28 Aug 2015

Psalm 23 from the Genevan Psalter

This is my own arrangement and performance of Genevan Psalm 23:

26 Aug 2015

Genfi Zsoltár 42

Few things are more pleasurable than hearing an Hungarian choir sing from the Genevan Psalter. This is Psalm 42:

20 Aug 2015

Des Psaumes en français

I have just discovered these wonderful solo performances of the Genevan Psalms in French. I am posting five of these, with more to come.

Check out the Cantiques.fr website and youtube channel. Its approach to psalmody can be found here. According to its website, cantiques.fr is devoted to enriching church music in the protestant tradition.

19 Aug 2015

'Not unto us': Psalm 115

Performed by the Ensemble Claude Goudimel:

Psaume 35: Goudimel

Claude Goudimel's arrangement of Psalm 135 is very nicely performed by La Capella Reial de Catalunya, directed by Jordi Savall. It begins at 1.06 below.

18 Aug 2015

Psaume 138, par beaucoup des compositeurs

Here is an exquisite performance of Genevan Psalm 138 by the Ensemble Sweelinck de Genève, with arrangements by various composers:

7 Aug 2015

Psalms 121 and 8

Here are two more recently posted choral performances of the Genevan Psalter by Hungarian choirs.

The first is Kodály's haunting arrangement of Genevan Psalm 121, beautifully performed by the Református Kántus of Debrecen:

The second is a stirring and somewhat dissonant arrangement of Psalm 8 composed by German-Hungarian composer Zsolt Gárdonyi:

6 Aug 2015

Liturgical reform and the Psalter

Benedict Constable is not keen on what he sees as the violence done to the Catholic liturgy in the 1960s and '70s: The Omission of “Difficult” Psalms and the Spreading-Thin of the Psalter.
In addition to the unprecedented novelty of praying the Psalter over four weeks rather than in the course of a single week, there was the equally unprecedented novelty of skipping verses that had been deemed "difficult" or problematic for modern Christians.
No, yes and no. No, there is nothing novel about praying the Psalms on a monthly rather than a weekly basis. Already in the 16th century the Book of Common Prayer prescribed the singing or reciting of the Psalter over a 30-day period. This is a practice I have followed for quite some time now.

But, yes, the abridgement and censoring of the Psalms is definitely problematic. Whereas the 1962 Canadian BCP does this with reckless abandon, the 1985 Book of Alternative Services subsequently restored this lost integrity to the Psalter.

But once again, no, abridging the Psalms is hardly unprecedented. In the eastern churches the singing of a full psalm in the course of the liturgy was gradually replaced by an excerpt, or prokeimenon (προκείμενον), of the psalm. In the west this became known as the gradual. And even in the Reformed churches, where the congregation sings metrical psalmody, they are likely to sing only a few stanzas at a time, particularly if the Psalm is a lengthy one.

Nevertheless, Constable's basic point is well taken. Where the Psalter is abridged and where even the possibility of singing through it in its entirety has been withdrawn, the faith of the people is likely to degenerate into mere sentimentality.

5 Aug 2015

Kodály's 150

For thirty years I've been an aficionado of Zoltán Kodály's arrangements of the Genevan Psalms. Here is a lovely performance of his Psalm 150 posted as recently as April. Dénes Szabó conducts the choir.

6 Apr 2015

The New Genevan Psalter: addendum

The introductory material at the beginning of the New Genevan Psalter includes, among other things, suggested arrangements of the Psalms in the absence of harmonizations in this bound collection. These include Claude Goudimel's, Dick Sanderman's, George Stam's, Cor van Dijk's and Willem Hendrik Zwart's. Notably absent are Johannes Worp's 19th-century arrangements and Hendrik Hasper's mid-20th-century treatments of the Psalms. Personally, I am not especially fond of Worp's harmonizations, but, from the little I've heard of Hasper's, I find them quite compelling. I might also add my own efforts at arranging the Psalms on this website. Yes, I know they're quirky, but they might just aid congregations in worshipping the God who has revealed himself in the Person of his Son, whose resurrection we have just celebrated.

