Show Summary Details

Page of

Printed from Grove Music Online. Grove is a registered trademark. Under the terms of the licence agreement, an individual user may print out a single article for personal use (for details see Privacy Policy).

date: 02 June 2020

Psalms, metricalfree

  • Nicholas Temperley,
  • Howard Slenk,
  • Jan R. Luth,
  • Margaret Munck,
  • John M. Barkley
  •  and R. Tosh

Paraphrases of the biblical psalms in verse translation, often designed for singing to tunes of a simple popular type (known today as hymn tunes).

I. Introduction

Translation of the psalms into metrical verse goes back to Apollinaris in the 4th century, and poetic paraphrases may have been made as early as the 2nd century for the so-called Gnostic psalter of Bardaisan and his son Harmonius. It continued throughout the Middle Ages, chiefly for the purposes of edification and private devotion. Metrical versions of the seven ‘penitential psalms’ (vi, xxxii, xxxviii, li, cii, cxxx and cxliii) held a special place in the devotional life of the Roman Church, but in the 16th century a new motive was added – that of public worship. Hus and Luther acknowledged the power of congregational singing, which required texts in verse because prose could not easily be sung by the people at large. Thus the enormous increase in the quantity of metrical psalms after 1520 was a direct outgrowth of the Reformation. The first collections of Lutheran chorales (1524) included a number of psalm paraphrases among the freely composed hymns. The more radical reformers, believing that only the inspired words of the Bible were suitable for use in worship, sought to confine the texts to close translations of the psalms and a few other biblical lyrics. They used the verse forms of popular song, partly for ease of learning and partly in the hope that people would set aside the lewd or superstitious songs they knew and sing the psalms instead. Psalms were, in fact, sung in everyday situations as well as in church. They were enormously popular, and were an important element in 16th- and 17th-century music printing and publishing. The tunes were soon harmonized in both simple and elaborate settings.

The German Reformed sect, centred at Strasbourg, included 22 metrical psalms in its Kirchenampt of about 1524, and produced a complete psalter by 1538. Zwingli, the first leader of the Swiss Reformed Church, disallowed music in worship altogether, but Calvin threw his influence behind the psalm-singing movement, and between 1539 and 1562 supervised the development of the French metrical psalter. The movement then spread to Britain, the Low Countries, Scandinavia, Eastern Europe and eventually to the colonies in America and other parts of the world. Some metrical versions of the psalms, such as the American Bay Psalm Book, are extremely literal; others, such as those of Isaac Watts, are so freely paraphrased that a metrical psalm of this type cannot be clearly demarcated from a hymn (see Hymn, §IV).

For the music of the voluntary parish church choir in England, consisting of psalms, hymns and anthems, which began to appear about 1690 and continued through the 18th and 19th centuries, and for the general practice of amateur Protestant vocal music in North America from the 17th century to the 19th, see Psalmody.

II. The European continent

1. General.

The creation of a metrical psalter in the vernacular, complete with melodies and attendant polyphonic settings, is the chief contribution of Calvinism to the music of western Europe. The origin, growth and distribution of the psalter form a short but intense episode in the history of music. In less than a century the poetry was written, the psalm melodies were composed and the main corpus of polyphonic music inspired by the psalter was created. This period of growth parallels the growth and spread of Calvinism in western Europe. The Calvinist doctrines and psalter found an especially receptive audience in France, Switzerland, the Low Countries and certain areas of Germany (see Calvin [Cauvin], Jean; see also Reformed and Presbyterian church music). The following discussion is organized into four categories, corresponding to the various geographical areas (and languages) in which the Calvinist psalter flourished. Discussed within each category are both the monophonic psalters and the polyphonic settings.

2. France and Switzerland.

(i) Monophonic psalters.

The history of the Calvinist psalter begins in the Catholic court of France. In 1537 the poet Clément Marot, valet de chambre to King François I, completed rhymed translations of 30 psalms, taking the first 15 psalms in numerical order and then selecting the remainder at will. Marot’s psalms were very popular at court. Chroniclers reported that monarch, courtiers and courtesans sang them to popular tunes. In 1540 Marot gave a manuscript of the Trente pseaulmes to Emperor Charles V, who urged the poet to continue his work.

Marot’s Trente pseaulmes first appeared in print in Calvinist psalters. Jean Calvin, exiled from Geneva and leading a small congregation at Strasbourg, used Marot’s psalms in his first psalter, Aulcuns pseaulmes et cantiques mys en chant (Strasbourg, 1539). This book contains 13 Marot psalms and six psalms and three canticles by Calvin. Aulcuns pseaulmes is a psalter with melodies, but without preface or an appendix of liturgical texts. Several of the melodies were borrowed from earlier Strasbourg songbooks, and at least two tunes in Calvin’s first psalter can be ascribed to the Strasbourg musician Matthias Greiter.

Calvin returned to Geneva in 1541, and in the following year brought out his second psalter, La forme des prières et chantz ecclésiastiques (1542). This book contains Marot’s Trente pseaulmes, two Marot canticles, and five psalms and two canticles by Calvin, each text with its own melody. La forme des prières (fig.1), which shows one of the most popular of the Genevan psalms, Marot’s Du fond de ma pensée) begins with a lengthy preface by Calvin on the sacraments and on psalm singing. It concludes with liturgical texts (prayers to be read at worship and forms for the sacraments).

Marot’s setting of Psalm cxxx, ‘Du fond de ma pensée’, from Calvin’s second psalter ‘La forme des prières’ (Geneva, 1542)

Wurttembergische Landesbibliothek, Germany

In 1542 Marot fled to Geneva to escape religious persecution. There he revised his first 30 psalms and added 25 new texts to the Calvinist repertory: 19 psalms, four canticles and two table graces. The earliest extant publication of this material is Cinquante pseaumes en francois par Clem. Marot (1543). It is an edition without melodies, and bears no printer’s name or place of publication. That same year Calvin published a Genevan edition of the Cinquante pseaumes with melodies. No copies of this book survive. In fact, not one Genevan edition of Cinquante pseaumes with melodies exists today, even though there is evidence that several were printed between 1543 and 1551, when Pseaumes octantetrois appeared.

Pseaumes octantetrois de David, mis en rime Francoise, a savoir, quaranteneuf par Clement Marot … et trentequatre par Theodore de Besze, de Vezelay en Bourgongne (Geneva, 1551) is the first Calvinist psalter in which the work of poet and musician is acknowledged. Marot, who had died by that time, and Théodore de Bèze, the theologian who continued the work of versifying the psalms, are both mentioned in the title. The musician responsible for the melodies was Loys Bourgeois, who had been active as a music teacher in Geneva since 1545. Bourgeois explained his work in a preface, claiming that he wrote new music for the 34 Bèze psalms, rewrote 12 and revised 24 of the old melodies, and left only 15 untouched. Writers have often credited Loys Bourgeois for work on other Genevan psalters, but his role, though substantial, was confined to this publication; the new melodies for the 1543 edition were probably composed by Guillaume Franc. Bourgeois left Geneva in 1552.

Pseaumes octantetrois was published in Geneva each successive year until 1554. Six new psalms (without music) were added by Bèze to the 1554 edition, though they were not acknowledged in the title until Pseaumes octante-neuf was published the following year. The 1556 edition of this book contains another preface by a Genevan musician, Pierre Vallette, who replaced Bourgeois as music teacher for a short time. His preface is a little treatise explaining how to read the musical notation of the psalter; he made no reference to writing or revising any psalm melodies.

The complete edition of the Calvinist psalter was published in Geneva in 1562 as Les pseaumes mis en rime francoise, par Clément Marot, & Théodore de Bèze. Antoine Vincent was the merchant printer in charge of producing the tens of thousands of copies that issued from printing presses in Geneva, Paris, Lyons, Caen, St Lo and elsewhere, each copy duly marked ‘pour Antoine Vincent’. This extensive venture, involving 24 printers in Paris alone, shows the immense popularity of the Calvinist psalms. A bibliography compiled by Orentin Douen in 1879 lists 44 different editions of the psalter in 1562, 1563, and 1564. As hostile a commentator as Florimond de Raemond wrote in his L’histoire de la naissance de … l’hérésie (1610) that the psalms of Marot and Bèze ‘were received and welcomed by everyone with as much favour as ever any book was, not only by those with Protestant sympathies, but also by Catholics; everyone enjoyed singing them’.

The complete Calvinist psalter contains 125 different melodies for 152 texts (150 psalms and two canticles). 85 melodies are repeated from the 1551 edition; 40 are new. The creator of the new melodies was a certain ‘Maître Pierre le chantre’. Since Pierre Dagues, Pierre Vallette, Pierre Davantès and Pierre du Buisson were all active as musicians in Geneva at this time, the identity of ‘Maître Pierre’ remains a mystery, although recent research has shown that it could be Pierre Davantes. It is known that Loys Bourgeois and the other creators of the Calvinist melodies did not use the French chanson repertory as the principal source of melodies for the psalter, and although there are reliable reports that Marot’s psalms were sung to popular tunes, there is very little evidence that the psalter melodies themselves were derived from chansons. Yet ever since Orentin Douen (in his Clément Marot et le psautier huguenot, 1878–9) illustrated some similarities between a group of Genevan melodies and some chansons, writers have repeated his conclusion that many psalms are based on specific chansons. In Douen’s work, however, the similarities shown are limited to short groups of notes here and there, and can more easily be described as idiomatic coincidences than as direct borrowings. For example, one of the psalm melodies that Douen claimed was a remade chanson is Psalm lxxii, ‘Tes jugements, Dieu veritable’, which does indeed bear some similarity to the tenor of Josquin’s Petite camusette. After the almost identical incipits (ex.1), however, the comparison becomes unconvincing.

Ex.1 The melody for Psalm lxxii compared with the tenor of Josquin’s chanson Petite camusette

Pierre Pidoux (1962) showed that several Genevan melodies derive from Gregorian chant. For example, the comparison of Psalm lxxx, ‘O pasteur d’Israel, escoute’, with the Easter sequence, Victimae paschali laudes, reveals a much closer relationship than any displayed by Douen’s chanson–psalm pairings (ex.2). Unlike the above chanson example, here very little of the older melody need be discarded in order to find the Genevan adaptation. The relationship is obvious enough to justify calling the sequence a model for the psalm tune. Moreover, comments by Loys Bourgeois in his psalter preface of 1551 imply that he used chant for two or three psalms.

Ex.2 The opening of the melody for Psalm lxxx compared with the Easter sequence Victimae paschali laudes (transposed up a 4th)

(ii) Polyphonic settings.

The immense popularity of the Calvinist psalms led composers to use the texts for polyphonic composition. The first settings came soon after Calvin’s first psalter of 1539. One year later Jacques Moderne of Lyons included the earliest known polyphonic setting of a Marot psalm in the sixth book of his series Le parangon des chansons. The piece is a complete setting of Psalm cxxxvii, Estans assis aux rives aquatiques, by a certain Abel, a composer of whom nothing is known. Abel’s extended composition in three movements is not based on any known melody. In 1544 Moderne printed a second psalm by an obscure composer, Gentian, whose setting of Marot’s Psalm cxxx appears in the second book of the series Le difficile des chansons. This composition is also in three movements and freely composed, without reference to the psalter melody.

Later in the decade French printers began issuing publications devoted exclusively to polyphonic settings of the 50 Marot psalms. The first of these was a collection of 31 settings in four parts by Pierre Certon, published in Paris by Pierre Attaingnant in 1546. Only a superius partbook without title-page remains, but it is enough to show that Certon used the Calvinist melodies. No reference to the melodies is found in a second book, published that year by Attaingnant as a sequel to the Certon collection and containing 23 settings by Antoine de Mornable.

Ex.3 Loys Bourgeois’ setting of Psalm cxxx in imitative style, from Le premier livre des pseaulmes (Lyons, 1547)

Loys Bourgeois’ polyphonic settings of Marot’s 50 psalms appeared in two Lyons publications in 1547. In Pseaulmes de David, Bourgeois wrote in a four-voice note-against-note style, with the unchanged psalm melody in the tenor. He labelled this simple polyphonic style and the syllabic text treatment ‘a voix de contrepoinct egal consonante au verbe’. For the 24 settings in Le premier livre des pseaulmes Bourgeois used three styles, which he again labelled in the title: ‘a voix pareille’ (note-against-note, with psalm melody as tenor cantus firmus); ‘familiere, ou vaudeville’ (a freer note-against-note texture, with some ornamentation in the accompanying voices or even in the melody itself); and ‘plus musicale’ (imitative counterpoint, with each phrase of the psalm melody the basis of a point of imitation – see ex.3, which uses the melody shown in fig.1 above). Only 15 of the 24 settings use known Calvinist melodies.

