31 Dec 2010

Year-end updates

  • For Christmas this year my beloved wife gave me an old copy of the Lobwasser Psalter, a sturdy little volume that has weathered the centuries remarkably well. The Lobwasser Psalter was a German-language translation of the Genevan Psalms set to verse in 1573 by Ambrosius Lobwasser (1515-1585), a Lutheran teaching law at Königsberg in East Prussia. His translation was based on the French text he had heard the Huguenots singing during his stay in France. Lobwasser intended his Psalter primarily for private rather than liturgical use. This edition was published in Zürich in 1770, by which time it evidently was being used in public worship after all.

    Lobwasser Psalter


  • I have now scanned and posted the Czech-language psalter I purchased in Prague at age 21, titled Malý Kancionál (Little Hymnal) and published in Kutná Hora in 1900, when Bohemia and Moravia were still part of the Habsburg empire. The Czech translation was made by Jiří Strejc (also known as Georg Vetter, 1536-1599), a minister of the Unity of the Brethren (Unitas Fratrum) from Zábřeh in Moravia. Strejc studied in Tübingen and Königsberg and came into contact with the Lobwasser Psalter, which impressed him so favourably that he decided to model his own Czech version on it, an undertaking he completed in 1587. Strejc is probably best known for his German-language hymn text, Mit Freuden Zart, familiar in English as Sing Praise to God, Who Reigns Above, the tune to which comes from the Bohemian Brethren's Kirchengesänge (1566) and bears more than a passing resemblance to that of Genevan Psalm 138.

    My thus far preliminary research has raised some intriguing questions worth further exploration. First, might Strejc have met Lobwasser personally in Königsberg and thereby come under his more direct influence?

    Second, given that the Kirchengesänge were produced by the same group of which Strejc was a minister, might this be evidence of a connection between the tunes for Psalm 138 and Mit Freuden Zart? To be sure, Strejc's versification of that Psalm came later, but might the Unity of the Brethren have become aware of the Genevan tunes earlier, and might it have been through Strejc? Tellingly, the Lutheran Book of Worship (1978) ascribes the tune directly to the "Trente quatre pseaumes de David, Geneva, 1551." These two possibilities are probably mutually exclusive.

    Third, if Lobwasser based his translations on the French text of Marot and Bèze (for which he was criticized by his Lutheran colleagues), and if Strejc based his translations on Lobwasser's German text, how true are Strejc's texts to the Hebrew? Only someone conversant in all four languages would be able to answer this question.

    Czech Psalter

    Czech Psalter

    By the way, the city of Königsberg has been called Kaliningrad since 1945 and has been part of the Russian Federation. At some point there was talk of changing the name (Kalinin was a Stalin-era Soviet functionary) to honour its most famous citizen, Immanuel Kant. I would like to suggest as an alternative that it be renamed for either Lobwasser or Strejc. Or even both: Lobwasserstrejcgrad!

  • Those interested in becoming better acquainted with congregational psalm-singing in the Netherlands would do well to check out Ijsselm's Channel on youtube (short for Ijsselmeer perhaps?). Here one finds a number of recently-posted Genevan Psalms sung in the traditional 19th-century Dutch fashion characterized by four distinctive features: (1) they are sung at a slow pace; (2) they are often sung in isometric rhythm (i.e., every note having equal value), as opposed to the more syncopated rhythms of the original tunes; (3) the organist plays the initial note for a few seconds before the congregation joins in, leaving the impression that the congregation is lagging behind; and (4) the arrangements used suppress the modal flavour of the original tunes. I will probably not be posting these on my video pages, but I will post one below as an example:

    I might point out that, amongst the Dutch Canadians I know personally, many dislike intensely this style of singing and their churches have thus altogether abandoned the Genevan Psalms for more contemporary fare. I find this tragic, and my own efforts over the past quarter century are intended to recover the Genevan tradition and to make it more singable for younger generations of Christians in a variety of traditions.
  • 28 Dec 2010

    Huckaby on the psalms

    Chuck Huckaby has expanded his earlier post on the Genevan Psalms for The Worldview Church: Reviving Personal Devotion through use of the Genevan Psalms. In the course of this article he is kind enough to mention my own work in this area.

