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.
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