Other composers who filled single publications with settings of some or all of Marot’s Cinquante pseaumes are Clément Janequin (1549), Pierre Colin (1550), Claude Goudimel (1551, 1557, 1559, 1560), Pierre Certon, again (1555), Jacques Arcadelt (1559) and Michel Ferrier (1559). All of these composers except Colin used the Genevan tunes, although Goudimel sometimes composed without them.

Loys Bourgeois, the writer of many of the melodies in Pseaumes octantetrois (1551), was also the first composer to produce a polyphonic setting of this enlarged psalter. Only a bass partbook of Pseaulmes LXXXIII de David (1554) remains; it shows, however, that Bourgeois used the psalter melodies. Philibert Jambe de Fer also used the psalter melodies, setting only the Bèze texts in his Psalmodie de 41 pseaumes royaux (1559). Both Marot and Bèze texts from Pseaumes octantetrois form the basis for the polyphonic psalters by Janequin (1559), Thomas Champion (1561) and Claude Goudimel (1562). All three of these publications use the Calvinist melodies.

Soon after the publication of the complete Genevan Psalter in 1562, composers began to write polyphonic settings of all 150 psalms. Four polyphonic psalters, each entitled Les 150 pseaumes de David, appeared in 1564: one by Goudimel in Paris, two by Jambe de Fer in Lyons, and one by Richard Crassot in Lyons. All are in note-against-note style with the psalm melody in the tenor. (See below, however, on Goudimel’s style.) Other composers who set the complete psalter are Hugues Sureau (1565), Jean Servin (1565), Pierre Santerre (1567), Claude Goudimel, again (1568), Paschal de L’Estocart (1583) and Claude Le Jeune, twice (1601, and 1602–10 in three volumes). These settings are all based on the Genevan melodies. When composers set the entire psalter, they presented the psalm tune as cantus firmus, accompanied by either chordal texture or a more elaborate counterpoint. The given melody, however, was always clearly present. In their prefaces, the composers of the Calvinist repertory stated that they had retained ‘the usual melody which is sung in church’, because so many people enjoyed singing the psalms outside the church ‘in a more melodious setting, from the art of music’.

Claude Goudimel made the most substantial contribution to the Calvinist repertory with his three different settings of the psalter. Between 1551 and 1566 he produced eight books of psalm motets. For these compositions he used the entire text, grouping several stanzas into a single movement. Psalm cxix, for example (vol.iii, 1557), has 28 stanzas and is in five movements. Often the various movements, or even the stanzas, are set off from each other by contrasts in texture, cantus firmus treatment or number of voices used. Imitative counterpoint is the style of these works. In the earlier settings Goudimel did not build the points of imitation on the psalter tunes, but he did use them for the later psalm motets.

Ex.4 The openings of Goudimel’s three settings of Psalm i (a) from the Tiers livre contenant huit pseaumes de David (Paris, 1557) (b) from Les cent cinquante pseaumes de David (Paris, 1564) (c) from Les cent cinquante pseaumes de David (Paris, 1568)

Goudimel’s second setting of the Genevan melodies is his complete polyphonic psalter of 1564 (part published in 1562). Here he used the note-against-note style with the tune appearing in tenor or superius. There are, however, only 125 different melodies in the Genevan Psalter, some of them being assigned to more than one psalm. When Goudimel set one of these melodies a second time in his 1564 psalter he wrote in a more ornate style. Tenor or superius still carry the unaltered psalm tune, so that, as in the simpler settings, the length of the given melody determines the length of the polyphonic composition. Here, however, the accompanying voices do not move with the melody to form a chordal texture. Instead, each voice is rhythmically independent and indulges in occasional short melismas, brief imitations and ornamental melodic figures. The setting of the text is still mainly syllabic, but the four voices no longer declaim the words together. Goudimel used this more ornate style exclusively in his third setting of the psalm tunes (another complete polyphonic psalter), published in 1568. For purposes of comparison, the openings of Goudimel’s three settings of Psalm i are given in ex.4.

The most eloquent testimony to the popularity of the polyphonic settings is the large number that were printed. The publications listed above contain over 2000 settings of the Marot-Bèze texts. Large as this number is, it represents only about two-thirds of the polyphonic repertory based on the Calvinist texts and tunes. More than 100 psalms appeared in instrumental publications, such as Le Roy’s Tiers livre de tabulature de luth (1552), which contains 21 settings for voice and lute. With the polyphonic chansons spirituelles and the settings of psalms by Calvinist poets other than Marot and Bèze, the total number of compositions swells to over 3000, which does not include what was published in countries other than France and Switzerland. Nor does this number include the motet and chanson contrafacta prepared by various Calvinist editors who substituted a Calvinist psalm or chanson spirituelle for the original text. The chansons of Lassus were a prime target. Simon Goulart, a minister and publisher of music in Geneva, issued a series of publications in which Lassus’s texts were either adapted or completely replaced. In 1597 a certain Louis Mongart prepared a polyphonic psalter named Cinquante pseaumes de David. He explained his editing technique in the preface: ‘I have accommodated the text of the psalms to French, Italian, and German chansons, and even to several Latin motets of Orland de Lassus, prince of musicians of our century’.

The complete polyphonic Calvinist repertory – psalm setting, instrumental arrangement, chanson spirituelle and contrafactum – rivals, in quantity at least, the Parisian chanson, the Italian madrigal and the polyphonic Lutheran chorale. Yet this huge repertory is barely mentioned in contemporary records: only three references are known.

The first is from Histoire ecclésiastique des églises réformées, a work formerly attributed to Théodore de Bèze. It tells of the Huguenot Anne de Bourg, who was a prisoner in the Bastille in 1560. Although ‘confined in a cage where he suffered all the discomforts imaginable, he rejoiced always and glorified God, now taking up his lute to sing him psalms, now praising him with his voice’.

A second reference to the polyphonic performance of Calvinist psalms is in a letter by a certain Villemadon, courtier to Marguerite of Navarre. He wrote to Catherine de’ Medici on 26 August 1559 telling her that when Emperor Charles V visited Paris in January 1540, the musicians of François I and the emperor, indeed all the musicians of France, outdid one another in setting Marot’s psalms to music. Everyone in France was then singing psalms. The courtier described his visit to the sick-bed of the dauphin Henri, whom he found singing psalms, accompanied by lutes, guitars, viols, spinets, flutes and the voices of his singers. Unfortunately very few of the earliest settings for Marot’s psalms have survived. Perhaps most of them were contrafacta, as later writers such as Florimond de Raemond suggested. The polyphonic psalters of the later 1540s do not contain the earliest settings, because these later publications are by composers not connected with the court from 1537 to 1542, the years when Marot’s psalms were in high royal favour. Moreover, since all of these settings are based on melodies or texts printed in 1543 or later, they do not reflect the activity Villemadon described.

A third reference to the singing of polyphonic Calvinist psalms is in a chronicle by Marcus van Vaernewijck of Ghent (1566–8). In his description of the religious unrest in the Low Countries he commented on the popularity of the psalms among the Calvinists, adding that ‘they were also sung in parts in the homes, in the shops, and similar establishments’. This is the only known reference to the actual singing of polyphony in the homes of the Calvinists, and agrees with statements and implications in the titles and prefaces of the polyphonic psalm collections: these compositions were not meant to be sung in church, where polyphony was frowned upon, but in the homes and in places where amateurs gathered to make music. Nevertheless, various writers have suggested that the polyphonic Calvinist psalms were, indeed, sung in church. Such conjectures ignore evidence presented by the publications themselves. Goudimel prefaced his chordal settings published in Geneva in 1565 with the instruction that these settings were not to be sung in church but in the home. As for the more difficult motet-like settings, they were frequently dedicated to collèges musicaux, which were groups of amateurs. The evidence from contemporary chronicles and from the publications shows that, in the 16th century at least, both the simple and complex settings of the Calvinist psalms were meant for amateur performance, not for the church.

3. The Low Countries (French language).

(i) Monophonic psalters.

The earliest known edition of Marot’s complete Trente pseaulmes appeared in the Low Countries in 1541, one year before the psalms appeared in Calvin’s first Genevan psalter. In 1541 the Antwerp printer Antoine des Gois issued Psalmes de David, translatez de plusieurs Autheurs, & principallement de Cle. Marot. This is a psalter without music that contains the 30 psalms of Marot along with 15 by lesser-known poets, some of them identified by only an initial. Ten of the 45 psalms are headed by references to pre-existing melodies to which the texts could be sung. For example, Marot’s Psalm x was to be sung ‘sus Dont vient cela’, a popular chanson. The book was approved for publication by Pierre Alexandre, confessor to Mary of Hungary, Regent of the Low Countries. Psalmes de David has been considered a Protestant publication because Alexandre was later proclaimed a heretic; and the references to melodies prompted some writers to consider the book an early Calvinist psalter designed for use in secret worship. There could have been no eager Protestant market for this publication, however, because Calvinism had barely penetrated the Low Countries in 1541. The Lutherans and Anabaptists active in Antwerp would have had little use for a French psalter, since these Protestants spoke German or Dutch. Although there are reasons for believing that Psalmes de David may have been Protestant in intent, it certainly is not a Calvinist psalter. It was, however, the first appearance in the Low Countries of Marot’s Trente pseaulmes, texts that were to be used later by the Calvinists there.

All the Calvinist texts and tunes were published by Christopher Plantin in Antwerp in 1564, two years after the psalter was completed in Geneva. Plantin took precautions because he evidently knew that the Genevan Psalter might be considered a heretical publication. Before publication he requested and received permission to print this book from both the religious and secular authorities. After publication the psalter was again examined and approved by a priest. In spite of these safeguards, the book was condemned and Plantin was ordered to destroy his entire production. The authorities gave as their reason that, although the texts might be pure, the melodies were those used by the heretics.

The public singing of psalms was forbidden by royal decree, and if the Inquisition found psalters in homes they imprisoned the owners. In April 1566, however, the activities of the Inquisition were curtailed for a time, and there was a period of religious freedom. Refugees flocked back from England and Germany, singing psalms in their boats and wagons. In May the Protestants held their first open-air services, usually in the fields just outside the city walls. Thousands of people in Flanders, Holland and Zeeland forsook Mass to hear the preachers of the new religion. Several chroniclers have described the singing of psalms at these gatherings. Marcus van Vaernewijck wrote in Ghent in 1566: ‘these psalms appealed to the members of the new religion so much that in the evening they would gather in groups of two to three hundred and sing them in different streets and alleys of the city. … One hardly heard any other songs. … Out in the fields, the preachers taught the people how to sing them, using simple tunes’. Psalm singing accompanied the frenzied outburst of image breaking in August 1566, which in turn led to strong repressive measures from ruling Spain. Immediately after the image breaking, however, there was even greater religious freedom for the Protestants. They quickly built churches in which, according to chroniclers, they spent the entire Sunday listening to sermons and singing psalms. Within a year the churches in the southern provinces of the Low Countries were torn down by the Duke of Alva and his Spanish troops, whose task it was to subjugate the rebellious Low Countries. Psalm singing once again became a heretical activity, punishable by death.

(ii) Polyphonic settings.

Soon after the printed appearance of Marot’s psalms in Antwerp (Psalmes de David, 1541) composers began using them as texts. The first polyphonic setting of a Marot psalm to appear in the Low Countries was by Benedictus Appenzeller, and was included in a collection of his chansons printed in 1542 by Henry Loys and Jean de Buys of Antwerp. In setting Marot’s Psalm cxxx, Appenzeller simply wrote in the typical Netherlandish style of his day, with no reference to the Calvinist melody.

Ex.5 Pevernage’s setting of Psalm xxxiii, from Chansons d’Andre Pevernage, livre premier (Antwerp, 1589)

In all, 33 settings of Marot’s psalms, canticles and graces appeared in Netherland chanson collections in the 16th century. The earlier settings are all in the typical chanson style of that era and area, and are without reference to known melodies. In addition to Appenzeller, the composers are Manchicourt, Tylman Susato, Gerarde, Clemens non Papa, Crispel, Caulery and Waelrant, all of whom were active in the Low Countries. Later in the century, five composers (Lassus, Noë Faignient, Philippe de Monte, Séverin Cornet, Andreas Pevernage) used the Calvinist tunes as well as texts, but the settings still appeared in chanson collections. These compositions range in style from the homophonic setting of Psalm cxxx by Lassus to the four psalm motets for five voices by Pevernage, which use imitation, expressive dissonance, word-painting, diminution and augmentation of the given melody, and even attempt musique mesurée. Pevernage’s setting of Psalm xxxiii, Resveillez-vous, chascun fidèle, with its short notes, animated motifs and high voices, is an excellent example of a polyphonic idiom in which text determines style. The bright sound and lively rhythmic quality of this piece is an appropriate setting for a text that urges the faithful to rise and praise the Lord with psaltery and harp (ex.5).

