Jakob & Nathan Tulve – Antiphon: Angeli, Archangeli & Psalm 138

by 5:4

For today’s Advent Calendar piece i’m turning to part of a concert given by the choir Vox Clamantis. Originally formed to explore Gregorian chant, while the choir’s repertoire now encompasses ancient and modern, one of the features of their concerts is the way they’re structured as what could be called ‘secular liturgies’, somewhat like a modern reinvention of choral evensong. On 30 September 2017, they gave a concert based around the music for the service of second vespers for the feast of St Michael (celebrated the previous day). The first part of this consisted of the four festal psalms with their accompanying antiphons, all of which were clothed in an electronic soundworld created by Jakob and Nathan Tulve (sons of Vox Clamantis’ conductor Jan-Eik Tulve).

The most effective of them was the last of the four, featuring the antiphon Angeli, Archangeli and Psalm 138. For the opening antiphon, the electronics are kept back, used only to establish their presence and to suffuse the voices with a soft radiance (though emerging from what are initially quite percussive, vaguely cimbalom-like sounds). Throughout the Psalm that the electronics become much more prominent. What i find so effective about it is that it reinvents from a modern perspective the standard approach to psalm singing. Traditionally, the organist does their best to dramatise the repeating chant through their accompaniment. The Tulve brothers’ approach extends this, continuing what was started during the antiphon, creating an atmosphere of light within which the choir sings, while also undergoing its own meandering development both directed towards and against the sung text.

In other words, there isn’t an overt attempt to electronically word-paint the Psalm. Quite the contrary: earlier on, low plunking tones move like an abstract plucked bassline following its own pace (“super misericordia tua et veritate tua”) and an array of percussive ratchets materialise (“Et cantent in viis Domini”). These are unexpected elements in a context like this, and work to heighten the atmosphere considerably, taking it far from away from the ordinary, quotidian process of recitation and repetition at the heart of the liturgy and transporting it somewhere genuinely ‘other’, far beyond what an organ could achieve. That being said, the electronics do also fulfil, in a tangential way, something of the traditional organ role later on. Roaming bass notes and various pitch clouds above bestow on the chant unexpected but sympathetic harmonic implications. Again, this works to elevate the tone, extending throughout the repeat of the antiphon.

Many years ago, when i would regularly frequent services of choral evensong, i always used to wonder if the church might finally, one day, even begin to assimilate ideas and tech from contemporary and avant-garde music into their activities. Obviously, that day will likely never come, but Jakob and Nathan Tulve’s music give a hint as to what it could be like.

The performance was given by Vox Clamantis conducted by Jan-Eik Tulve, with Jakob and Nathan Tulve on electronics, at the Niguliste Church in Tallinn. Details about the whole ‘liturgical’ concert can be seen here.

Antiphon: Angeli, Archangeli


Angeli, Archangeli, Throni et Dominationes,
Principatus et Potestates, Virtutes caelorum,
laudate Dominum de caelis, alleluia.

Angels, Archangels, Thrones and Dominions
Principality and Powers, Virtues of Heaven
Praise the Lord from the heavens, alleluia.

Psalm 138

Confitebor tibi, Domine, in toto corde meo,
quoniam audisti verba oris mei.
In conspectu angelorum psallam tibi;
adorabo ad templum sanctum tuum,
et confitebor nomini tuo:
super misericordia tua et veritate tua;
quoniam magnificasti super omne, nomen sanctum tuum.
In quacumque die invocavero te, exaudi me;
multiplicabis in anima mea virtutem.
Confiteantur tibi, Domine, omnes reges terrae,
quia audierunt omnia verba oris tui.
Et cantent in viis Domini,
quoniam magna est gloria Domini;
quoniam excelsus Dominus, et humilia respicit,
et alta a longe cognoscit.
Si ambulavero in medio tribulationis, vivificabis me;
et super iram inimicorum meorum
extendisti manum tuam,
et salvum me fecit dextera tua.
Dominus retribuet pro me. Domine, misericordia tua in saeculum;
opera manuum tuarum ne despicias.

Gloria Patri, et Filio, et Spiritui Sancto,
Sicut erat in principio, et nunc, et semper, et in saecula saeculorum. Amen.

I will give thanks to you, O Lord, with all my heart
for you have heard the words of my mouth.
I will sing to you in the sight of angels;
I will worship at your holy temple
and confess your name:
for your mercy and your truth;
because you have magnified your holy name above all.
On the day I call upon you, hear me;
you will increase strength in my soul.
Let all the kings of the earth confess to you, O Lord,
that they have heard all the words of your mouth.
They shall sing of the ways of the Lord,
that the glory of the Lord is great;
for the Lord is high, and looks down upon the lowly,
and the haughty he perceives from far away.
If I walk in the midst of trouble, you will revive me;
and against the wrath of my enemies
you have stretched out your hand,
and your right hand has saved me.
The Lord will fulfil his purpose for me. O Lord, your mercy endures for ever;
despise not the works of your hands.

Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit
As it was in the beginning, and now, and always, and forever and ever. Amen


Angeli, Archangeli, Throni et Dominationes,
Principatus et Potestates, Virtutes caelorum,
laudate Dominum de caelis, alleluia.

Angels, Archangels, Thrones and Dominions
Principality and Powers, Virtues of Heaven
Praise the Lord from the heavens, alleluia.

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