New Genevan Psalter (Updated)

new-genevan-psalterThe Canadian Reformed Churches have just published the New Genevan Psalter. I purchased a copy. It seems to be well done. There is an interesting, brief introduction by George van Popta, General Editor as well as some brief notes on the Genevan tunes. As van Popta notes, Calvin was largely unsuccessful in his first attempt to reform Genevan worship, after which he was exiled happily to Strasbourg, where he served with Martin Bucer. There he worked on creating a French Psalter. The first edition in 1539, had 19 psalms (6 from Calvin and 13 from Clement Marot) and two canticles, namely, the Song of Simeon and the Ten Commandments. There were no uninspired songs in the songbook. The Psalter continued to grow through the 1540s, after his return to Geneva. By By 1562 it included 49 texts from Marot and 101 from Beza. van Popta observes that Calvin withdrew his 6 settings in favor of the the others. It seems highly unlikely, by the way, that Calvin actually wrote, “I Greet Thee Who My Sure Redeemer Art.” Andrew Myers writes:

The significance of this is noteworthy for a particular reason. It is often claimed that John Calvin authored a hymn which appears in only those two Strasbourg Psalters (published when he was not the pastor of that church) and not in any of the Genevan Psalters, or any Psalter that he superintended. The hymn is “Salutation à Jésus-Christ,” or “I Greet Thee Who My Sure Redeemer Art.” While this attribution is widespread, and has bearing on the important question of Calvin’s views towards exclusive psalmody, it is doubted by notable scholars who have delved into Calvin’s role in the production of the Strasbourg and Genevan Psalters. Rather, it has been proposed that Jean Garnier is the most likely author of this hymn.

The implication created by the attribution of that hymn to Calvin is that he wrote it and that it was used in Geneva. Neither of these is is likely true. The canticles in the Genevan Psalter are The

1. Ten Commandments
2. The Song of Mary
3. The Song of Zechariah
4. The Song of Simeon

These are all canonical texts/songs.

Calvin hoped that each Psalm would have its own tune but that goal was not met. There are 124 tunes in the psalter, several of which were borrowed from Gregorian Chants. Most of the tunes were produced by Guillaume Franc, Louis Bourgeois, and “Maitre Pierre” (likely Pierre Davantès).

van Popta notes that these tunes were intended to be sung by the congregation, who replaced the medieval, monastic choir.

Because Calvin intended the songs to be primarily for the congregation rather than a choir, the intervals between the notes are small and each tune is within an octave. He insisted that the congregation sing in unison to emphasize that God’s people sing praise to the Lord with one voice, and so the Psalter did not have the music in various voices. A single line of music, rather than four parts as is common in almost all contemporary North American hymnals, might look odd to some, but it has been maintained in this Psalter to be true to Calvin’s original intent of unison singing. However, harmonies for home and choir were composed for all the Psalms by Claude Goudimel, a composer of Calvin’s time, and are still readily available .

The editor provides some online resources for further reading:

Contact the publisher for more information.

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  1. More and more now I believe in exclusive psalmnody. Hymns are fine when not an actual worship service but these have to be the type of hymns found in the old Trinity Hymnal. The newer hymns and Christian “praise” songs are too much of a mixed bag of mostly sentimental and heterodox songs. And even if they can be interpreted as orthodox (the lyrics), the music is not conducive to a worshipful tenor or somberness.

  2. Despite my fondness for the older Lutheran and English hymnody (pre-1800), I think the Psalms surely deserve pride of place in the praise service of the church. What saddens me much is that is even when verses of Psalms are used in contemporary “praise” songs, they are often unattributed.

    BTW, I own a facsimile reprint of the Clement-Marot-Theodore de Beze _Les Psaumes en Vers Francais_–including a style of French which is pretty impenetrable to me. Still, it was wonderful to find the lyrics “Rendez a Dieu Loange et Gloire, car il est Benin et clement” and “Ainsi Qu’on oit le cer bruire, pourchassant les frais des eaux” (Pss. 118 and 42). I welcome comment from anyone familiar with 16th century French.

    Perhaps, guys, one thing we ought to do, especially if we’re from the traditions of American Presbyterianism, is admit that we’ve lost a lot of our own tradition, including things that were inspired by a very high regard for Scripture and God’s glory, and are coming out of a very confused and confusing era.

  3. Thanks for the heads up.
    More info can be found here. It does not contain the CanRef confessional standards or hymns, but is a stand alone psalter for $28 CAN plus shipping.

    Am looking forward to getting a copy, although I already have a pre-owned copy of the 1972 Anglo Genevan Psalter which was the first complete edition (from the library of one Norm Shepherd.)

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