The only publications in the Low Countries exclusively devoted to polyphonic settings of the Marot-Bèze texts are by the composers Jean Louys and Sweelinck. Louys set all the texts of Marot’s 50 pseaumes, using the psalter melodies and the first stanza of each text. Entitled Pseaulmes 50 de David, his collection appeared in three volumes, published in 1555 by Waelrant and Laet of Antwerp. Like most of the motets published in the Low Countries at this time, the psalms are for five voices. The motifs are often extended to form long, melismatic phrases, rather than being declamatory and brief as in the contemporaneous French motet style cultivated by Sermisy and Certon. Pervading imitation, a thick texture, an avoidance of clearcut phrase divisions and very little chordal writing are characteristics that place Louys’ psalms squarely in the mid-century Netherlandish tradition of Crecquillon, Clemens non Papa and Gombert.

Ex.6 The openings of two psalm motets by Sweelinck, from Cinquante pseaumes de David (Amsterdam, 1604) (a) Psalm xxiv, in cantus-firmus style (b) Psalm cxxx, using equal imitation

Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck was the only composer who finished the task of setting all of the Marot-Bèze psalms in a florid motet style. Claude Le Jeune presented 12 elaborate settings in his Dodecacorde of 1598, and Claude Goudimel worked his way through almost half of the psalter in his eight books of psalm motets. Unlike Goudimel, Sweelinck did not set all the stanzas of each psalm, although he did use the complete texts of 32 of them. Sweelinck brought out his 153 compositions in four books, published in Amsterdam between 1604 and 1621. His work is the climax and crown of the Calvinist repertory. Into a rich fabric of late Renaissance polyphony, ranging from two to eight voices, Sweelinck wove the Genevan melodies in a variety of ways: as unembellished cantus firmus in one voice, as cantus firmus moving from voice to voice, or as basis for equal imitation in all voices. Ex.6 shows the openings of two psalm motets by Sweelinck, the first in cantus-firmus style, the second using equal imitation. Chromaticism, word-painting, echo effects and double-chorus writing are also present. Sweelinck’s psalms signal the end of an era in two respects. His vocal music in general is the ‘brilliant and noble sunset’ (Reese, 1954, p.518) of the great production of the Netherlanders in the field of vocal polyphony; his psalm settings mark the twilight era of the music of Calvinism. The Calvinist churches of western Europe continued to use the psalter, but the period of creative activity begun in Paris by Clément Marot ended in Amsterdam with Sweelinck’s contrapuntal masterpieces.

4. The Low Countries (Dutch language).

(i) Monophonic psalters.

The first metrical Dutch psalter printed in the Low Countries was the Souterliedekens, a volume of rhymed psalms set to Dutch and French folktunes. Printed by Symon Cock of Antwerp in 1540, this psalter was the first publication in the Low Countries to use movable music type. The question of the confessional character of the Souterliedekens has occupied several scholars. Recent investigation has produced evidence of Lutheran influence in the prologue, and has shown that many psalms take the Dutch Vorsterman Bible of 1528 as a textual basis. In fact, several heretical expressions from the marginal glossary of this Bible found their way into the Souterliedekens.

The second Dutch psalter printed on Netherlandish soil was the work of Lucas de Heere, a Ghent artist who was also a fervent Calvinist. His Psalmen Davids na d’Ebreeusche waerhyt … op de voysen en mate, van Clement Marots Psalmen was published in Ghent in 1565. As its title implies, this psalter contains translations of Huguenot psalms with their respective melodies retained. De Heere used the complete Geneva Psalter of 1562 as his source, and although only Marot is acknowledged in his title, nine of De Heere’s 37 translations are of Bèze texts, in which the influence of the Dutch Bibles of Liesvelt (1526) and Vorsterman (1528) is clear. He generally used the poetic structure of the French texts so that his psalms could be sung to the Genevan melodies, but in some cases he lengthened the Genevan melody.

There is no evidence that De Heere’s psalms were ever used by Dutch-speaking Calvinist congregations, which had been meeting secretly in the Low Countries for about a decade. The probable reason De Heere’s psalter was not adopted is that Dutch Calvinists already had one. Since 1551, printers in London and Emden had issued 12 editions of the psalms of Jan Utenhove. Utenhove was of noble birth, but fled his home city of Ghent in 1544 because of his Protestant beliefs. His first psalms, published by Steven Mijerdman of London, were meant for the exiled Dutch Protestant church that Utenhove and others had founded in London.

In 1553 Mary Tudor’s accession to the throne made England unsafe for Protestants; the young congregation fled to Denmark and thence to Germany, where they found a refuge in Emden. There Utenhove continued his work of rhyming the psalms, which were printed in Emden by Gillis van der Erven. Utenhove returned to England in 1559, soon after Protestantism was restored by Elizabeth, and his subsequent psalters were printed by John Day of London. He finished his work on the psalms in 1565 (the year in which he died), and a complete psalter was published the following year. Entitled De psalmen Davidis, in Nederlandischer sangsryme, most of its texts are translations of the Marot-Bèze psalms, influenced by the Dutch ‘Deux-aes’ Bible (1561, 1562) popular with the Calvinists, and the majority of its melodies are from the Genevan Psalter.

The complete triumph of the Genevan tradition occurred when Petrus Dathenus issued his De Psalmen Davids, ende ander lofsanghen, wt den Francoyschen dichte in Nederlandschen overghesett, published in Rouen, Ghent and Heidelberg in 1566. This is simply the complete Genevan Psalter in Dutch. Dathenus translated the Marot-Bèze texts, often literally, and fitted his translations to the Genevan melodies. His psalter was accepted by the Dutch synods during the 16th century and remained the official songbook of the Dutch-speaking Calvinist Church for more than two centuries. The Dathenus texts were replaced in 1773 by order of the Dutch government, although the Genevan melodies were retained. This psalter was replaced only in 1967, by the psalter of the Interkerkelijke Stichting voor de Psalmberÿming, and was published in 1973, with 491 hymns, in the Liedboek voor de kerken.

(ii) Polyphonic settings.

The Souterliedekens also provided the first texts and melodies for polyphonic settings of Dutch psalms. Clemens non Papa set all but ten of the Souterliedekens, and Tylman Susato published these as volumes iv–vii of his Musyck boexken series (1556–7), composing the ten missing psalms himself. All of Clemens’s settings are for three voices, each in a partbook: superius, tenor and bassus. The tenor always carries the 1540 melody, and is usually a true tenor part with a soprano or alto written above it and a bass beneath. Occasionally, however, Clemens assigned the melody (always printed in the tenor partbook) to a high voice, and wrote an alto and bass beneath it. The alto part then appears in the superius partbook, even though it is not the highest voice. Evidently Clemens wanted a variety in the cantus firmus texture, but he (or Susato) also wanted all the Souterliedekens melodies in one partbook.

Susato’s next four volumes in the Musyck boexken series appeared in 1561 and contained 123 polyphonic settings of the Souterliedekens, set for four voices by Gherardus Mes. The first volume is labelled Souterliedekens V, implying that it is a continuation of the series that began with Clemens’s four volumes. The title also labels Mes a ‘discipel van Jacobus non Papa’. Two of the four partbooks are missing, making an assessment of this work extremely difficult.

The third composer to place the popular Souterliedekens in polyphonic setting was Cornelis Buscop. 50 of his settings were published in Düsseldorf in 1568 under the title Psalmen David, Vyfftich, mit vier partyen. Buscop’s preface indicates that he had composed others for five and for six voices. The published four-part psalms are in modest motet style, each phrase of the Souterliedekens melody being used to build one or two points of imitation. Buscop did not, however, use the given melody for each composition; some appear to be freely composed.

Polyphonic settings of early Dutch psalms other than the Souterliedekens are very scarce. The few that remain have texts by unknown authors. Although there is some evidence that the Dathenus texts were set polyphonically by Dutch composers in the 16th century, the music has not been found. The earliest known polyphonic publications containing the official Dutch texts are from the following century. These are Dutch editions of the note-against-note settings of the Genevan Psalter by Claude Goudimel and Claude Le Jeune, in which the Dathenus texts are used as contrafacta.

5. Germany.

(i) Monophonic psalters.

Metrical translations of psalms are not prominent in Lutheran songbooks. The first published collection of Lutheran chorales, the so-called Achtliederbuch of 1524, contains three rhymed psalm translations by Luther himself. In the Erfurt Enchiridion of the same year, seven of the 26 songs are metrical psalms. The first publication devoted exclusively to metrical psalms is by the Meistersinger Hans Sachs, who worked very closely from Luther’s prose translation of all the psalms, and published Dreytzehn Psalmen zusingen, in den vier hernach genotirten Thonen in 1526. In the following decades complete metrical psalters were published by other confessional groups in Germany. The first complete Lutheran psalter, however, did not appear until 1553. It was the work of Burkhard Waldis, and was published in Frankfurt under the title Der Psalter, in newe Gesangs weise, und künstliche Reimen gebracht, durch Burcardum Waldis, mit ieder Psalmen besondern Melodien. Waldis’s texts and melodies did not find wide acceptance. Nor did the metrical psalms of later Lutheran poets gain the popularity in Germany that the Marot-Bèze psalter did in France, Switzerland, the Low Countries and eventually in Germany itself.

A translation of the Marot-Bèze psalms became by far the best-known psalter in Germany. In 1565 Ambrosius Lobwasser finished his translation of the entire French psalter into German. It was published in Leipzig in 1573, and entitled Der Psalter dess königlichen Propheten Davids, in deutsche reyme verstendiglich und deutlich gebracht. The Lobwasser translation enjoyed immediate popularity, and was used by Lutheran congregations as well as Calvinist. As a result, several Calvinist melodies found a permanent place in the Lutheran repertory (e.g. Psalm xlii = ‘Freu dich sehr, O meine Seele’; ‘Les commandemens de Dieu’ = ‘Wenn wir in höchsten Nöten sein’; see Lutheran church music). One of the reasons for the popularity of Lobwasser’s work was that his texts were usually accompanied in print by the homophonic settings of Goudimel. (Part-singing of the psalms was introduced into the German Calvinist service long before it was permitted in Geneva or the Low Countries.)

Lobwasser had many imitators. They modelled their translations on the French psalms, and used either the Genevan melodies alone or the Goudimel settings. In 1588 Philipp von Winnenbergh published his translation with a new arrangement of the Goudimel four-part pieces: the melody was in the superius instead of the tenor. Other translator-arrangers were Paul Melissus Schede (1572), Martin Opitz (1637) and Hans von Bonneck (1634). None of these psalters, however, diminished the popularity of Lobwasser’s version.

To counteract the spread of the Calvinist psalms, the Catholics and Lutherans created their own metrical psalters, often imitating the very psalms they were attempting to replace. A metrical psalter for Catholics was prepared by Kaspar Ulenberg and published in Cologne in 1582. Die Psalmen Davids in allerlei teutsche gesangreimen bracht contains all 150 psalms fitted to 81 melodies, which are very like their Genevan prototypes. Der Lutherische Lobwasser, das ist Der ganz Psalter Davids is the work of Johann Wuestholtz, who claimed in his preface to have corrected Lobwasser’s work. The melodies are Genevan. The Lutheran theologian Cornelius Becker, far from bringing out a ‘Lutheran Lobwasser’, or using the Genevan melodies, sharply criticized the Lobwasser psalter in the preface to his Der Psalter Davids gesangweis auff die in Lutherischen Kirchen gewöhnliche Melodeyen zugerichtet (Leipzig, 1602). Becker disliked the ‘strange French melodies’, which ‘sounded sweet only to worldly ears’. As his title states, Becker used Lutheran melodies for his new translations.

The publication of metrical psalters in Germany continued to follow strict confessional lines. For Lutherans and Catholics, however, the metrical psalm never gained the dominating position that it held in the song repertory of the Calvinist Church.

(ii) Polyphonic settings.

