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A Symphony of Psalms

Cerys Matthews explores the enduring influence of the Psalms on musicians and composers across centuries and musical genres - from Judaism to jazz, from plainsong to pop.

Cerys Matthews explores the enduring influence of the Psalms on musicians and composers across the centuries and across musical genres from plainsong to pop, from choral to country, from jazz to reggae.

"Ever since singing Psalms in chapel as a small girl I've been intrigued by how they spoke directly and clearly to me. What still fascinates me is the longevity of these powerful poems - texts that have travelled the world and across cultures and are constantly being revisited and reworked and given new life. What is the power behind these poems and why do we still turn to them in times of trouble, love, sadness, conflict and joy?"

These ancient texts have inspired composers like Schutz, Handel, Mendelssohn and Stravinsky as well as Duke Ellington, Sinead O'Connor and U2. Their themes of praise and thanksgiving as well as ideas of resistance, echo through African American, spirituals and form a fundamental part of worship in a range of religious events as well as repertoire in the concert hall. The many settings of Psalm 23 'The Lord is my Shepherd', Psalm 137 'By the Waters of Babylon' and Psalm 150's celebration of praise - speak of the universal influence of these words on our daily lives.

What is it about the power of these poems that allows them to transcend continents, cultures and musical styles?

Producers: Philip Titcombe and Andy Cartwright
A Soundscape Production for BBC Radio 4.

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44 minutes

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