29 Dec – St. David: Musical Poet King, Prophet, Progenitor of Christ

Holy Church considers many Old Testament figures to be saints.

Today when you open your trusty copy of the 2005 Martyrologium Romanum you will find, just below the St. Thomas Becket, this interesting entry:

2. Commemoratio sancti David, regis et prophetae, qu, filius Iesse Bethlehemitae, gratiam invenit ante Deum et oleo sancto a Samuele propheta unctus est, ut populum Israel regeret; in civitatem Ierusalem Arcam foederis Domini transtulit ac Dominus ipse mox ei iuravit semen eius in aeternum mansurum esse, eo quod ex ipso Iesus Christus secundum carnem nasciturus esset.

You readers can come up with your renderings of the Latin original, either in a smoother version or perhaps in a slavishly literal way.

Changing tracks slightly, in the Metropolitan Museum of Art there  is a series of paintings of Old Testament figures, including King David.  These are elements from an altar piece by Florentine painter Lorenzo Monaco (known also as Piero di Giovanni +1422).

Moses is at the top left.  Next to him is Abraham.  Below him on the bottom right is Noah with his ark.

By thy way, since I took that photo, the paintings have been rearranged… in case you go looking.

Here is David, holding a psaltery.  Greek psallo means “to pluck”.   While there are also bowed psaltery, this one is plucked by the fingers rather than bowed or struck with a pick or plectrum.

When you get the audio guide at the Met and listen to experts talk about the works, sometimes you get a sample of period music.  In this case, you get to hear some music played on a psaltery.

I dug around a bit and found some psaltery music on Youtube and elsewhere.

You can hear, below, a sample of bowed psaltery together with a small harp, also appropriate to David, as well as plucked psaltery in two versions of a Medieval Lament for Tristan, which would have been in vogue at the time the painter was working on the altar piece.

Listen as you do your translation!


Also, here again is Tristan’s Lament.

And, just for fun… here is another image of a psaltery bunny from a late 13th c. French manuscript. He even had the audience moved to sorrow.


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10 Responses to 29 Dec – St. David: Musical Poet King, Prophet, Progenitor of Christ

  1. Mike says:

    My Latin is not smooth enough to do a translation in the time I can reasonably spare, and anyhow I’m working on my Italian for next year’s Summorum pilgrimage. All is not lost, however: today I learned cibo—a good Gospel-word cognate, no?—and also fagiolo, so I’m counting it a day well spent.

  2. Spinmamma says:

    Thank you for posting this music. I greatly enjoyed it. It is also of great interest to know what the Medieval mind conceived as David’s music, and I added to my understanding of why they called their beautiful illuminated psalm books “Psalters.”

  3. Geoffrey says:

    “…when you open your trusty copy of the 2005 Martyrologium Romanum…”

    2005?! It is almost 2018 and still no official English-language edition yet?!

  4. acardnal says:

    “And whenever the evil spirit from God was upon Saul, David took the lyre and played it with his hand; so Saul was refreshed, and was well, and the evil spirit departed from him.”
    1 Samual 16:23

    “Then an evil spirit from the LORD came upon Saul, as he sat in his house with his spear in his hand; and David was playing the lyre. And Saul sought to pin David to the wall with the spear; but he eluded Saul, so that he struck the spear into the wall. And David fled, and escaped. ”
    1 Samual 19:9-10

  5. acardnal says:

    I found no use of the word “psaltery” in the RSVCE or the NABRE where they substituted another word for the instrument. Other translations have as many as 13 uses including the KJV, ASV, NASB, Douay-Rheims 1899 edition, etc.

  6. acardnal says:

    Here is a comparison between the NABRE and the NKJV versions of Daniel 3:15:

    Daniel 3:15 New King James Version (NKJV)
    15 Now if you are ready at the time you hear the sound of the horn, flute, harp, lyre, and psaltery, in symphony with all kinds of music, and you fall down and worship the image which I have made, good! But if you do not worship, you shall be cast immediately into the midst of a burning fiery furnace. And who is the god who will deliver you from my hands

    Daniel 3:15 New American Bible (Revised Edition) (NABRE)
    15 Now, if you are ready to fall down and worship the statue I made, whenever you hear the sound of the horn, pipe, zither, dulcimer, harp, double-flute, and all the other musical instruments, then all will be well;[a] if not, you shall be instantly cast into the white-hot furnace; and who is the God who can deliver you out of my hands?”

  7. stephen c says:

    [Today is the ] Commemoration of Saint David, King and prophet, who (the original is misspelled, it is qui, not qu), by the grace of God (literally, who “found grace before God”, but that is not Biblical) and was anointed for the purpose of a holy prophetic life by Samuel [the Prophet] (Samuel gets a capital P for Prophet and David does not, for obvious reasons) (prophet – accusative of purpose) … so that he should rule the people of Israel … he was responsible for the act of bringing the Ark of the Covenant to the city of Jerusalem (he ‘through carried’ the Ark of the Covenant to the city of Jerusalem, more literally) and (and here translates ‘ac’, which has no direct and specific translation to English – it is the same word as atque and can mean and, and moreover, and especially, – which in this context, would be very laudatory – or can also mean ‘and consequently’, which in this context is not laudatory – it can mean the only reason that God gave him blessings was this one act, of bringing the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem, and it can mean that we are being told if he had not done this one thing, all the rest – the being anointed, the prophetic calling -were worthless in the eyes of God, but he got the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem, so the following promise -“ac ipse Dominus iuravit”, was made) ( I don’t pretend do know which meaning is here meant) ‘ac Deus ipse ei mox iuravit’ = and God himself thereupon solemnly promised him’ that his seed would not fail before the end of time, from which (‘eo’ dative of agent) [‘eo quod ex ipso’ from that out same = from that verily] ….Jesus Christ, according to the flesh, would be born.

    Commemoration of Saint David, King and prophet, who found Grace in the sight of God, and was anointed to live a saintly and prophetic life by Samuel, to rule the people of Israel;
    the saint who brought unto the city of Jerusalem the Ark of the Covenant, and to whom, therefore, God gave a promise that in eternity his seed would not perish, from which Jesus Christ would, in human form, according to human flesh, nativity find.

  8. stephen c says:

    Commemoration of Saint David, King and prophet, one of the sons of Jesse of Bethlehem, who found Grace in the sight of God, and was anointed to live a saintly and prophetic life by the Prophet Samuel, to rule the people of Israel; …
    who brought unto the city of Jerusalem the Ark of the Covenant, to whom as a consequence God Himself gave the Holy Promise that in eternity his progeny would never perish, wherefore Jesus Christ would according to bodily humanity nativity find.

  9. Baritone says:

    Stay psaltery my friends :-)

    Fr. Z's Gold Star Award

  10. Semper Gumby says:

    Thanks Fr. Z. Though I admit while listening to this great psaltery music I referred to stephen c’s translation half the time. acardnal: interesting. Good one Baritone.

    All this talk reminds me of the “small lyre” scene from Mel Brooks’ History of the World Part 1. The Roman Emperor, after too much wine and in the mood to play some music, exclaims “Bring me a small lyre!” Two soldiers depart and immediately return gripping between them a small man whose legs are churning furiously in an attempt to escape. The little man shrieks: “I didn’t do it! I didn’t do it!”


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