The earliest polyphonic settings of metrical psalms in Germany were by Johann Walter (i) in his Geystliches Gesangk buchleyn of 1524. In the same year that the first monophonic Lutheran songbooks appeared, Walter made polyphonic settings of the songs, which included Luther’s rhymed psalms. Polyphonic settings of the entire psalter came somewhat later. Perhaps the earliest venture was by the Kassel Hofkapellmeister Johannes Heugel, who some time between 1555 and 1570 set for four and five voices the entire psalter (tunes and texts) of Burkhard Waldis. These modest contrapuntal settings survive in a Kassel manuscript (D-Kl 40 Mus.94). The Stuttgart Hofkapellmeister Sigmund Hemmel (d 1564) did not limit his source to a single monophonic psalter, but selected psalm texts and tunes from various German songbooks, several of them from non-Lutheran centres such as Strasbourg and Konstanz. Hemmel used the given melody if there was one; if not, he chose an existing Lutheran melody that fitted the psalm text. He created his psalter between 1561 and 1564. It was published posthumously as Der gantz Psalter Davids, wie derselbig in teutsche Gesang verfasset, mit vier Stimmen kunstlich und lieblich von neuen gesetzt (Tübingen, 1569).

The Lobwasser-Goudimel psalter appeared in 1573. Subsequent polyphonic metrical psalters in Germany were deeply influenced by this exceedingly popular publication. Other poets (e.g. those cited in §5(i) above) fitted their metrical translations to the Goudimel settings. Other composers set other German metrical psalms in homophonic style. One of the earliest examples of this practice is David Wolkenstein’s Psalmen für Kirchen und Schulen auff die gemeine Melodeyen syllaben weiss zu 4 Stimmen gesetzt (Strasbourg, 1577 and 1583). German composers were also quick to set the monophonic psalters that had been produced to stop the spread of the Calvinist psalms. Ulenberg’s Catholic psalter was set by Orlande and Rudolph de Lassus, Sigerus Pauli and Konrad Hagius. Cornelius Becker’s Lutheran psalter was set by Sethus Calvisius and Heinrich Schütz. Composers connected with Calvinist centres made more elaborate settings of Lobwasser’s texts and the Genevan melodies. Michael Praetorius included ten settings of Genevan psalm tunes in the fourth volume of his Musae Sioniae, which he dedicated to Duke Frederick of Rhein-Pfalz, a Calvinist. 11 more Calvinist psalm settings are in other volumes of that gigantic work. Other composers who set more than a few of the German-Genevan psalms are Samuel Mareschall (Basle, 1606), Moritz, Landgrave of Hesse (Kassel, 1612), and Johannes Crüger (Berlin, 1658).

The most significant contribution of the Lobwasser-Goudimel psalter, however, is not the number or quality of the subsequent polyphonic psalm settings it engendered. Scholars of Lutheran church music agree that Goudimel’s homophonic psalm settings greatly influenced the texture of the Lutheran chorale. The cantional style (chordal, melody in the soprano), first used in a Lutheran hymnal by Osiander in 1586, is the direct descendant of the simple Goudimel psalm setting. It is a style familiar to all who have sung a Protestant hymn.


  • MGG1 (L. Finscher)
  • MGG2 (‘Calvinistische Musik’; A. Marti, J.R. Luth)
  • F. de Raemond: L’histoire de la naissance, progrez et décadence de l’hérésie de ce siècle (Paris, 1610)
  • J. van Iperen: Kerkelijke historie van het psalm-gezang der Christenen (Amsterdam, 1777–8)
  • F. Bovet: Histoire du psautier des églises réformées (Paris, 1872)
  • O. Douen: Clément Marot et le psautier huguenot (Paris, 1878–9/R)
  • A. Gastoué: Le cantique populaire en France (Lyons, 1924)
  • R.R. Terry: Calvin’s First Psalter (London, 1932)
  • R.B. Lenaerts: Het Nederlands polifonies lied in de zestiende eeuw (Mechelen and Amsterdam, 1933)
  • K. Ameln and P. Pidoux, eds.: Clement Goudimel: Les pseaumes mis en rime françoise, 1565 (Kassel, 1935) [facs.]
  • W.S. Pratt: The Music of the French Psalter of 1562 (New York, 1939/R)
  • B. van den Sigtenhorst Meyer: De vocale muziek van Jan P. Sweelinck (The Hague, 1948)
  • H. Bruinsma: The ‘Souterliedekens’ and its Relation to Psalmody in the Netherlands (diss., U. of Michigan, 1949)
  • K.P. Bernet Kempers: ‘Meerstemmig psalmgezang in de Hervormde Kerk van Nederland’, TVNM, 17/3 (1951), 167–80
  • G. Reese: Music in the Renaissance (New York, 1954, 2/1959)
  • H. Hasper: Calvijns beginsel voor den zang in den eredienst, 1 (The Hague, 1955); ii (Groningen, 1977)
  • E. Droz: ‘Antoine Vincent: la propagande protestante par le psautier’, Travaux d’humanisme et renaissance, 28 (1957), 276–93
  • P. Pidoux: ‘Les psaumes d’Antoine de Mornable, Guillaume Morlaye, et Pierre Certon (1546, 1554, 1555): étude comparative’, AnnM, 5 (1957), 179–98
  • P. Pidoux: ‘Notes sur quelques éditions des psaumes de Claude Goudimel’, RdM, 42 (1958), 184–92
  • S.J. Lenselink: De Nederlandse psalmberijmingen van de Souterliedekens tot Datheen (Assen, 1959)
  • P. Pidoux, ed.: La forme des prières et chantz ecclesiastiques, 1542 (Kassel, 1959) [facs.]
  • P. Pidoux: Le psautier huguenot, 1–2 (Basle, 1962)
  • M. Honegger: ‘La chanson spirituelle populaire huguenote’, JbLH, 8 (1963), 129–42
  • M. Honegger: Review of P. Pidoux: Le psautier huguenot, RdM, 49 (1963), 237–43
  • W. Blankenburg: ‘Die Kirchenmusik in den reformierten Gebieten des europäischen Kontinents’, in F. Blume: Geschichte der evangelischen Kirchenmusik (Kassel, 2/1965; Eng. trans., enlarged, 1974, as Protestant Church Music: a History), 341–400
  • M. Jenny: ‘Weltlicher Ursprung der Genfer Psalmweisen?’, Musik und Gottesdienst, 19 (1965), 149–55
  • P. Pidoux: ‘Vierhundert Jahre Goudimel-Psalmen’, Musik und Gottesdienst, 19 (1965), 141–9
  • H. Slenk: The Huguenot Psalter in the Low Countries (diss., Ohio State U., 1965)
  • P. Pidoux: ‘Weltlicher Ursprung der Genfer Psalmweisen?’, Musik und Gottesdienst, 20 (1966), 167–76
  • H. Slenk: ‘Christopher Plantin and the Genevan Psalter’, TVNM, 20/4 (1967), 226–48
  • S.J. Lenselink: Le psautier huguenot, 3 (Assen, 1969)
  • W.S. Pratt: The Music of the French Psalter of 1562 (New York, 1969)
  • H. Slenk: ‘Jan Utenhove’s Psalms in the Low Countries’, Nederlands archief voor kerkgeschiedenis, 49 (1969), 155–68
  • P. Pidoux: ‘Loys Bourgeois’ Anteil am Hugenottenpsalter’, JbLH, 15 (1970), 123–31
  • R.J. Miller: John Calvin and the Reformation of Church Music in the Sixteenth Century (Ann Arbor, 1971)
  • D. Gutknecht: Untersuchungen zur Melodik des Huguenottenpsalters (Regensburg, 1972)
  • G. Aeschbacher: ‘Bemerkungen zur rhythmische Gestalt des Huguenottenpsalters’, Festschrift Arnold Geering, ed. V. Ravizza (Berne, 1973), 111–17
  • F.A. Johns, ed.: Pseaumes octantetrois de David mis en rime françoise par Clément Marot et Théodore de Bèze … 1551; La forme des prières ecclésiastiques et catéchisme par Jean Calvin … 1552 (New Brunswick, NJ, 1973) [facs.]
  • J. van Biezen and M. Veldhuyzen, eds.: Souter Liedekens ghemaect ter eeren Gods op alle die Psalmen van David, Antwerpen 1540 (Buren, 1984) [facs.]
  • J.R. Luth: ‘Daer wert om ’t seerste uytgekreten … ’: bijdragen tot een geschiedenis van de gemeentezang in het Nederlandse gereformeerde protestantisme ca. 1550 – ca. 1852 (Kampen, 2/1986)
  • P. Pidoux, ed.: Clément Marot and Théodore de Bèze: Les pseaumes en vers français avec leurs mélodies (Geneva, 1986) [facs.]
  • R.A. Leaver: ‘Goostly Psalmes and Sprituell Songes’: English and Dutch Metrical Psalms from Coverdale to Utenhove 1535–1566 (Oxford, 1991) [facs.]
  • J.R. Luth: ‘Psalmzingen in het Nederlandse gereformeerde protestantisme sinds de zestiende eeuw’, Psalmzingen in de Nederlanden van de zestiende eeuw tot heden, ed. J. de Bruijn and W. Heiting (Kampen, 1991), 185–99
  • J.R. Luth: B. Smilde: De melodieën van het Geneefse Psalter (Kampen, 1991), 215–31
  • J.R. Luth: ‘Emmanuel Haein (1896–1968) und seine Bedeutung für die Forschung nach der Herkunft der Genfer Psalmmelodien’, Bulletin Internationale Arbeitsgemeinschaft für Hymnologie, 20 (1992), 178–84
  • J.N. Ijkel and W. van ’t Spijker, eds.: De psalmen door Petrus Dathenus: met catechismus, formulieren en gebeden (Houten, 1993) [facs.]
  • J.R. Luth, ed.: E. Haein: Le problème du chant choral dans les Eglises Réformées et le trésor liturgique de la cantilène huguenote (Baarn, 1995)
  • J.R. Luth: ‘Gemeentezang en orgelspel door de eeuwen heen’, Nieuw handboek voor de kerkorganis, ed. C. Ingelse and J.D. van Laar (Zoetermeer, 1995), 49–71
  • J.R. Luth: De psalmberijmigen (Zoetermeer, 1995), 73–7

III. England

The singing of metrical psalms was a feature of English Protestant worship from the time of the Reformation, and remained so until it gradually merged with hymn singing during the 18th and 19th centuries. For more than a century it was also a common form of domestic music. Some of the tunes composed for the metrical psalms have remained in continuous use for over 400 years, and thus represent one of the oldest English musical traditions still in existence.

1. The Church of England.

(i) Introduction.

The death of Henry VIII in 1547 opened the way for the Protestant reforming party to replace Latin services with English ones, and to introduce many other changes in the practice, discipline and official theology of the Church. Throughout the brief reign of Edward VI (1547–53) the trend moved steadily in favour of the Puritan party, as can be seen by comparing the first (1549) and second (1552) versions of the Book of Common Prayer. In music as in other matters, there was a tendency to get rid of anything associated with Romanism – the chanting of the liturgy, the office hymns (which at one time Cranmer had wanted to retain), the elaborate polyphony of the larger churches and the minor orders of clergy who had kept it up. The predominant influence was that of the Reformed Churches of Germany, Switzerland and France. Unlike the Lutherans, the English reformers held the view that psalms, being divinely inspired, were preferable to any merely human composition; and they introduced metrical translations of the psalms so that the sacred texts could be sung by the people at large. The foreign Protestant Church, established in London in 1550 under the leadership of John Laski to accommodate the many exiles from the Continent, was probably a strong influence on English churches, especially in London. At Laski’s church metrical psalms were sung unaccompanied, and it is not unlikely that the same practice was tried out in English churches. Several metrical translations were already available and others were quickly produced. But there is little information about the music used in parish churches at this time. Surviving settings of metrical psalms from the reign of Edward VI (see §4 below) are clearly for choirs, not congregations.

During the reign of Mary I (1553–8), when the Latin rites were restored, the tradition of English psalm singing was developed by exiles abroad, especially at Frankfurt, Geneva, Emden and Strasbourg. After Elizabeth I’s accession, metrical psalm singing, though not included in the liturgy, was allowed by the Queen’s Injunctions of 1559, and it very quickly became a normal and popular part of both cathedral and parish church practice. In a wave of Puritan feeling in the late 1560s, most surviving parochial choirs were swept away, organs were pulled down, plainchant was condemned in sermons, and metrical psalms became the only form of music generally used in church. (See Anglican and Episcopalian church music, §6.)

(ii) Texts.