29 Mar 2015

The New Genevan Psalter

Only one North American church denomination sings the complete Genevan Psalter today. This is the small federation of congregations that calls itself the Canadian Reformed Churches. Its origins can be traced to a tragic split that occurred within the Gereformeerde Kerken in Nederland (Reformed Churches in the Netherlands) in 1944, during the final year of the German occupation. The dissenting group called themselves the Gereformeerde Kerken vrijgemaakt, or the Liberated Reformed Churches. After the war, the members of this group emigrated from their homeland and established their own churches in Canada, Australia and New Zealand.

Although there were other earlier Dutch Reformed migrations, the Liberated Reformed alone managed to bring the Genevan Psalter with them and to hold on to it. When the Christian Reformed Church switched to English around the time of the Great War, they largely adopted the 1912 Psalter of the United Presbyterians rather than attempt to translate into English the entirety of the Genevan Psalter, from which they had sung since the 16th century. The 1912 Psalter is more obviously indebted to the tradition of English and Scottish psalmody, with their regular metrical patterns, whereas the Genevan Psalms are rendered in a wide variety of irregular metres.

In 1984 the CanRef churches published their Book of Praise, misleadingly subtitled "Anglo-Genevan Psalter." (The historic Anglo-Genevan Psalter was published in the mid-16th century by the English exiles in Geneva and was one of the predecessors of the Sternhold & Hopkins Psalter.) Its visual layout followed the example of the Dutch psalters, carrying only a melody line and placing a treble clef only on the first line of music rather than on every line, which is the usual practice. (My 115-year-old copy of Jiří Strejc's Czech Psalter does the same thing.) The texts were rendered in somewhat awkward English and persisted in the use of the old Jacobean pronouns ("thou," "thee," "thine," &c.) in addressing God.

Five years ago the CanRef Churches published an Authorized Provisional Version of a revised Book of Praise, including all 150 Genevan Psalms and 85 canticles and hymns. Now this collection has been finalized and is being used by the churches. Along with the Book of Praise, Premier Printing in Winnipeg has published a New Genevan Psalter, which includes the 150 Psalms and four biblical canticles. The denominationally-specific material, such as creeds, confessions and liturgical forms, has been left out to make it more attractive to other, non-CanRef churches that would like to sing the Genevan Psalms.

Once again the visual layout is identical. There have been some changes from the provisional version to this final collection, such as the adoption of American spellings. A few of the texts have been altered, e.g., the first two stanzas of Psalm 90 have been condensed into a single stanza, thus making for a total of eight stanzas rather than nine. This collection has abandoned the Jacobean pronouns, but it retains the traditional rhyme schemes, which poses an obstacle to smooth translation of the Psalms. I will reiterate what I wrote four years ago about the provisional version, because it still applies to the final version:

[T]he major difficulty with these versifications, as I see it, is that they stick rather too closely to the rhyming schemes of the original French texts, which, oddly enough, do not always fit well with the tunes. This often leaves the stressed long notes coinciding with unstressed syllables or even short words like "the" and "to." This is not peculiar to the BOP, but is characteristic of every translation of the Psalms of which I am aware, including Lobwasser's German, Strejc's Czech, Molnár's Hungarian and the 1773 Dutch psalters. Moreover, masculine (stressed) and feminine (unstressed) endings in the text do not always match the masculine and feminine endings in each line of the music. Together these make for somewhat awkward singing and may in part explain why the Genevan melodies did not catch on in English-language psalters.
Nevertheless, despite these limitations, this collection may represent the best that can be done with the Genevan Psalms in English, short of abandoning the traditional rhyme scheme and going with different schemes or no rhymes at all.

5 Feb 2015

Brueggemann on the imprecatory Psalms

I rather like Walter Brueggemann's approach to those Psalms that call on God's vengeance against enemies. While many readers may find such sentiments pre- or sub-christian, Brueggemann takes a different tack. Good for him.

