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Psalm 126

posted Mar 17, 2016, 1:41 PM by Steven Vaughan
A song of ascents.

When the LORD restored the captives of Zion, we thought we were dreaming.
Then our mouths were filled with laughter; our tongues sang for joy.
Then it was said among the nations,“The LORD had done great things for them.”
The LORD has done great things for us; Oh, how happy we were!
Restore our captives, LORD, like the dry stream beds of the Negeb.

Those who sow in tears will reap with cries of joy.
Those who go forth weeping, carrying sacks of seed, Will return with cries of joy, carrying their bundled sheaves.
Another one of The Songs of Ascent, this psalm is part of the “hymn book” of Psalms 120 – 134 used by Israelites as they ascended the mountains to Jerusalem, called there to celebrate religious feasts three times a year. It was probably first sung shortly after Israel’s return from exile; as the people rejoice they are in Zion, they pray for the prosperity and fertility of the land.

In 1714, Jean-Philippe Rameau composed a Latin setting of this psalm, referred to by its opening phrase, In convertendo Dominus. He then updated it for the 1751 Concert spirituel in Paris. This was one of the first public concert series in existence, with a program of sacred choral works and instrumental pieces created to provide entertainment on religious holidays when places such as the Paris Opera and Comédie-Française were closed. Another Latin setting was composed by Lorenzo Perosi, who was a friend of opera composer Giacomo Puccini. Though not as well remembered today as his friend, in his time Perosi was one of the world’s most famous musicians, and in 1898 was appointed Maestro Perpetuo della Cappella Sistina, or Perpetual Director of the Sistine Choir at the Vatican. He served there under five Popes, including Pope Saint Pius X.

As the first movement of his German Requiem, Johannes Brahms set in German Verses 5 & 6, which promise the painful work of sowing will be crowned with life. In 1998 a version by Philip Glass premiered at Lincoln Center, in which the chorus sang wordless syllables and a narrator recited the text in English. Other notable English versions were composed by William Byrd in 1599 and Charles Villiers Stanford in 1909.
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