Verse translations of the psalms had circulated in private use in Henry VIII’s time. Miles Coverdale’s Goostly Psalmes and Spirituall Songes (c1535) included 15 psalm versions with tunes, based directly on Lutheran sources; but it had no lasting influence. Robert Crowley’s The Psalter of David Newely Translated into Englysh Metre (1549) is the first complete version surviving, though its preface refers to ‘other translations’. Several other versions of selected psalms appeared in Edward’s reign, but the only one that was to be of any lasting importance was that of Thomas Sternhold. Like Marot of the French psalter, Sternhold was a court poet, who described himself on the title page of Certayne Psalmes (c1547) as ‘grome of the kynge’s Majesties roobes’. The preface contains nothing to suggest that he intended the psalms for public use. After his death a larger collection appeared, containing 37 of his versions, all but two of them in the traditional English ballad metre, or common metre; 7 more by John Hopkins were added. This small beginning became the nucleus of both the English and Scottish psalm books.

In 1553 the Protestant leaders went into exile at Frankfurt; later they split into two parties, those who most disliked the Prayer Book and other compromises with tradition going to Geneva, where, of course, they came under the direct influence of Calvin. The next edition, published at Geneva in 1556, was an integral part of The Forme of Prayers and Ministration of the Sacraments, devised by John Knox and approved by Calvin, which was to become the prototype for Presbyterian worship. Seven new psalms and a metrical Ten Commandments were added by William Whittingham, a Puritan leader who became Calvin’s brother-in-law. For the first time tunes were provided, and the new versions were mostly in metres that would fit the tunes in the French psalter. Further editions appeared both in Geneva and (after 1558) in London, gradually adding more versions – the bulk of them by Hopkins – until by 1562 the entire psalter had been versified and was published by John Day as The Whole Book of Psalms. A few hymns and alternative versions were later added. The Elizabethan editions contain a number of concessions to the "prayer book" party in the form of metrical canticles and prayers arranged in an order that reflects the Book of Common Prayer, and to the exiles from Strasbourg in the form of a group of original hymns, some of Lutheran origin. The Injunctions of 1559 had allowed that:

for the comforting of such that delight in music, it may be permitted that in the beginning, or in the end of common prayers, eyther at mornyng or evenyng, there may be sung an hymne, or such like songue, to the praise of almighty God, in the best sort of melody and musicke that may be conveniently devised, havyng respect that the sentence of the Hymne may be understanded and perceyved.

From 1566 onwards the passage on the title-page recited these specific times at which the psalms could be sung. It may be noted that the passage is vague about the kind of text and music to be sung, and it was in fact used to justify both anthem singing in cathedrals and metrical psalm singing in parish churches. But it was not long before the statements on the title-page came to be regarded as evidence for the exclusive authority of Sternhold and Hopkins’s version, especially since this was often bound up with Bible or Prayer Book.

The complete edition of Sternhold and Hopkins (1573) contained metrical versions of all 150 psalms, with alternative versions of Psalms xxiii, l, li, c, cxxv and cxxxvi. Of these 156 versions, 131 were in common metre (, six in short metre (, three in long metre (, two in the metre (all these were iambic), and 14 in other ‘peculiar metres’ of which no two were alike. Before and after the psalms were 24 songs of various kinds, including three metrical psalms used for special purposes, several canticles and other biblical texts and some original hymns; these were often known collectively as the ‘Divine Hymns’ (see Canticle, §4, and Hymn, §IV). The book was completed by ‘A Treatise on the Use and Virtue of the Psalmes by Athanasius the great’, a collection of prayers for private use and an index of first lines of the psalms. Some editions from 1569 onwards contained also an explanation of sol-fa notation and also printed sol-fa letters on the staves beside the notes. Each psalm was headed with a Latin title and a summary or annotation of its contents. The full edition provided tunes for 48 of the psalms and 18 of the hymns; in each case the first verse was underlaid. The other psalms had cross-references, such as ‘Sing this as the 3rd psalm’.

Setting of Psalm xliv, with sol-fa letters against the notes of the tune, from ‘The Whole Booke of Psalmes, Collected into Englishe Meter by Thomas Sternhold, John Hopkins’ (1569)

© Dean and Chapter of Westminster

The great popularity of the collection, together with its supposed ‘authority’, left it without a serious rival for over a century. At least 452 editions with music were published. John Day’s privilege in the printing of the psalms passed to his heirs, and was acquired in 1603 by the Stationers’ Company, who used it to prevent any other version from being printed, and to provide employment for the poorer London printers. Consequently the printing in later editions is often badly botched. The psalm and hymn texts varied little from one edition to another, though from 1621 onwards some small editions omitted four of the hymns and the annotations at the head of the psalms. From 1599 to 1649 some editions, known as ‘Middleburg Psalms’ because they were first printed by Schilders of Middelburg, had the prose psalms in the margin; they had many more tunes than the ordinary editions. Many editions omitted some tunes, some reducing the number as low as 29 for psalms and 17 for hymns. Only 18 psalms have tunes in every musical edition. After 1620 more and more editions appeared without tunes, and after 1687 no editions had tunes. The hymn supplement was further cut down and disappeared altogether from many 18th-century editions.

Criticism of the Sternhold and Hopkins translation had been growing almost from its first appearance. In 1696 A New Version of the Psalms of David, fitted to the Tunes used in Churches was compiled by Nahum Tate and Nicholas Brady, published by the Stationers’ Company, and ‘allowed and permitted’ by the king in council on 3 December 1696. It contained the psalms only, almost all of them in the three commonest metres; it was never printed with tunes underlaid, but a supplement of tunes was issued with the 1698 edition, containing only nine tunes, all of them from the Old Version. In 1700 a Supplement appeared, containing metrical canticles and prayers, some new hymns, alternative versions of some of the psalms, and a much larger selection of the old tunes. The Supplement was authorized by the queen in council on 30 July 1703, but it was never treated, like the Old and New Versions, as an appendage to the Prayer Book.

The New Version met with bitter opposition, led by William Beveridge, Bishop of St Asaph (1637–1708), and was at first adopted in only a few London churches. The two ‘authorized’ versions continued side by side, and it was not until the early 19th century that Tate and Brady’s became decidedly the more popular of the two. Even so, several London and many country churches were still using the Old Version after 1800, and the last edition was printed as late as 1861. Only one psalm text from it is still in common use: the Old Hundredth, All people that on earth do dwell, attributed to William Kethe and still sung to the French tune allotted to it in 1561. On the other hand, the New Version outlived even the appearance of Hymns Ancient and Modern (1861) and was still the only hymnbook in use at St Thomas’s, Southwark (with no organ), as late as 1879. Several of the metrical psalms from the New Version are still in use, notably Through all the changing scenes of life (Psalm xxxiv) and As pants the hart (Psalm xlii).

Less important versions, outside the main tradition, appeared as early as 1567 in Archbishop Parker’s The Whole Psalter translated into English Metre. It was originally written for his own use, but was printed with Tallis’s nine tunes, perhaps with the intention that it might be used in public worship: ‘The Tenor of these partes be for people when they will syng alone, the other parts, put for greater queers [choirs], or to suche as will syng or play them privately’. However, there is little likelihood that Parker’s version was ever widely used in church; indeed, the long hegemony of Sternhold and Hopkins had already begun. In 1660 a Latin translation based on the Old Version was published at Oxford for the use of colleges, under the title Psalmi aliquot Davidici in metrum Latini traducti. It was bound with the Latin Book of Common Prayer which was allowed to be used at Oxford and Cambridge colleges. A 1681 edition of the same book (not listed in Wing) contains ten tunes, all standard ones used with the English metrical psalms.

During the 18th century there was an increasing tendency for the more affluent parishes to have their own selections of psalms printed, choosing some from the Old Version, some from the New, and at times adding examples from other translations and even hymns. The earliest local collection of this kind was The Psalms and Hymns, usually sung in the Churches and Tabernacles … of St Martins in the Fields and St James’s Westminster (1688). By 1800 there were hundreds of them. Versions originating with the Dissenters were increasingly drawn upon in these books, above all Watts’s Psalms of David Imitated (1719). A popular version in the later 18th century was that of James Merrick (1765), in whose unctuous periods some found a pleasing contrast to the rough simplicity of the older translations. Tattersall’s Improved Psalmody (1794), which had a considerable vogue, used Merrick’s version alone, providing music for selected verses of Psalms i–lxxiii (including six settings by Haydn). But most churches in the later Georgian period used an eclectic assortment of psalms and hymns. Some staunch high churchmen continued to believe that only the two ‘authorized’ versions could legally be used, but the judgment in the case of Holy and Ward versus Cotterill in the Consistory Court of York (1820) made it clear that any hymn or psalm was equally allowable. From that date there was nothing to impede the rise of the modern hymnbook, in which metrical psalms form an insignificant proportion.

(iii) Tunes.

A few settings of Sternhold's psalms from Edward VI's reign (1547–53) have survived: one, with lute accompaniment, for domestic use, and a few as anthems for use in public worship. There is no evidence that they were sung congregationally at this time. The first music printed for that purpose was in the Geneva edition of 1556/7, where every psalm had its individual or ‘proper’ tune. 27 of these 52 tunes were dropped in the 1558 edition, and 17 new ones replaced them. Composed by unknown hands under the supervision of Calvin and Whittingham, they were modelled on the tunes of French psalter, in which every line began with a semibreve; this inevitably caused some conflict with the iambic metre of Sternhold and Hopkins. The great majority of the tunes were in common metre, and were usually of eight lines, though some were of four or 12 lines. A few were adapted to tunes taken directly from the French psalter, and more psalm versions fitting individual French tunes were provided by William Kethe. The French tunes were fresh, catching and in a few cases based on French popular songs; many of them became English favourites and have remained so (ex.7). By contrast the English tunes were dull and aimless, lacking any kind of popular appeal (ex.8). None of them appears to be drawn from English folksongs of the time, and the small band of English and Scottish exiles naturally could not boast musicians of the standing of Bourgeois or Goudimel. The tunes that lasted were mostly of French origin, such as those for Ps. c, cxiii, and cxxiv, and Tallis's tune for The Lamentation. A few of the anonymous English tunes had durable qualities, such as those for Ps. xxiv, lxxxi, and cxxxvii; these have a strong ‘modern’ sense of tonality and some elements of repetition or sequence that made them easy to grasp.

Ex.7 Psalm 1, first version (Whittingham), to the tune Frost no.69 (from the French psalter). Source: 1558 psalm book

Ex.8 Psalm v (Sternhold), to the tune Frost no.20.

Source: 1556 psalm book

When congregational singing was introduced in a London church in 1559, it spread like wildfire from one London church to another in the autumn of 1559. Churches scrambled to buy printed copies of what were generally known as 'Geneva psalms' (or 'Geneva jiggs' to those who disapproved of the innovation). Though initially associated chiefly with the 'godly' portion of the church that would later be called Puritan, they soon became a treasured possession of the people at large.

The first folio edition of 1565 established a standard set of 48 tunes (the one to Psalm cxx was replaced in 1569) which remained the norm until 1661. However, from 1588 onwards some printers, presumably under the guidance of a musical editor whose identity is now unknown, began cautiously introducing some of the popular ‘short tunes’ (see below), a tendency that became more marked under the influence of Ravenscroft’s harmonized Psalmes (1621). For the 1661 folio edition Playford completely revised the selection and allocation of tunes, but still retained most of the old ‘long tunes’ with the psalms to which they had always been attached, and he did the same in his popular three-part Psalms of 1677, perhaps out of a feeling that they had official authority.

Ex.9 Psalm viii (Sternhold), to the tune Frost no.19. Source: East’s Psalmes (1592), harmonies omitted

The tunes printed in the psalm books, however, did not necessarily represent the tunes actually in common use. Thomas East in the index to the second edition of his Psalmes (1594) wrote: ‘The Psalmes are song to these 4 tunes in most churches of this Realme’. The four tunes referred to (Frost, nos.19, 42, 45, 121) were all of the ‘short’ or four-line variety, three common metre and one short metre. None of them had been generally printed in the psalm books. All four are of similar character: simple, small in range, chiefly conjunct in motion, and easily learnt (ex.9). It is impossible to say when they were first introduced or where they came from. The earliest to be printed (in any surviving source) was Frost 121, named ‘Oxford’ by East, which had appeared in the Scottish psalter of 1564; three of them had appeared in Daman’s Psalmes (1579), one as the first half of a long tune. Their style is closer to that of the ballad tune than had been that of the long tunes. They could be used for all the psalms in common metre and short metre (137 out of 156) and for many of the hymns as well. East in fact set 103 of the psalms to these four tunes.

