,’ ‘flood,’ ‘evil.’ The unison returns as a shock or a comfort. When performed correctly, as in this recording, the harmonies are so close that you can feel yourself reverberating in sympathy. I’ve pasted the text below to follow along. It is a passage that will be read at no wedding.

Who else but Ives could give us a Psalm transfigured, starting with unconventional plainchant to an ecstatic recitative to the closing transcendental hymn?

  • 1. Lord, thou hast been our dwelling place from one generation to another.
  • 2. Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever thou hadst formed the earth and the world, even from everlasting to everlasting, thou art God.
  • 3. Thou turnest man to destruction; and sayest, “Return, ye children of men.”
  • 4. For a thousand years in thy sight are but as yesterday when it is past, and as a watch in the night.
  • 5. Thou carriest them away as with a flood; they are as a sleep; in the morning they are like grass which groweth up.
  • 6. In the morning it flourisheth and groweth up; in the evening it is cut down, and withereth.
  • 7. For we are consumed by thine anger, and by thy wrath are we troubled.
  • 8. Thou hast set our iniquities before thee, our secret sins in the light of thy countenance.
  • 9. For all our days are passed away in thy wrath: we spend our years as a tale that is told.
  • 10. The days of our years are threescore years and ten; and if by reason of strength they be fourscore years, yet is their strength labor and sorrow; for it is soon cut off, and we fly away.
  • 11. Who knoweth the pow’r of thine anger? even according to thy fear, so is thy wrath.
  • 12. So teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom.
  • 13. Return, O Lord, how long? and let it repent thee concerning thy servants.
  • 14. O satisfy us early with thy mercy; that we may rejoice and be glad all our days.
  • 15. Make us glad according to the days wherein thou hast afflicted us, and the years wherein we have seen evil.
  • 16. Let thy work appear unto thy servants, and thy glory unto their children.
  • 17. And let the beauty of the Lord our God be upon us: and establish thou the work of our hands upon us; yea, the work of our hands establish thou it. Amen.

I would have also included a clip from the Fourth symphony, in which his endless layering is most impressive, but the effect is really best live.

About thousandfoldecho

Everyone likes classical music. Not everyone knows it yet.
This entry was posted in Amanda, Listening to Music and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Sunday morning listening: Ives, Psalm 90

  1. Amy Lieberman says:

    I forgot how much I love this piece….stunning. I have sung the Ives a couple of times, and it was beyond thrilling to be a part of that mystical sound!

    I got your message – thanks for calling. Is the work on your apartment done yet? I hope so. When are you coming to Boston? Would love to try again!



  2. scillagrace says:

    Ives is fascinating…

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