24 Nov 2014

Pilgrimage complete: Psalm 150

Our friend Ernst Stolz has completed his three-year recording pilgrimage through the Genevan Psalter, leaving us with a wonderful collection of inestimable value. Here are his final three recordings:

Gefeliciteerd, Mijnheer Stolz! Congratulations on this tremendous achievement. Now perhaps you might consider also recording the two Lukan canticles sung in 16th-century Geneva: the Benedictus and the Nunc Dimittis.

26 Oct 2014

Nahum Tate: reviser of Shakespeare and versifier of Psalms

Last week our family saw King Lear at the Stratford Festival here in Ontario. This is undoubtedly the Shakespeare play I know best, having seen more than one version of it over the decades. Everyone knows that it's a tragedy, although the Immortal Bard's source material apparently had the king's youngest daughter inheriting his realm at the end. While researching the play, I discovered something fascinating that's relevant to this blog: What did Nahum Tate do to Shakespeare?

The son of a clergyman, Nahum Tate was an Irish poet and lyricist. As well as penning his own works, Tate turned his hand to 'adapting' a number of Elizabethan dramas, including some of Shakespeare's. . . .

Tate's version of King Lear, titled The History of King Lear, is drastically different from Shakespeare's. For one thing, it is not a tragedy. Tate felt, and many agreed with him, that the ending of King Lear was just too sad to bear. So, he replaces Lear on the throne and doesn't kill off Cordelia.

In addition to adapting Shakespeare's plays, Nahum Tate collaborated with Nicholas Brady to produce the Tate and Brady "New Version" metrical psalter (1696), the second psalter to be used in England after the Sternhold and Hopkins, and the last to be used before someone decided that metrical psalmody was best left to the Scots.

29 Aug 2014

A bus blessing from the Psalms

The other day I was riding the city bus to work. Another passenger, just before he got off the bus, turned to the rest of us and said, "This is the day the LORD has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it." Then he left the vehicle.

I had two reactions. First, I suddenly had the Genevan tune for Psalm 118 running through my head. (This won't surprise people who know me well.) Second, I was pleased that someone was willing to begin his day with a heart of gratitude and was willing to impart something of this to his fellow passengers. How many of us would have the courage – or effrontery – to do something similar?

27 Aug 2014

One hundred years later: the Psalms and the First World War

Everyone knows how it all started. It was the end of June in 1914. Tensions had been building for decades among the rival European powers. The heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne, Archduke Franz Ferdinand, was visiting Sarajevo, the capital of Bosnia-Herzegovina, when he and his wife were assassinated by a Serb nationalist named Gavrilo Princip. Vienna’s annexation of that province six years earlier had nearly led to war then, but now the real thing was only one month away. When the dust had cleared and the war was over four years later, some sixteen million people had died, and the world was never the same again. Ancient empires fell, with kings and emperors toppled from their thrones and exiled. Entire populations were cruelly uprooted from their homes, simply because they happened to live on the wrong side of arbitrary boundaries set during and after hostilities had ended.

Nearly four decades ago, I visited Prague, the capital of what was still communist-ruled Czechoslovakia and, before the First World War, part of Austria-Hungary. During my time there, I purchased in an antiquarian bookshop a Czech-language New Testament and Psalms published in 1845 for “Evangelical Christians of the Augsburg and Helvetic Confessions,” that is, for Lutheran and Reformed Christians. The print was in the old German black letter font, and even some of the spelling was obsolete.

It was not until seven years ago that I noticed something interesting about the Psalms in this volume. An early owner of the book, whose surname was Lány, read through the Psalms at the pace of approximately one psalm per day (except, of course, for Psalm 119), taking time to mark the date at the top of each. He started with Psalm 1 on “1./8.”, or the 1st day of August 1914, and continued until he read Psalm 150 on “18./I. 1915,” that is, the 18th of January 1915.

I am convinced that the timing of his praying through the Psalms was not accidental.

Read the complete article here.

