21 Dec 2015

Albrecht's 'Gloria!'

In addition to the biblical Psalms, the church has historically sung in its liturgy a number of ancient hymns based on scripture. One of these is the Gloria in Excelsis, which is a trinitarian elaboration of the angelic hymn in Luke 2:14. Also known as the Greater Doxology, it is the initial hymn sung in the historic liturgy of the western church, while it is a psalm of thanksgiving after Communion in the Book of Common Prayer. In the Orthodox churches it is sung in the morning prayer office, or Orthros.

Here is a wonderful setting composed by Sally K. Albrecht and sung by a choral ensemble over Speranţă TV, a Christian television station established in Romania in 2003. Note that the time signature is 7/8, a metre commonly used in Greek and other Balkan folk music.

7 Dec 2015

Psalm 29: The Voice of the LORD

Three years ago I came up a fresh versification of Psalm 29 for which I composed two possible tunes, the first of which I determined was not easily sung by a congregation. Here is a recording I made last summer of this text as set to my second and more singable tune, VOX DOMINI:

31 Oct 2015

Reformation: Ein' Feste Burg

Two years from today will mark the half-millennium of Luther's act of nailing his ninety-five theses to the door of the Schloßkirche in Wittenberg, beginning the Reformation. To mark the 498th anniversary of this world-changing event, I have recorded my own arrangement of the Reformer's celebrated metrical paraphrase of Psalm 46, Ein' Feste Burg:

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.