16 Oct 2019

We Praise Thee, O God: a literary analysis of the Te Deum

A few weeks ago I began volunteering at a local food bank. In between conversing with clients and manning a literature table for the chaplain, I discovered there is time for other things. As I had neglected to bring anything to read, I decided to undertake a literary analysis of the ancient Te Deum, a 4th-century Latin hymn traditionally sung on great occasions of thanksgiving. As I typically pray this during my daily prayer regimen, I mostly know it by heart. Variously ascribed to Sts. Ambrose and Augustine and to Nicetas of Remesiana, its authorship is otherwise unknown.

Now I freely admit that, as an academic political scientist, I am by no means an expert in literary analysis beyond the basics. However, I have noticed a few things about the Te Deum that I thought worth passing along.

15 Aug 2019

Genevan Psalter website taken down

This is to alert readers of this blog that my Genevan Psalter website has been taken down from the server of my former employer. I am not altogether certain that I will repost it elsewhere. I may try to see whether I can get the collection published in printed form at some point. For now I will keep this blog in place, but it will now be devoted to posting articles and videos related to the Genevan and other metrical psalters.


11 Jun 2019

Psalm videos for June

Here are some more psalm videos I've discovered recently:

Psalm 97:


Psalm 50:


Psalm 68, or the Huguenot "fight song":

5 Apr 2019

David's Psalter: Two more recordings

I have recently discovered and purchased two more recordings of the Polish David's Psalter of Jan Kochanowski (1530-1584) and Mikołaj Gomółka (c. 1535–after 1591). The first is Mikołaj Gomółka Melodie na Psałterz Polski Opera Omnia, recorded in Kraków in 2016. Here is a sample, Psalm 122:


The second is Audite Gentes! Psalms of the Golden Age, featuring the solo voice of Paulina Ceremużyńska, singing to guitar and percussion accompaniment. This was released in 2015. Here is Psalm 1:


Both recordings are available from iTunes, amazon.com and similar sources.

Incidentally, last sunday afternoon, the Central Presbyterian Church Choir, in which my daughter and I sing, led a festival of Psalms. Among the pieces we sang were two from David's Psalter, Psalms 1 and 29, using my texts. As far as I know, the event was not recorded. However, we will be singing Psalm 29 again on sunday morning, and a recording may be live streamed on youtube. If so, I will link to it on this blog.

4 Jan 2019

Psalm 100 in Hungarian

Here is a compelling arrangement and performance of Genevan Psalm 100 according to the text of Albert Szenci Molnár (1574-1634). I had not come across this particular arrangement of the tune, and the poster doesn't tell who the composer is. Performed by the Psalterium Hungaricum Choir conducted by Katalin Györffy, with Bernadett Szekér on the piano, it was recorded on 4 November 2018 at the Fasori Reformed Church in Budapest.

Incidentally, the video incorrectly numbers the Psalm as 90.

3 Jan 2019

The Illuminated Book of Psalms

My beloved wife has the wonderful habit of giving me Christmas gifts related to the biblical Psalter. Last year she gave me a copy of the 1650 Scottish Psalter printed in 1788. This year she presented me with a beautifully constructed volume, titled The Illuminated Book of Psalms: The Illustrated Text of All 150 Prayers and Hymns. It contains the Psalms from the King James Version of the Bible in a most attractive format. Although the texts are printed in a modern font, the initial letter of each psalm is large and stylized. Interspersed amongst the texts are images from a variety of mediaeval European psalters and books of hours, and even some Jewish and Islamic manuscripts. The overall aesthetic effect is definitely appealing, particularly to someone who already loves mediaeval art.

The books of hours were treasured volumes owned largely by nobles at a time before the invention of the printing press, when books were lovingly hand-written and not widely available to a broader—and mostly illiterate—public. We tend to associate the regimen of daily prayer with the monasteries, but non-monastic nobles, who could more easily afford them, prayed the Liturgy of the Hours in some fashion with the aid of such books. As we might expect, these were in Latin, the liturgical language of the western church. Accordingly, most of the images include at least a portion of the Latin text of the relevant psalm.

Unfortunately, artists, philologists and biblical scholars are not known for collaborating on projects, and this points to one of the defects of this volume. The editors seem unaware that the numbering of the Psalms differs through most of the collection between the Hebrew and the Septuagint/Latin Vulgate. Furthermore, the editors appear not to be familiar with Latin. This means that some of the images are correctly identified as a particular psalm according to the LXX/Vulgate numbering, but they are juxtaposed with the printed text according to the Hebrew numbering. At least one fragment is entirely misidentified (Psalm 81 becomes 84 on p. 142), an error that could have been prevented if it had been proofread by someone with knowledge of both the Bible and of Latin. The juxtaposition of an Islamic manuscript with Psalm 90 goes unexplained, and one senses that aesthetic considerations outweighed actual relevance in this case.

Nevertheless, despite the flaws, the volume is beautiful in virtually every respect as a work of art, and it could even function as a prayer book for the believer accustomed to Jacobean English. An attached red bookmark will aid in this use. Its size measures 5.6 x 0.7 x 8.3 inches and weighs 12.6 ounces, making it easily portable.

One last thing to note is that there appear to be slightly different editions of this title on the market, such as this and this, sold respectively in Canada and the United Kingdom. Whether they use the same images I cannot say without seeing the other volumes, but they seem to represent the same high quality that went into my copy.


The Genevan Psalter's debt to Gregorian chant, 2

Here's one more on this topic posted by Canadian organist Frank Ezinga:


It would be wonderful if a young scholar in liturgical studies were to undertake to explore more thoroughly the connection between Gregorian chant and the Genevan melodies. At 4.05 Ezinga introduces his collection of Genevan Psalters in different languages. I would personally love to get my hands on an early copy of the original French psalter, as well as Hungarian and Indonesian psalters. Someday perhaps.