The four-line tune gained still more in popularity: East added some new ones (including ‘Winchester’, to become one of the most popular of all), and Ravenscroft added a large number, including the very fine ‘York’ and ‘Martyrs’ (from the Scottish psalm book) and ‘St Davids’ (which he called ‘Welch Tune’). Gradually they were introduced in some editions of the psalm book, and they formed the majority of those provided as a supplement to Barton’s Psalms (1644). In Playford’s revision of the psalm book in 1661, ten short common metre and short metre tunes were printed, but by altering the cross-references he set 114 psalms to them. A similar balance is found in his three-part Psalms of 1677, which had a few new short tunes apparently evolved from earlier ones. (In the oral tradition that governed the first hundred years of psalm singing many tunes became altered, most often by confusion between one tune and another; see Temperley, 1998, i, 45)

Five choirboys and two men singing from psalm books in an organ gallery: ‘Obediah, the Psalm Singer’, drawing by John Nixon, pen and ink with wash, 1783 (private collection)

The later 17th century provided few newly composed tunes of any kind. A more creative period followed the publication of the New Version: ‘St James’ (first printed 1697), ‘St Magnus’ (1707) and ‘St Anne’ (1708) are in the best tradition of four-line tunes. Signs of an interest in greater variety of metre and character also began to appear. The only important tune for one of the psalms in ‘peculiar metre’ contributed by the 17th century was the one for Psalm civ, presumed to be Ravenscroft’s (Frost no.119), still popular as ‘Old 104th’. A new tune in the same metre was printed in the Supplement to the New Version (1708 edition), later named ‘Hanover’ and attributed to Handel; today it is ascribed, but with little better evidence, to Croft. The new tune for Psalm cxlviii (, printed in 1707, was certainly Croft’s.

By the end of the 17th century it had become common to ornament many of the old tunes (see §1 (iv) below), and in the 18th century it became more and more usual to write ornaments into the tune from the start. Two or more notes were thus sung to one syllable, as in ‘Easter Hymn’ (1708). In many of the standard metres this often meant writing a tune in triple time, which indeed became very popular. More elaborate subdivisions of notes, often including dotted notes, became a standard usage: ‘Wareham’, by William Knapp, can be taken as typical (ex.10). In country churches where no organs were available, volunteer choirs began to prefer tunes that incorporated solos, repeated last lines and even fugal treatments of some lines (see Psalmody). Tunes of this sort were seldom adopted in the larger town churches, however. (The later history of the psalm tune is discussed in Hymn, §IV, 3; see also Temperley, 1998)

Ex.10 Psalm xxxvi (New Version), vv.5–10, to the tune ‘Wareham’ by William Knapp (tenor part of a four-part setting in Knapp’s A Sett of New Psalm-Tunes, 1738)

(iv) Performing practice.

Throughout the period that the metrical psalm was in use, the normal occasions for singing psalms in parish churches were before Morning Prayer, before Ante-Communion, before the sermon (giving the parson an opportunity to change his surplice for gown and bands), and before and after Evening Prayer. The place provided for the anthem in the 1662 Prayer Book was not normally used for a metrical psalm. In many cathedrals it was the custom for people to come to hear the sermon after attending Morning Prayer in their parish churches. After the sermon they would sing a psalm, with organ accompaniment if the organist was still at his post. In Elizabethan times some Puritan ministers allowed metrical psalms and canticles to be substituted for the prose versions of the Prayer Book, but this was illegal and was eventually suppressed. (It was proposed again by a committee of the Long Parliament in 1641.)

The psalms were chosen and announced by the parish clerk, who then led the singing while the congregation followed as best they could, or as much as they would. The practice of ‘lining out’ (fig.2), whereby the clerk would read each line before it was sung (for the benefit of the illiterate), was first laid down in the Directory for the Publique Worship of God (1644), though it may have existed earlier. It turned into a kind of chanting in some places, but disappeared in England well before 1800.

Tune for Psalm iv from John Chetham’s ‘A Book of Psalmody’ (1718); reference is made at the top to the practice of ‘lining out’, and the music is an attempt to represent the mode of singing psalm tunes known as the ‘old way of singing’

The longer psalms were divided into sections in the psalm book, with little regard to sense, and it was common for only the first section to be sung; though on occasion a long psalm would be sung in its entirety (lasting over an hour, according to Pepys, on 6 January 1661), especially when alms were being collected. Bishop Gibson of London in 1724 charged his clergy to select a course of psalms for each Sunday in the year, and this advice was followed by several compilers.

At first psalms were sung at a brisk pace, as is evident from their early nickname ‘Geneva jigs’. The tunes had characteristic rhythms, often refusing to fit into regular measures. But in the course of generations of unaccompanied singing the pace slowed down considerably. The time signature became more usual than after about 1620. By the late 17th century the usual tempo had dropped to the singularly slow rate of two or three seconds per note, and most of the rhythmic irregularities in the psalm tunes had been ironed out. This slow pace was maintained for the old tunes throughout the 18th century, despite the efforts of Methodists, Evangelicals and musicians to speed it up. It survives in metronomic indications in Benjamin Jacob’s National Psalmody ([1817]): for instance ‘Old Hundredth’, printed in minims, is marked at crotchet = 60, ‘Rather Slow’. For newer tunes, however, and particularly those of the Methodist type (see Methodist church music, §4), a somewhat brisker tempo was thought proper.

As the tempo of psalm singing grew steadily slower during the 17th century, parish clerks and the more venturesome lay members began to fill in the long period between one note and the next with various kinds of embellishment. Since this practice was entirely uncontrolled the resulting heterophony must have been at times quite discordant. (In Scotland a similar practice survived long enough to be written down by Joseph Mainzer; in the Western Isles and in the southern USA it can still be heard.) It was first recorded in A New and Easie Method to Learn to Sing by Book (1686), where the tune ‘Southwell’ is printed first in the ordinary way, then in an ornamented version, with this explanation: ‘The Notes of the foregoing Tunes are usually broken or divided, and they are better so sung, as is here prick’d’ (ex.11). Later descriptions of this kind of ornamentation call it the Old Way of Singing, and it is generally associated with lining out (see fig.4 above). The practice seems to have come into conflict with the newer, though equally ornate, style associated with country choirs in the early 18th century, and to have died out by mid-century. A style of ornamentation closer to that of contemporary art music prevailed in later psalm singing.

Ex.11 Psalm xxv, to the tune ‘Southwell’ (Frost no.45), from A New and Easie Method (1686). (The plain version is given in up-stemmed notes.)

Choirs may have performed harmonized settings of the tunes during the early years of Elizabeth’s reign, but this was a short-lived phenomenon, except possibly in cathedrals. Though East and Ravenscroft published fully harmonized psalm books (see §4 below), these were for domestic use. However, improvised two-part harmonization was sometimes practised, and in a few cases gave rise to new tunes which then took on independent existence. This is almost certainly the origin of ‘London Old’, a short tune popular from about 1640 to 1760 (ex.12). John Playford was the first to make a sustained effort to restore harmony to the parish church, but it was not until the rise of the volunteer choirs in the 1690s that his work bore any fruit.

Ex.12 ‘New Tune’ (up-stemmed), from Playford’s Introduction (1658 edn) (Frost no.25) and ‘Oxford’ (down-stemmed), from Ravenscroft’s Psalmes (1621) (Frost no.121)

Many harmonized collections appeared in the 18th century, with the tune usually in the tenor. The essential harmony was two-part (TB), as in Playford’s settings, with an optional alto and sometimes also a treble. Isaac Smith in about 1780 explained that he had not provided a treble part in his collection ‘because, except in choirs, proper voices are not easily found’. This reflected the custom that women played only a modest role in church, and were not expected to sing loudly, if at all. It was for this reason that the tenor continued to sing the tune long after a treble-dominated texture had become normal in secular music, though gradually the tenor voices were joined at the higher octave by women and children (see Drage, 1997). In towns with organs, on the other hand, the charity children led the singing, and a texture of SB or SSB was usual. For this medium a galant style of tune was evolved after about 1750. Congregational harmony, practised by the Methodists, was hardly heard in parish churches until Victorian times.

Church organs (outside cathedrals and collegiate churches) were rare from about 1570, non-existent between 1645 and 1660, and still rare after the Restoration; they gradually began to appear in the larger town churches. The bulk of metrical psalm singing, therefore, was entirely unaccompanied until late in the 17th century, when some churches adopted a ‘bass viol’ (actually a cello or gamba), or an instrument invented by Playford called the ‘psalmody’ or ‘psalterer’, which had a body like a cello but only one string with lettered frets. Gradually in the 18th century many village churches developed small bands of wind and string instruments that played with the singers in the west gallery (fig.3). They played the voice parts (sometimes an octave higher, often with extra ornaments) and doubtless made it possible to perform elaborate settings which would likely have defeated an unaccompanied village choir. Gallery musicians of this kind were still playing and singing the Old and New Versions with ornate tunes into early Victorian times, until displaced by barrel organ or reed organ (see Gallery music).

Gallery of Dorking Church, Surrey, with five singers accompanied by a flute, oboe and bassoon: pen and ink drawing with wash (1788) by John Nixon, pen and ink with wash, 1788 (private collection)

Ex.13 ‘The tune of the 25 Psalm’ (Frost no.45), from Playford’s Musick’s Hand-maide (RISM 16637); see alsoex.14

Organs did accompany psalm tunes from earliest times, however, especially in cathedrals, as Thomas Mace’s famous account of the singing at York Minster during the siege of 1644 bears witness. Few organ settings of psalm tunes appear to have survived before 1668, when a page of them appeared in Tomkins’s Musica Deo sacra. William Godbid also printed up a double sheet for binding in Playford’s Musick’s Hand-maide (1663, 1678). It showed four tunes in a very full harmonization, including thick left-hand chords, but almost entirely unornamented (ex.13). The style of organ accompaniment changed a great deal in the next 50 years. Early 18th-century examples are thinner in layout, but crowded with ornaments; and there are interludes between the lines (ex.14). The singing of the psalm was usually preceded by an even more elaborate ‘giving-out’ of the tune by the organ alone, often on a solo cornet stop. Many critics complained that the tune became almost unrecognizable under the wealth of added ornament.

Psalms, metrical III. England 1. The Church of England. (iv) Performing practice.: Ex.14 ‘Southwell tune’ from The Psalms by Dr Blow Set full for the Organ (1703, 3/1718) (Frost no.45)

2. The Dissenting Churches.

(i) Presbyterians.

The conforming Puritans, throughout the reigns of Elizabeth I, James I and Charles I, hoped to complete their work by making the Church of England a fully reformed state church on Calvinistic lines. From time to time the more ardent spirits grew impatient with delay, and either emigrated to the Continent or America, or formed clandestine meetings to conduct worship as they thought best (see §(ii) below). Meanwhile in some areas puritanical innovations were possible within the Church through the sympathy of the incumbent, or in some cases of the bishop.

With the triumph of the Parliamentary forces in the Civil War, success was at last within reach, and the Westminster Assembly of Divines met in 1643 to formulate the worship of the new national church. Their Directory for the Publique Worship of God (1644) became the basis for all subsequent Presbyterian worship. As far as music was concerned the Divines allowed for psalm singing before and after the sermon.

It is the duty of Christians to praise God publiquely, by singing of psalmes together in the Congregation, and also privately in the Family. In singing of psalmes, the voice is to be tunably and gravely ordered; but the chief care must be, to sing with understanding, and with grace in the heart, making melody unto the Lord.

To this end they proposed lining out ‘where many in the congregation cannot read’. Singing was to be unaccompanied; and they wished the translations to be more literal than those of Sternhold and Hopkins. In 1644 the Westminster Assembly of Divines debated the possibility of imposing a new version that would be closer in sense to the original Hebrew. Francis Rous’s version was accepted, with revisions, but it did not please the House of Lords. William Barton’s, favoured by the Lords, was rejected by the Commons. The result was that neither was officially adopted, and most people went on using the ‘Old Version’, as it now began to be called.

