“Mine eye mourneth by reason of affliction: Lord, I have called daily upon thee, I have stretched out my hands unto thee. Wilt thou shew wonders to the dead? shall the dead arise and praise thee?”
Psalm 88, recorded by the David/Asaph Project. Originally released in 2014 on the Pastoral Psalms album, was revised & remastered in 2016. Duration is 4:47.
Produced by John Piper
Musical composition by David Albracht
Recorded in the Dallas area and Louisiana
Engineered & Mixed by John Piper
Mastered by Pete Maher
Bass – Lou Harlas
Cello – Pearce Meisenbach
Guitar – John Piper
Percussion – John Bryant
Vocals – David Albracht
Image above: William Blake. Job’s Despair, from the Butts set. 1805. Pen and black ink, gray wash, and watercolour, over traces of graphite. The Morgan Library & Museum.
Psalm 88, the ninth track of the Pastoral Psalms album, was recorded by the David/Asaph Project during the years 2009-2013. This song features the text of the KJV translation set to new music with all acoustic instrumentation. Song duration is 4:47
Psalm 88 was added to the song roster late in the production schedule of the album. In 2009, John Piper had been digitally archiving cassette tape recordings of David Albracht’s home demos from the 1980’s and early 1990’s when he came across a song that caught his attention. The song was Psalm 88, which David had been reluctant to reveal to others because he thought that the message of the psalm may be too difficult to properly convey as music. The cassette recording was very poor quality, but John heard merit in the melody and in the message.
David agreed to record a new demo of the song to see if it would work for the new album. The new demo worked so well that the vocal recording was copied and pasted into the final recording for the album master. John’s guitar arrangement and playing were exemplary. The bass and percussion contributions of Lou Harlas and John Bryant were critically important to establishing the “feel” of the song. The distinctive cello playing of Pearce Meisenbach closed the loop and gave the recording its signature sound.
In the Bible, Psalm 88 is entitled “A Song or Psalm for the sons of Korah, to the chief Musician upon Ma’halath Lean’noth, Mas’chil of Heman the Ezrahite.” Charles Spurgeon discusses at length the difficulties with understanding the musicality and meaning of what is considered the saddest psalm in the Bible…
C.H. Spurgeon's Comments on the text of Psalm 88
A Song or Psalm for the sons of Korah. This sad complaint reads very little like a Song, nor can we conceive how it could be called by a name which denotes a song of praise or triumph; yet perhaps it was intentionally so called to show how faith “glories in tribulations also.” Assuredly, if ever there was a song of sorrow and a Psalm of sadness, this is one. The sons of Korah, who had often united in chanting jubilant odes, are now bidden to take charge of this mournful dirge like hymn. Servants and singers must not be choosers. To the chief Musician. He must superintend the singers and see that they do their duty well, for holy sorrow ought to be expressed with quite as much care as the most joyful praise; nothing should be slovenly in the Lord’s house. It is more difficult to express sorrow fitly than it is to pour forth notes of gladness. Upon Mahalath Leannoth. This is translated by Alexander, “concerning afflictive sickness”, and if this be correct, it indicates the mental malady which occasioned this plaintive song. Maschil. This term has occurred many times before, and the reader will remember that it indicates an instructive or didactic Psalm:—the sorrows of one saint are lessons to others; experimental teaching is exceedingly valuable. Of Heman the Ezrahite. This, probably, informs us as to its authorship; it was written by Heman, but which Heman it would not be easy to determine, though it will not be a very serious mistake if we suppose it to be the man alluded to in 1Ki 4:31, as the brother of Ethan, and one of the five sons of Zerah (1Ch 2:6), the son of Judah, and hence called “the Ezrahite”: if this be the man, he was famous for his wisdom, and his being in Egypt during the time of Pharaoh’s oppression may help to account for the deep bass of his song, and for the antique form of many of the expressions, which are more after the manner of Job than David. There was, however, a Heman in David’s day who was one of the grand trio of chief musicians, “Heman, Asaph, and Ethan” (1Ch 15:19), and no one can prove that this was not the composer. The point is of no consequence; whoever wrote the Psalm most have been a man of deep experience, who had done business on the great waters of soul trouble.