Here are the best sites I’ve found which have anything to do with the Genevan Psalter. Of course, most of these would be found by any reliable search engine. Genevan Psalter – Psalms / Psalmen. Ernst Stolz Music; videos; , views; Last updated on May 14, Complete Psalm Project Genevan Psalter. The Genevan Psalter was the product of a collaborative effort among several people, most notably Louis Bourgeois, Claude Goudimel, Théodore de Bèze and .

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The Genevan Psalter is the most important source of metrical psalmody in the continental Reformed tradition. One of the key phrases of the 16th century Protestant Reformation was sola scriptura, describing the emphasis Reformers like Luther and Calvin placed on Scripture as the sole authority for faith and practice. The Reformed tradition, more than any other, took that phrase literally when it came to congregational song.

Metrical psalmody is the particular gift of the Reformed tradition to the broader Christian community. Singing the psalms in meter was at the heart of the communal prayer of God’s people in the Reformed and Presbyterian tradition.

Even today, a few small denominations still sing only metrical psalms in worship. The larger picture in churches standing in the Reformed tradition is no longer one of exclusive psalmody.

In one communion after another, hymns were added, and psalms were often sidelined. My own denomination, the Christian Reformed Church, retained exclusive psalmody until Today, most congregations sing mainly hymns. When psalms are sung today in many Reformed and Presbyterian churches, they may or may not be in metrical form. And of course, many other Christian traditions sing metrical settings of the psalms.

So is there anything distinctive about the Reformed tradition when it comes to singing the psalms? Or is a look at psalmody in the Reformed tradition simply an historical exercise? How and where does the Reformed tradition of psalmody come to expression today, in the 21st century, both in North America and beyond? Those are large questions, more than can be addressed here. This article will focus mainly on the beginnings and the continuing legacy of the most important source of metrical psalmody in the continental Reformed tradition: The Genevan Psalter is the only complete metrical psalter from Reformation days still in regular use in more than one country, even now in the 21st century.

It remains the crowning achievement of the Reformed tradition. There are other traditions at work in North America, particularly the English and Scottish Presbyterian metrical psalm traditions, but I will only make brief comments about those here. It has always intrigued me that John Calvin, who held such a high view of Scripture, would turn to metrical settings of the psalms rather than singing them straight from Scripture, as Luther preferred.

Calvin was convinced that the people needed to sing, and lamented the fact that church authorities in Geneva had thrown out all music in worship. It was there, while agreeing to pastor a group of French refugees, that he experienced the power of congregational song on a regular basis.

Metrical psalms were already being sung there, and it was his experience there that got him started on the idea of preparing a complete French psalter.

He became convinced through experience that metrical structure was the most accessible form for the people of that genevvan. His was both a practical and a radical approach, some might psaletr suggest a pragmatic approach.

Calvin combined what Luther had kept separate: Calvin’s Strasbourg experience convinced him to aim his efforts in both directions at once: Three years later, when he returned to Geneva, he was able to convince the Genevan authorities to permit metrical psalmody in worship.

Calvin tried his hand at versifying some texts, which he withdrew later when learning of the superior poetic gifts of someone else. And here comes one of the ironies of church history.

A court poet by the name of Clement Marot was entertaining royalty and the upper crust of society by versifying the psalms, of all things, which became quite popular. Calvin saw both great poetic gifts and great opportunity, and enlisted Marot’s help in a project of preparing a complete metrical psalter for liturgical use.


Marot was a sophisticated poet, and the psalter texts exhibit no less than varieties of stanza structure and 33 different rhyme schemes. I doubt that John Calvin was impressed first of all by Marot’s virtuosity. In fact, Calvin’s oversight of the entire Genevan Psalter project suggests quite another motivation. The principle was to reflect the mood, character, and structure of a particular psalm in the very choice of the meter. The idea was to present a faithful rendering of the psalm in a way that would both honor the psalm and give the people their liturgical voice.

So, Psalm 81, for example, has short bright lines in a meter of 56 55 Sing a psalm of joy!

Introduction to the Genevan Psalter

Let the tambourine and the trumpet bring praises to our King for his great salvation. Of course, the texts had to accommodate both meter and rhyme.

So to be complete, the texts would need to add words to the psalm. But the poet was not to pad the psalm by adding anything that was not there.

Rather, additions were only to exegete the psalm so as to make the meaning clear. Where did Calvin go for tunes? Of course, he found some already in Strasbourg, but when returning to Geneva, this systematic theologian took a similar approach to the tunes as he had to the texts, enlisting a gifted teacher, Louis Bourgeois, as the main composer and music editor.

Some have suggested that he borrowed some tunes from secular sources.