    19 Dec 2010

    The Psalm Project

    I have recently been made aware of The Psalm Project, a group of young Christian musicians in the Netherlands who are rendering the Genevan Psalms in contemporary form. Here is a medley of their efforts below, which are quite compelling:

    Here are Psalms 86, 119 (partial, obviously) and 139:

    Quite honestly, I do not recommend the microphoned performance style for liturgical use, as it calls too much attention to the singers, whose voices unduly dominate rather than support those of the congregation. Nevertheless, taken as performance music, these pieces are quite nice and worth listening to.

    Update: How would The Psalm Project render the imprecatory psalms such as the closing verses of Psalm 137? Are their contemporary versions of the Psalms capable of accounting for the quite varying spiritual and emotional range of the collection? I will be interested to follow their efforts to see how, or whether, they will treat these.

    14 Dec 2010

    Salmo 2

    The following Portuguese-language version of Psalm 2 is set to the Genevan tune and begins the same as this CBS rendition, but from there the two texts part ways.

    13 Dec 2010

    Afrikaans Psalter link

    With the gracious permission of Josef du Toit, I have now posted the Afrikaans-Geneefse Psalmboek on our server with a link from the links page. Heart-felt thanks to Mr. du Toit.

    10 Dec 2010

    The Psalms in Brazilian Portuguese

    A Brazilian acquaintance, Guilherme de Carvalho, has drawn my attention to a Portuguese-language article by Lucas G. Freire, titled A igreja deveria cantar mais os salmos, translated into English as The church should sing psalms more. Freire is a member of the Brazilian Committee on Psalmody (Comissão Brasileira de Salmodia, or CBS), which is undertaking to versify all 150 Psalms in the Portuguese language. The fruit of these efforts can be found at Saltério Reformado. Those versifications with Freire's name at the bottom are first drafts. Those attributed to CBS are final drafts. The intention is to have 150 Psalms set to the Genevan tunes and 150 Psalms set to more familiar hymn tunes. The collection should come out sometime next year. We wish Freire and the entire committee God's guidance and blessings as they undertake this important work for his glory.

    7 Dec 2010

    Psalter resources

    Chuck Huckaby, pastor of St. Andrews Church, Lawrenceburg, Tennessee, recommends a number of resources related to the Genevan Psalter, including the forthcoming new Canadian Reformed psalter: Updated Anglo Genevan Psalter Unveiled. Although this collection is known as both the Book of Praise, a title used since at least 1897 for the Presbyterian Church in Canada's psalter and hymnal, and Anglo-Genevan Psalter, a title given to the collection published in 1556 in Geneva by English clergy exiled during the reign of Queen Mary, no one is likely to confuse the new psalter with either of these earlier works. A preview can be found here.

    2 Dec 2010

    The Psalms in Afrikaans

    The Afrikaners of South Africa have their origins in a trading post established by the Dutch East India Company in 1652 at the Cape of Good Hope. The original Dutch settlers were joined by subsequent migrations from France and Germany, as seen in the surnames of many Afrikaners. For centuries the Reformed Christians who constituted the majority of Afrikaners read from the Dutch Statenvertaling Bible and sang the Genevan Psalms in Dutch. However, in the early 20th century the poet Jakob Daniël du Toit, better known by his latinized pen name Totius (photograph at right), versified the Psalms in Afrikaans, the Dutch-descended language used in everyday speech. His collection, commissioned and supervised by the Dutch Reformed Churches, was published in 1936, thereby providing this liturgical resource in Afrikaans for the first time.

    I have just received a copy of the most recent Afrikaans-language metrical psalter from one Josef du Toit (no relation), who has himself done work on revising Totius' original versifications. I look forward to exploring it more thoroughly in the near future. In the meantime, here is a Reformed congregation in Franschhoek, Western Cape, South Africa, singing Psalm 81: