Tallis, Out from the Deep

Psalm 130 is traditionally the sixth of seven penitential psalms (6, 32, 38, 51, 102, 130, and 143). Its Latin designation (the italic title in the Book of Common Prayer) is De profundis, and the first words in English are “Out of the deep.” The figurative depth in question is one of floundering and despair, a condition caused not by external circumstances, but by a sense of the need for divine mercy and forgiveness.

Psalm 130 may have been set to music more than any other Psalm, since it was long used in daily prayers in churches and monasteries, in East and West. The short setting Out from the Deep by Thomas Tallis (1505-1585) uses a metrical paraphrase of the first three verses.

Out from the deep I call to thee, O Lord hear my invocation.
Thine ears bow down; incline to me and hear my lamentation.
For if thou wilt our sins behold, that we have done from time to tide,
O Lord, who then dare be so bold as in thy sight for to abide.

In order to keep a regular rhythm, the words “invocation” and “lamentation” are sung here with five rather than four syllables: IN-VO-CA-TI-ON, LA-MEN-TA-TI-ON. (Converting one spoken syllable into two sung syllables is a common convention in the music of many languages.)

Like many of his other English anthems, Out from the Deep is brief and to the point. It lacks the passionate sense of lament one finds in some other settings of Psalm 130, suggesting the sinner’s confidence in the forgiveness promised in the text.