For His Mercy Endures Forever

ForHisMercyEnduresForeverP1SATB setting of the complete Psalm 136, with the refrain “For his mercy endures forever.” Commissioned by Judi and Earl Reeder, in honor of their 50th wedding anniversary, for the choir of Holy Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, Abington, Pa., and premiered there 26 Nov 2014, Thanksgiving Eve. Duration 5′. Pricing.

When Judi and Earl (what a wonderful way to celebrate their 50th!), who sing in our choir (I sing bass in it, often next to Earl; my wife Jackie is the director), asked me about setting this, the challenges that immediately came to mind were two: it’s a long text, and every verse ends with the same words, “For his mercy endures forever.” That’s 26 refrains.

But I was enthusiastic about tackling this. As I read it over again, it started to suggest a solution by breaking into groups of three verses each, mostly. I then came up with three different versions of a refrain, trusting that the variety would alleviate the repetition of the words. The exuberance of much of the text recommended fast—or at least lively—music for the setting, and what I landed on has echoes, I think, of the early American shape-note genres.

The pitches are fairly easy to learn, each line being very triadic in nature. At a brisk tempo, the rhythms start to take on the character of chant, with groups of two and three beats tumbling over each other. The successful reading of this, then, will feel these groups, and will be very mindful of the quarter-note rests. Observing these with great exactness will help to propel the music forward.

O give thanks unto the Lord, for he is good: for his mercy endures forever. O give thanks unto the God of gods: for his mercy endures forever. O give thanks to the Lord of lords: for his mercy endures forever.

To him who alone does great wonders: for his mercy endures forever. To him who by wisdom made the heavens: for his mercy endures forever. To him who stretched out the earth above the waters: for his mercy endures forever.

To him who made great lights: for his mercy endures forever: The sun to rule by day: for his mercy endures forever: The moon and stars to rule by night: for his mercy endures forever.

To him who smote Egypt in their firstborn: for his mercy endures forever: And brought out Israel from among them: for his mercy endures forever: With a strong hand, and with an outstretched arm: for his mercy endures forever.

To him who divided the Red Sea in two: for his mercy endures forever: And made Israel pass through the midst of it: for his mercy endures forever: But overthrew Pharaoh and his host in the Red Sea: for his mercy endures forever. To him who led his people through the wilderness: for his mercy endures forever.

To him who smote great kings: for his mercy endures forever: And slew famous kings: for his mercy endures forever: Sihon king of the Amorites: for his mercy endures forever: And Og the king of Bashan: for his mercy endures forever: And gave their land for a heritage: for his mercy endures forever: Even a heritage to Israel his servant: for his mercy endures forever.

Who remembered us in our low estate: for his mercy endures forever: And has redeemed us from our enemies: for his mercy endures forever. Who gives food to all flesh: for his mercy endures forever.

O give thanks unto the God of heaven: for his mercy endures forever.

Live recording, the choir of The Church of the Holy Trinity, Rittenhouse Square, Philadelphia, John French, director: 

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