After the Restoration, the Presbyterians at the Savoy Conference petitioned for similar concessions, among others; but these being refused, they declined to subscribe to the Act of Uniformity (1662). As a result 3000 Presbyterian ministers were ejected from their livings. From this time the Presbyterians formed a Dissenting Church. After a generation of persecution, they became free under the Toleration Act (1689) to organize their worship in licensed meeting-houses. In the following period they continued to sing largely metrical psalms, using first Rous’s version or the American ‘Bay Psalm Book’, and later that of John Patrick (1679, completed 1691) which was ‘fitted to the tunes used in parish-churches’. Singing in the meeting-houses was led by a precentor, who occupied a small desk beneath the great canopied pulpit; lining out was practised. The standard of singing was probably at least as low as it was under similar conditions in the established Church. In the early 18th century an interesting movement to improve it was started by the congregation of the King’s Weigh House, Little Eastcheap. They employed a teacher of psalmody, William Lawrence, and established a course of Friday evening lectures which were followed by psalm-singing practices. The lectures, by Presbyterian ministers (and one Independent), were published in 1708 as Practical Discourses in Singing in the Worship of God; they enlarged on the duty of praising God in psalms, though some of the lecturers accepted hymns as well. Lawrence compiled a manuscript collection of tunes for the use of the society, consisting largely of standard tunes also in use in the Church of England. He published it in 1719 as A Collection of Tunes suited to the Various Metres in Mr Watts’s Imitation of Psalms of David or Dr Patrick’s Version. Isaac Watts's Psalms of David Imitated in the Language of the New Testament (1719) was soon adopted in many Presbyterian congregations. Lawrence’s successor as ‘conductor of psalmody at the Friday lecture in Eastcheap’ was Nathaniel Gawthorn, who published another tune collection, Harmonia perfecta, in 1730. It was designed to supplement Lawrence’s book, and contained some entirely new tunes, and also several anthems – probably not for use in worship. This suggests that voluntary choirs had already begun to form, perhaps as a result of the Eastcheap Society; certainly they existed in many Dissenting meeting-houses during the later 18th century, though they did not yet imitate the instrumental bands of the parish churches.

English Presbyterianism soon after this period ceased to have a distinctive existence. Its meeting-houses passed into the control of ministers of Arian theology and eventually drifted into Unitarianism; Watts’s hymn texts were adapted to the changing beliefs, and metrical psalms dropped out of use. Other Presbyterian congregations joined forces with the Independents. (See Reformed and Presbyterian church music, §II, 1.)

(ii) Independents.

Those who did not believe in a state church, but wanted each congregation to govern itself, were known generally as Independents, or later as Congregationalists. Henry Ainsworth, one of their first leaders, left England with his congregation in 1593 for the greater freedom of the Netherlands. There, in Amsterdam, he brought out The Book of Psalmes: Englished both in Prose and Metre (1612) with learned disquisitions and annotations. (See Congregational church, music of the.)

The Independents had the support of the army during the Civil War, and when Cromwell took over political control they enjoyed a period of supremacy. It produced no musical revolution; most people went on singing Sternhold and Hopkins. The Independents suffered the same persecution as the Presbyterians under Charles II. They, too, adopted Patrick’s version when it came out, but moved more rapidly away from metrical psalms in the direction of hymns. Watts’s Hymns appeared in 1707 and were quickly adopted by many Independent congregations. His Psalms of David Imitated in the Language of the New Testament followed in 1719, and soon displaced other versions in the use of all but the most conservative groups. They were free paraphrases, omitting or modifying the many passages in the psalms that were thought inappropriate for Christian use. In a short preface Watts urged a change in the style of singing, which should be hearty and spirited; he deplored lining out and the slow pace that was then customary. Many Independent congregations put these ideas into practice, and their psalm singing often had a vitality that was lacking elsewhere until the Methodist revival had had its effect.

Watts’s psalms were written in the standard metres, and the first tune books issued with them merely reprinted the Anglican tunes. Several collections later in the century, however, matched new music to Watts’s psalms and hymns. One of the most popular was A Collection of Psalm Tunes (3/1780) by Stephen Addington, an Independent minister at Market Harborough, who provided a tune for each psalm and hymn. He wanted ‘all who have Breath and Voice to praise the Lord; and therefore would be far from encouraging either Clerks or Choirs of Singers to introduce such Tunes as few can ever sing but Themselves’. The harmony was basically two-part (TB) with an optional alto part; the tunes came from many sources, and some were elaborate. Watts’s Psalms, and other similarly free paraphrases of scripture, continued in use among Congregationalists, but in the 19th century they merged with hymns as the old disputes about the propriety of verses of human composition faded into the past.

(iii) Baptists.

The Baptists began to form a distinct sect in 1608, when John Smyth, leader of a congregation of Separatists, baptized himself at Amsterdam. The General (Arminian) Baptists, like the Society of Friends, resisted any form of congregational singing, on the grounds that only a spontaneous song guided by direct inspiration was compatible with their interpretation of scriptural injunctions. They shifted from this position only in the later 18th century. The Particular (Calvinistic) Baptists, on the other hand, were more receptive to the notion of congregational singing. Benjamin Keach, pastor of a congregation at Horsleydown, Southwark, from about 1673 began gradually to introduce hymns and psalms into the services there. His Spiritual Melody (1691) is a collection of these, but without music. There was no lack of opposition, and a prolonged war of tracts and pamphlets was carried on in the 1690s on the propriety of ‘singing in the public worship of God’. The dispute erupted again several times in the 18th century. Gradually, however, Keach’s example was followed, and Baptist congregations accepted both psalms and hymns. Under Methodist influence, and especially in the North of England, many Baptist meetings began to elaborate their singing, and eventually adopted choirs and bands. They tended, however, to use hymns chiefly as a reflection on the sermon, and consequently needed a very large number to cover the possible range of subjects. John Rippon’s Selection of Hymns (1787), containing 588 texts, filled this need and, with his Selection of Hymn Tunes (1792) became immensely popular. For the same reason metrical psalms dropped out of frequent use well before the end of the 18th century. (See Baptist church music, §1.)

3. Domestic use.

The tradition of using psalms for domestic or private devotions is far older than the Reformation, and many metrical versions, both English and Latin, had long been in existence. The versions of Sir Thomas Wyat the elder, the Earl of Surrey and Miles Coverdale are among the earliest produced in furtherance of the Reformation, and they too were for private use. Coverdale’s Goostly Psalmes were published with tunes in about 1535: both texts and music were closely modelled on Lutheran sources. He dedicated his book to ‘the lovers of God’s word’, ‘That they may thrust under the borde All other ballettes of fylthynes’. This motive was perhaps even more important among the early reformers than that of congregational singing. Almost every 16th-century collection, including Sternhold and Hopkins, mentions in title or preface the idea that the psalms could replace frivolous or lewd secular ballads; the same was true of most French, Dutch and German publications. But it was not only in Puritan circles that sacred music was sung in the home. The XX Songes of 1530 was a set of partbooks containing Latin prayers and carols mixed with secular and instrumental music of various kinds. Le Huray (1967) listed 59 such publications between 1530 and 1657; the majority (not all) were undoubtedly designed for home use. Some were metrical psalms, some devotional or moral poems of various kinds; some were a mixture of either or both with secular pieces. Many were explicitly designed for singing with viols, lute, orpharion or virginals; some were even printed in table format, which made them wholly unsuitable for church use. (See Temperley, 1998, i, 27–9.)

The tradition of private psalm singing continued in the 17th century, though the standard of devotion may not have been maintained. Wither wrote in 1619:

The little reverence that is used amongst us oftentimes in singing the Psalms, especially in some private families (I dare not say, in our Churches) is much to be blamed in many respects. S. Chrysostom … thought it scarce seemly to sit when we sing: But, had he seene with how many undecent gestures, and mixtures of other employments, we dare undertake so holy an exercise, he would have trembled at our presumption.

Those who kept up the custom had to put up with a certain amount of ridicule:

Such is our contrarietie to vertue and godlinesse, that should we heare a Familie so early gathered together in celebrating Gods praises; those, at their drunken Carols should not receive one reproofe, for every ten scoffes which are cast at these.

But the tradition persisted. Pepys, at home on a Sunday evening in 1664, sang ‘Ravenscroft’s 4-part psalms, most admirable music’ with two other men and a boy. Playford continued to cater for this demand in some of his earlier psalm publications. Editions of his Introduction to the Skill of Musick from 1658 to 1670 contain ‘the Tunes of the Psalms As they are commonly sung in Parish-Churches. With the Bass set under each Tune, By which they may be Played and Sung to the Organ, Virginals, Theorbo-Lute, or Bass-Viol’. From the 1672 edition onwards there is instead a reference to his Psalms and Hymns in Solemn Musick (1671) for those who wished to sing with these instruments. The 1671 book was intended chiefly for domestic use, though Playford also hoped that it might be adopted in churches, and presented a number of copies to the Company of Parish Clerks of London. It was not a successful book. Playford wrote that ‘the only exception that ever I heard against it, was, that the largeness of the Volume, and the not having all the Psalms in their order, made it not so useful to carry to Church’. In his 1677 Psalms – described in §4(iv) below – he corrected these defects, abandoned the ‘domestic’ market, and catered solely for parish church use. But the author of A New and Easie Method to Learn to Sing by Book (1686) was still providing for the pious private psalmist, and perhaps also for Dissenters:

’Tis pity we have not a better Translation of the Singing Psalms publickly in use; however, for Private Families there are several well done, especially the last by Mr Patrick. … The promoting of this (as to the Tune and Melody) is the chief of my design in this Essay. If therefore any Reader come with no better ends, than to accomplish himself to bear a Part in a Drunken Catch, A Smutty or Atheistical Song, I assure him, there’s not a Word here design’d for his service, ’till upon better thoughts a Penitential Psalm should seem more suitable.

In this book the psalms are set for two trebles or tenors (in the G clef) and bass.

With religious toleration and the advance of secular materialism, it is not surprising that family prayers and psalm singing declined. Dr Thomas Bray wrote in 1697 that the singing of psalms in families had fallen into ‘disuse’, and urged its revival, printing psalms (from the New Version) and tunes for this express purpose. At the same time he urged ministers to form religious societies in their parishes which would meet for private prayer and singing and would then by their example restore true devotion in the parish church. Many such societies were in fact established. Although the principal result was the formation of voluntary parish choirs, there was also a modest revival of domestic psalm singing which continued in some circles into the later 18th century. Several collections of psalms and hymns for ‘Sunday’s amusement’ bear witness to the persistence of the tradition.

4. Harmonized settings.

Various settings of the metrical psalms in harmony were printed from 1549 onwards, but their purpose is not always clear. In Edward VI’s reign and the early years of Elizabeth’s many parish churches still had choirs; but after about 1570 only cathedrals, chapels royal and a handful of colleges and collegiate parish churches could enjoy harmony. Some publications may represent efforts to introduce harmonized singing in parish churches, but voluntary parish choirs did not exist until shortly before 1700; most were probably for domestic use among cultivated amateurs.

(i) Harmonized chants.

The earliest type of harmonized setting is found in Crowley’s Psalter (1549), where all the psalms are set to the 7th Gregorian psalm tone, in the tenor, harmonized in four parts. Similarly one of the two compositions in Seager’s Psalms (1553) is based on the 6th psalm tone. These are merely adaptations of the Faburden practice which had long been in use for chanting the Latin psalms in churches that had choirs.

(ii) ‘Anthems’ with metrical psalm texts.

The metrical texts were frequently used for compositions of the motet or anthem type. In these settings there is no clearly defined tune for a congregation to sing. Hence they were either for choirs or for domestic use. Early models for these ‘psalm anthems’ are found in the second composition in Seager’s Psalms and in Tye’s Actes of the Apostles, both published in 1553, and in the Wanley and Lumley Partbooks; these were designed for strophic repetition. Through-composed settings of Sternhold and Hopkins’s psalms and hymns are extant by Tallis, Farrant, Philip van Wilder, Byrd, Edmund Hooper, Nathaniel Giles, Thomas Tomkins and other leading composers of the day. The use of the Sternhold and Hopkins texts may have been regarded as authorizing these pieces for cathedral use, along with anthems taken from scripture or the liturgy. Especially popular texts were those of the original hymns in the Sternhold and Hopkins supplement: for example, ‘A Lamentation’ (O Lord, in thee is all my trust) was set as an anthem by nine composers including Hooper, Giles, Thomas Ravenscroft and Martin Peerson, in addition to the simple harmonization by Tallis. A curiosity is Thomas Caustun’s adaptation of an instrumental In nomine by Taverner, to Sternhold’s Psalm xx (in Day’s Certaine Notes, 1565).