1 Aug 2014

Psalm 24 in Frisian

Here is a link to a pdf copy of Lof Fen Alle Tiden: Psalmen, Gezangen, en Lieten, published in 1934, containing, among other things, several of the Genevan Psalms in the Frisian language. Frisian is a west Germanic language spoken in the north part of the Netherlands and into the far northwest part of Germany, including the Frisian Islands. Linguists have identified Frisian as the closest relative to English and Broad Scots, and there are persistent rumours that Frisians can read Beowulf in the original. Here is the Frisian versification of Psalm 24, whose first line bears an obvious resemblance to the English expression, "The wide world is God's domain":

De wide wrald is Gods domein,
De rike ierd fen ein to ein,
Mei al hwa 't hjir hjar wenplak founen;
Hwent Hy, Hy joech se stal en ste,
Hy lei yn 't hert fen de iiv'ge se,
Fen stream en wetterfloed hjar grounen.

Heevje op, o poarten, heevje 't haed,
En iiv'ge doarren, breedzje 't paed,
Lit yn, lit yn de Foarst der eare!
Hwa dochs dy kening weze mei?
't Is Hy, geweltich yn Syn wei,
Geweltich yn 'e striid — de Heare.

Heevje op, o poarten, heevje 't haed,
En iiv'ge doarren, breedzje 't paed,
Lit yn, lit yn de Foarst der eare!
Hwa dochs dy Kening weze kin?
De God fen ierde' oanbigjin;
Det is us Kening, det us Heare.

20 Jun 2014

More from Sing a New Song

I couldn't resist reposting the remainder of the videos from the Free Church of Scotland's website. They deserve a wide distribution amongst those who love to sing the Psalms.

Note that the tune for Psalm 16 (or OLD 134TH) seems to be adapted from Genevan Psalm 101. And, of course, OLD 100TH is the Genevan tune for Psalm 134.

17 Jun 2014

Sing a New Song: the 'Wee Free'

The Free Church of Scotland has posted a number of highly appealing videos featuring personal testimonies of God's grace, choral/congregational renditions of the Psalms, and beautiful footage of the Scottish landscape. These are excerpts from a DVD titled, Sing a New Song, available from the Free Church Bookshop.

15 Jun 2014

New Zealand sings to the Lord

A few days ago I received a copy of the new psalter and hymnal published by the Reformed Churches of New Zealand, titled, Sing to the Lord. The RCNZ appears to have only 19 congregations, which makes it all the more impressive that such a small denomination should produce so high quality a collection. It is similar in feel to the various editions of the Christian Reformed Church's Psalter Hymnal, with the psalter texts based largely on the 1912 Psalter of the former United Presbyterian Church in North America.

The Psalms are numbered 1 through 150, with some psalms boasting more than one versification. When this occurs, the Psalm number is generally followed by A or B. Some Psalms are too long to be sung to a single tune, such as Psalm 119, where each of the Hebrew letters is given a different metrical treatment and tune. Somewhat to my surprise, given the Dutch origins of the RCNZ, only 14 of the Genevan tunes are used in this collection. These are Psalms 6, 25, 42, 47, 65, 68, 77, 81, 105, 116, 118, 124, 134 and 150.

Unlike especially the grey Psalter Hymnal and the Dutch Liedboek voor de Kerken, Sing to the Lord does not have a separate section for Bible songs or canticles. These are included in the second section, titled simply "Hymns" and are arranged topically. For example, my own text, Christ Who Is in the Form of God, based on Philippians 2:6-11, is included under the subsection "God the Son." Nor is there any effort to organize the hymns according to the church year. Nevertheless, there is an Index of Bible Songs (813-814), as well as a Topical Index (815-842) in which the feasts and seasons of the ecclesiastical calendar are matched with appropriate psalms and hymns.

At the beginning of the volume is a section containing the Lord's Prayer, the three Ecumenical Creeds and the first question and answer of the Heidelberg Catechism. The Reformed confessions are absent, as are the various liturgical forms found in similar collections serving the churches. This volume is already fairly hefty, so perhaps these resources are found in a separate volume.