French Psalter, Genevan tunes – MP3 PDF music

But there is little evidence to support that, and much better evidence to support the relationship to Gregorian chant. Psa,ter Psalm is taken straight from the morning hymn for the feast of St. Benedict see Example 2. Calvin’s theology of sung prayer comes even more clearly into focus when looking at the melodies, which were to have both the “weight and majesty” appropriate for singing communally in the presence of God.

Since the texts were set in a wide range of meters, the melodies had to follow suit. The intent was for each psalm to have its own tune, also based on the character of the psalm. A particular tune could then bring a particular psalm to mind.

The result is a remarkably disciplined set of melodies: The pulse was to be that of a quietly breathing adult, in other words, between 60 and 72 beats to the minute. The psalms were to be sung in unison octaves in worship. In short, the melodies were to serve and support the text in a way very similar to the chant tradition, never to draw attention to themselves, never to interfere with the liturgical purpose of sung prayer. The tunes are not as anonymous as chant, but they are humble, disciplined, and distinct.

The goal of one tune per text was not quite genevqn the Genevan Psalter ended up with tunes for the psalms, with different modes chosen according to genevvan character of the psalm.

The melodies carried these texts, providing a way for countless Christians to memorize the psalms.

The psalms were first taught to the children, who then taught the congregation. Already in the Articles ofCalvin had recommended that children, who beforehand have practiced some modest church song, sing in a loud distinct voice, the people listening with all attention and following heartily what is sung with the mouth, till psalfer become accustomed to singing communally. After coming genevann in installments, a complete metrical psalter-texts with tunes-was released in Geneva in The original publication of genevvan complete psalter was a publishing phenomenon that broke all the records in those still early days of printing and publishing.

Within just a few years, it was available in nine languages and in more than a hundred thousand copies. The spread of the Psalter from Geneva was at the heart and center of the spread of Calvinism throughout Europe and beyond. By all accounts, Calvin’s instincts were right that this particular kind of metrical structure would be embraced; the people sang them everywhere, in and out of church, in the heady exciting early days, and also in the painful times of struggle that soon gensvan. The Genevan Psalter also inspired many composers who wrote countless polyphonic settings for use beyond the church.


Like the Lutheran chorales and gejevan English psalm tunes, genevah rhythms gradually flattened out and the tempo slowed down after the 16th century. There are still some places where these tunes are sung that way, in all slow even note lengths.

But the 20th century was no longer afraid of the sprightly rhythms. With musicological research as well as the influence of popular music and jazz, many Renaissance tunes-including Lutheran chorales, English and Scottish psalm tunes, and the Genevan tunes-have been restored to their original rhythms in many recent hymnals, helping to spark a revival of singing them after generations of singing slowly in all even notes.

One of the struggles psaltsr editing the Psalter Hymnal was deciding when to restore the original rhythms completely.

A Reformed Approach to Psalmody: The Legacy of the Genevan Psalter

We psaltrr for the most part, but there were exceptions as we considered the pastoral challenges of changing the entrenched slow even note singing everyone had grown up with. Many people still sing this tune in all even notes, and almost no one sings psaltet in the original rhythm. Many North Americans like to sing in harmony, and most hymnals include harmony.

Europeans still sing mainly in unison, and their hymnals for the most part include only melody. But many choral settings were composed from the beginning for use outside the liturgy. Claude Goudimel’s setting of Genevan Pssalter 6 Example 1for example, places the melody in the tenor, where melodies were usually found in the 16th century.

After all, women’s voices had not been heard much in church before. As a woman, I can hardly imagine the thrill of congregational singing in resonant spaces that released genevna voice of all the people in worship. Goudimel set the Dorian tune to this penitential psalm in a note against note setting. He actually provided three complete settings of the Genevan Psalter, once in this simple style, and twice more in more elaborate polyphonic settings.

Mentioning Psalm 6 as a penitential psalm brings up the question of liturgical use. It’s one thing to describe the texts and tunes, which is as far as most history texts go.

But how did the psalms function in worship and in the lives of the people who sang them in church and at home?

How did they contribute to the identity of the people in the tradition called Reformed? What psalms were sung in worship? What psalms were set first, and why? My colleague John Witvliet, director of the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship, genvean those questions in chapter 9 of his recent book Worship Seeking Understanding. For example, the early installments of Calvin’s genrvan included many wisdom psalms and psalms of confession, sung in worship following the prayer of confession.

There were surprisingly few psalms of praise, at least in terms of our practice today. Psaltdr writes, “For many years, Genevan spirituality was formed primarily by psalms of penitence and lament. But the most interesting data comes from detailed tables printed psaltdr editions of the psalter afterstating which psalms would be sung in every Sunday morning, Sunday afternoon, and Wednesday service:.

Inthe entire extant psalter could be sung every seventeen psslter. By [when the psalter was completed], twenty-five weeks were required, with the congregation singing upward of thirty stanzas per week. In this final form of the table, many psalms were divided into two or three sections and sung over the course of both Sunday services or at each service in a given week.

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