Unmercenary Sacred Music
Hymn of Paradise and Penance
Have pity on me,
O Lord of paradise,
and if it is not possible for me
to enter paradise,
allow me to pasture outside, by it enclosure:
within is the table of the diligent,
but let the fruits of its enclosure
drop like crumbs outside,
so that through your grace
sinners may live.1
The antiphon of this song is taken from St. Ephrem’s fifteenth verse of his Hymns on Paradise, no. 5. It serves as the refrain to Psalm 51, known commonly in Latin terminology as the Miserere, from its first words, “Have mercy on me, O God.” As such, I set the psalm to Gregorian tone seven-c (7c). The Miserere, in Western liturgical history, is part of the Asperges, which is optionally sung in the penitential rite of the Roman mass. The traditional Gregorian setting of the Asperges is sung in tone seven. The structure works as follows: The first verse of the psalm is sung in unison in Gregorian psalm tone seven. The next verse follows in tone seven but harmonized in open fifths. The third verse is sung to a fully harmonized version of the psalm tone. The refrain’s melody is loosely based on the mixolydian scale, of which tone seven is based, and harmonized like the third verse. This pattern repeats throughout the psalm. It is arranged for a SATB choir or ensemble.
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