The Reformed Churches of New Zealand are part of the International Conference of Reformed Churches and are in communion with the Canadian Reformed Churches, the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, the United Reformed Churches in North America and the Gereformeerde Kerken in Nederland (Vrijgemakt), among others.

9 Jun 2014

To renew creation: Psalm 104 and the promise of Pentecost

There is an ancient tradition tying Psalm 104 together with the celebration of Pentecost, the day the church celebrates the sending of the Holy Spirit, an event recorded in Acts 2:1-36.

Psalm 104 begins exactly the same way as the immediately preceding psalm: “Bless the LORD, O my soul!” And like Psalm 103, it too ends with the same summons to praise the LORD. In between the opening and closing verses, however, the two psalms follow different paths.

Psalm 103 appears to have been written for a particular occasion, prompting the writer to offer thanksgiving to God. Perhaps the psalmist had recovered his health after suffering illness (verses 3-5). Or he may have received forgiveness for a sin committed and was grateful to God for his unexpected and unmerited mercy (verse 10). In the Reformed churches Psalm 103 is often sung as a thanksgiving psalm after the reception of the Lord’s Supper, a usage dating back to 16th-century Geneva.

By contrast, Psalm 104 is a more general hymn of praise to God as creator. At least one commentator has noted the similarities between this psalm and the first chapter of Genesis, which portrays God calling into being the sky, the sea and the land, and then filling these places with the appropriate living creatures. Yet while Genesis 1 sees creation as a completed work followed by Sabbath rest, the one-hundred fourth Psalm views it from a different angle: here creation is ongoing, reminding the reader that everything that exists is utterly dependent on God, whose faithful care for what he made is continual.

Remarkably, human beings are not explicitly mentioned as products of God’s creative activity but are mentioned almost in passing at several points. For example: “He makes grass grow for the cattle, and plants for people to cultivate—bringing forth food from the earth: wine that gladdens human hearts, oil to make their faces shine, and bread that sustains their hearts” (14-15).

What then does all this have to do with the Holy Spirit? The single reference comes in verse 30: “When you send your Spirit, they are created, and you renew the face of the ground.” But is that one verse sufficient to make this a Pentecost psalm? The church in its wisdom has said yes, and for good reason.

To be sure, the gift of the Holy Spirit, as recounted in Acts, is bestowed initially on the apostles and is manifested in their sudden ability to communicate the gospel in the multiple languages of the people present in Jerusalem that day. Yet Romans 8:22-24 tells us that “the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved.” Our redemption as God’s children does not remove us from creation; it is, rather, bound up with the renewal of the entire creation, of which we are part. The cosmic scope of redemption in Jesus Christ and renewal in the Holy Spirit is beautifully set forth in Psalm 104, which is thus fittingly sung on Pentecost.

To mark this occasion in the church calendar I here present readers with two stanzas of my own recently-completed metrical versification of this psalm, to be sung to the proper Genevan tune, covering verses 27-34 in the standard English translations:

All creatures look to you for sustenance;
and in due course you give them nourishment.
What you bestow on them they gather gladly;
your open hand has given to them freely.
They are in terror when you hide your face;
when you deprive of breath, they leave this place.
You send your spirit to renew creation
and to the earth bring life and your salvation.

Now may the glory that the LORD displays
endure for ever and for endless days.
May he delight in what his hands have fashioned,
who sparks volcanoes and the earthquake's passion.
All of my life I'll sing to praise the LORD;
while I draw breath, my God will be adored.
May he be pleased to hear my meditation,
for in the LORD I find my jubilation.

Let us then echo in our hearts and with our voices the final words of this psalm: “Praise the LORD!”

David T. Koyzis teaches politics at Redeemer University College and is the author, most recently, of We Answer to Another: Authority, Office, and the Image of God (Pickwick Publications, 2014). This article appeared in the 9 June issue of Christian Courier under the general title, "Principalities & Powers".