Drake’s De Profundis

Out of the depths have I cried to Thee O Lord:  Lord, hear my voice.

De Profundis Clamavi Ad Te Domine

The sorrow and pleading of the beginning of the sixth penitential Psalm tell of a soul, seemingly at the brink of despair, begging for God’s mercy.

I chose to make these words part of my Lent this year in a number of ways.  In particular, I set out to compose a piece of music whose melodies articulate these words from my heart:

You can freely download the sheet music at the bottom of the post (Creative Commons).


With De Profundis, I made an effort to keep it simple.  Some of my other compositions have five or six parts with high soprano lines and deep bass lines.  De Profundis, however, is in four parts only (SATB) and is constrained between A in the bass and a single F in the soprano.

De Profundis should be sung antiphonally with the remaining verses of the Pslam.  The music does not specify how many verses should be sung between repetitions of the antiphon, although the piece should always start and end with the antiphon.  The grouping of the verses being variable, the piece may be lengthened or shorted as time allows by including more verses between repetitions or by omitting verses.  One possible grouping is:

1. Fiant aures tuae…
2. Si iniquitates…
3. Quia apud te…
4. Sustinuit anima mea…
5. A custodia…
6. Quia apud Dominum…
7. Et ipse redimet…

The verses are set to an adaptation of a tone one of our priests once used for the Lamentations during Tenebrae.  I do not know the origin of the tone, but it seems appropriate to the text.  The tone is somewhat unusual in its sixth jump between the Mediant and the Tenor, as well as the dotted eighth + sixteenth rhythm of the Termination.  To notate the verses, I have removed all of the stems except in that one part of the Termination.

Note that the antiphon is in A minor, but the verses are in E minor, so watch out for F# in the Termination.  Here is an example of the sung verses:


Even though the Psalm’s opening is dire, De Profundis is not about despair.  Indeed, the Psalmist is both hopeful and confident in God’s mercy:

Because with the Lord there is mercy: and with him plentiful redemption. And he shall redeem Israel from all his iniquities.

About the Featured Image

The featured image is Saint Jerome in Prayer by Carlo Dolci and is in the public domain.

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