31 Dec 2018

The Genevan Psalter's debt to Gregorian chant

One of the persistent myths about the origin of the Genevan Psalter is that its tunes were borrowed from popular melodies of the era, a misconception repeated by Abraham Kuyper in his Lectures on Calvinism in 1898. This view has been thoroughly discredited in the ensuing century. The use of the traditional church modes in the Genevan corpus constitutes evidence that the tunes owe a debt to Gregorian chant.

But there's even stronger evidence for this in individual psalm tunes. George van Popta, a member of the Lovers of Metrical Psalters facebook group, alerted us to this example of a Gregorian chant which seems an obvious source of one of the Genevan Psalms. This is the Victimae paschali laudes sung at Easter:

Now compare this to Genevan Psalm 80:

Here is Ernst Stolz' rendition of the same psalm:

This is powerful testimony that the Reformers, far from wishing to restart the church from scratch, as the ancient Donatists had attempted, readily retained what was good, true and beautiful in the ancient liturgies of the church catholic, adapting them for congregational use.