Polyphonic settings of versions other than Sternhold and Hopkins were probably for domestic use. These include Croce’s Musica sacra, adapted by East (1608); Leighton’s The Teares or Lamentacions of a Sorrowfull Soule (1614); and Robert Tailour’s Fifti Select Psalms (1615). Metrical psalm texts are also found here and there in sets of lute-songs and madrigals. A later type, influenced by the Italian cantata, is represented by William and Henry Lawes’s Choice Psalmes put into Musick (1648) and Walter Porter’s Mottets of Two Voyces (1657), both using Sandys’s version, and three psalm settings for voice and figured bass in Playford’s Psalms and Hymns (1671). This tradition was revived in the later 18th century. John Travers’s The Whole Book of Psalms (c1746–50) has settings of the first few verses of every psalm in the New Version, mostly for solo voice and figured bass, but some for several voices. There are also elaborate settings of metrical psalms by John Broderip (1769), William Hayes (1776) and Hugh Bond (c1776).

(iii) Elaborate settings of psalm tunes.

Ex.15 Psalm cxiii, to the tune Frost no.125, in a five-part setting by Cosyn (1585)

Day’s Psalmes in Foure Partes (1563), discussed below, contains a few settings that are not entirely homophonic: some by Caustun even include brief points of imitation (see Frost, no.160), but these are always alternatives to homophonic settings. A further step was to apply contrapuntal treatment to the whole tune, with overlapping points of imitation. The tune then became in effect the cantus firmus for a polyphonic motet. It was in Scotland that this technique chiefly developed (as can be seen in MB, xv, 1957). An early English example is Parsons’s second setting of Psalm xliv in Day’s 1563 book (see Frost, 1962, p.48). The earliest fully worked-out English examples are the 14 five-part settings in Cosyn’s Musike of Six, and Five Parts (1585) (ex.15); others are in Daman’s collections of 1591. There is a single example in John Mundy’s Songs and Psalmes (1594). This type of setting was well suited to domestic use by proficient amateurs, and could be sung as a consort song with viol accompaniment. In England it does not seem to have survived into the Jacobean period.

A unique set of compositions by William Lawes (1602–45) has survived in manuscript (GB-Och 768–70), entitled ‘Psalmes for 1, 2 and 3 partes, to the comon tunes’. In these pieces Lawes alternated stanzas set to original music for voices and bass, in cantata style, with stanzas for ‘Chorus’ set to the common tunes in a plain two-part harmonization. There are nine of these ‘Psalmes’, using six psalms and three hymns from Sternhold and Hopkins.

(iv) Note-against-note harmonizations.

Ex.16 Psalm c, to the tune Frost no.114, set by W. Parsons in Day’s The Whole Psalmes (RISM 15638)

The most serviceable type of harmonization was a homophonic one, allowing an occasional syncopation or passing note but otherwise preserving the rhythm of the tune in all parts. It could give pleasure to music lovers (as Ravenscroft’s settings did to Pepys); it was also capable of being used in cathedral or church, while the congregation sang the tune in unison. Such settings of the French psalms by Goudimel and Le Jeune had proved immensely successful on the Continent, and John Day in 1563 brought out a large collection of them for English use. It was printed in the form of partbooks, entitled The Whole Psalmes in Foure Parts, whiche may be song to al Musical Instrumentes, set forth for the Encrease of Vertue: and aboleshyng of other Vayne and Triflyng Ballades (RISM 15638). There was no reference to church performance, perhaps because of current Puritan mistrust of elaborate music. The production of the book was lavish, and the provision of music more generous than any ordinary church would require. The texts were those of Sternhold and Hopkins, with a few additions; the tunes of the common psalm book (which Day was also printing and publishing) were provided for the psalms that had tunes there, with eight new tunes as alternatives. The settings were for four voices, with the tune most often (not always) in the tenor (ex.16). Many of the tunes were set two or more times by different composers – Psalm xliv had as many as five settings – and the total number of compositions was 141, including a few prose anthems. But this was not a complete psalm book. Only the first verse of each psalm was printed, and many psalms – those without proper tunes – did not appear at all. Thus, if used in church, it could only be used side by side with the psalm book. It was well suited to the choirs that had survived in some city churches, or to cathedral choirs, and may have been used by them, though there is little evidence. By far the largest number of settings are by William Parsons (who was probably organist of Wells Cathedral); for this reason it has sometimes been called ‘Parsons’s Psalter’ on the assumption that he was the musical editor. The other names are not distinguished, apart from ‘M. Talys’, assumed to be Thomas Tallis, who provided a setting of ‘A Lamentation’, already printed in Day’s Certaine Notes, and a short anthem. After Parsons the principal contributors were Caustun, Hake and Brimle.

Day’s collection was not reprinted, and it was 16 years before any similar publication appeared. Archbishop Parker’s Psalter (c1567) is in quite a different class. It contains nine great tunes in four-part harmony by Tallis, including the celebrated ‘Canon’, and the well-known rhyme in which Parker characterized eight of the tunes. He was the first English compiler to say that a tune should be matched to the mood of the psalm.

In 1579 John Bull, a London goldsmith, sponsored the publication of a collection of four-part settings by William Daman, a Gentleman of the Chapel Royal, without the author’s permission. It was similar in scope to Day’s, and was also in the form of partbooks, with only the first stanza of each psalm and hymn printed, and only of those psalms for which established tunes existed. Many of the tunes are the same as those in the psalm book, but there are ten new tunes, including four of the short tunes now printed for the first time. There are four new hymn texts, and two prose psalms set as anthems. Cosyn’s 1585 collection, also in partbooks, includes 43 settings in six parts, using many of the proper tunes but also some of the short ones. Sometimes the tune is in the tenor, sometimes in another part. Cosyn took a more Puritan stance than Daman by including only psalms, ignoring the hymns and canticles. Both books are explicitly for domestic use – Daman’s ‘to the use of the godly Christians for recreatyng themselves’, Cosyn’s ‘for the private use and comfort of the godlie’.

Ex.17 Psalm cxlvi (Hopkins), to the tune Frost no.172a, set by J. Farmer in East’s Psalmes (1592)

A very different kind of book is Thomas East’s The Whole Booke of Psalmes: with their Wonted Tunes, as they are song in the Churches, composed into Foure Parts: all of which are so placed that Foure may sing ech one a Several Part (1592). As the title implies, this is a psalm book, containing the entire texts of all the psalms and hymns of the standard version. It is small and compact in volume, easy to carry between home and church, and all four parts are shown together at each page opening, with words of one verse underlaid to every part. East left most of the proper tunes with their usual psalms; but for the many psalms not provided with tunes in the common psalm book, instead of following the cross-references he provided new four-line tunes, using the same four tunes for the great majority of the psalms. (As already pointed out, he stated in the second (1594) edition that these four tunes were the only ones in use in most churches.) The settings were ‘compiled by sundry authors, who have so laboured heerin, that the unskilfull with small practice may attaine to sing that part, which is fittest for their voice’ (ex.17). Richard Alison, Dowland, Farmer and Michael Cavendish are among the musicians he called on: le Huray pointed out that none of these was a church musician. Nevertheless it seems likely that East hoped that this book would be used in some churches as well as for recreation, or he would not have taken so much trouble to make it conform to parish church conventions. Even the most devout music lover would hardly have needed the whole of Psalm cxix, set to a single tune, for his evening diversion. Though evidence is lacking, East’s Psalmes may have been tried out in some churches where enough educated musicians could be induced to form a choir. It ran to four editions, the last dated 1611.

East’s book was the first complete, harmonized edition of Sternhold and Hopkins. It contained all that was in the psalm books, and more besides. It could thus be used by a choir while the ordinary psalm books were in the hands of the congregation. This was an important new departure, and it sets East apart from all the compilers of harmonized editions who had preceded him. East also initiated (in his 1594 edition) the colourful and peculiarly English practice of attaching place names to tunes. The few names seem to have been distributed at random. The need was for any easily remembered label now that tunes were no longer connected uniquely with particular psalms.

Two publications of 1599 recognized the dominance of the same four short tunes that East had marked out as the most popular. Alison’s The Psalmes of David in Meter continued the domestic tradition, with only one verse underlaid; the tunes in this case are in the topmost voice, harmonized in four parts with optional accompaniments for lute and cittern, and arranged in table format. Barley’s The Whole Booke of Psalmes, with their Woonted Tunes, as they are sung in Churches, composed into Foure Parts was a close copy of East, even in its appearance and the wording of its title, and with most of the same tunes. It contained, however, new settings by Morley and Bennet.

The next publication in this category was Thomas Ravenscroft’s The Whole Booke of Psalmes … Composed into 4 Parts by Sundry Authors (1621), which was also closely modelled on East in design, format and purpose. Its title shows that it was, like East’s and Barley’s books, a psalm book, planned for possible use in church as well as at home. But Ravenscroft departed from the practice of all his predecessors by introducing a large number of tunes foreign to the psalm book – no fewer than 33, all of the short variety except the splendid ‘Old 104th’, already referred to. The sources of many of these tunes are unknown. Eight came from the ‘common tunes’ in the Scottish psalm book of 1615; one was adapted from Tallis’s ‘Canon’. The others Ravenscroft called Welsh, French, German, Dutch, Italian and so on, but, with one exception, none of his new tunes has been discovered in earlier sources from these countries. In allocating the tunes to the psalms he claimed in his preface to have taken special care to select tunes ‘proper to the nature of each psalm’, but a careful study reveals that in fact he used a largely random procedure. And he did not, as had East and Barley, allot the few popular tunes to a very large number of psalms, but portioned out popular and unfamiliar with a fairly even hand. For harmonizations he used some music from earlier books, including Day’s, East’s and Barley’s, and new settings by a number of church musicians of the day as well as many of his own.

Ravenscroft’s book was not as popular as East’s – there was only one more edition in the 17th century (1633). Perhaps it was because, as Playford put it in 1677, he had been guilty of ‘intruding among our English Tunes, many Outlandish [i.e. foreign] Welsh and Scotch Tunes, of neither good form nor ayre’. Barton in 1644 omitted ‘multitudes of tunes [in Ravenscroft] as unnecessary and burdensome’, but this at least suggests that Ravenscroft was a possible source for church use. There is other evidence that it was: from 1622, some editions of the common psalm book contained five of Ravenscroft’s new tunes and allocations that are not found elsewhere; others appear in a later revision of 1636.

Henry Lawes’s A Paraphrase upon the Psalmes of David … Set to New Tunes for Private Devotion: and a Thorow Base, for Voice, or Instrument (1638) is somewhat outside the mainstream. The metres of Sandys’s version are various and subtle: the tunes, all new, lack popular characteristics and seem designed for solo singing. They are set in two parts only, in block harmony. William Slatyer’s The Psalmes of David in 4 Languages and in 4 Parts (1643–6) is eccentric. It consists of Psalms i–xxii in the Old Version, with texts in English and also translated into Greek, Hebrew and Latin, for purposes unknown; the settings are borrowed from various sources.

Ex.18 Psalm xlvii, to the tune ‘London New’ (Frost no.222), set by Playford in his Psalms (1677)

John Playford, having begun with tenor and bass only in his Introduction (1658), added two optional countertenor parts in his Psalms and Hymns (1671); the tunes he printed were chiefly the old ones, emended to bring them into conformity with contemporary practice. He provided alternative translations (which he hoped would be accepted by ‘authority’) and hymn texts, and printed only selected verses of the Sternhold and Hopkins texts – but in deference to the establishment printed them in black letter, while the other texts were in roman. The settings were his own. His Whole Book of Psalms in Three Parts (1677), in contrast, was a complete psalm book in the East-Ravenscroft tradition; every psalm had a tune printed with it, underlaid with the first verse, and the other verses printed below. Playford made some revisions in the text (not all judicious) and further modernized and reallocated the tunes. But there were few new tunes, and even these seem to have been derived from earlier ones. He gave a revised selection of hymns with several new texts, and four alternative versions of psalms (dropped from later editions). The preface gave an informative statement of his policy and of the state of psalm singing in his time. But his most significant innovation was to set the tunes in three parts throughout – cantus and medius (of nearly equal compass) and bassus. ‘All Three Parts may be as properly sung by Men as by Boys or Women’, and all were printed in G or F clefs (ex.18). Here was a book that could well serve a parish choir, with or without instrumental accompaniment; and eventually parish choirs took full advantage of it. After the second edition, brought out by Henry Playford in 1695, it outstripped all its predecessors in popularity, going into 19 editions with little alteration (one new tune was added in 1700), the last appearing in 1738. (The 20th edition (1757), revised by Joseph Fox, left out five tunes and added 15 new ones and three anthems.)

Playford’s was the last harmonized Sternhold and Hopkins, and one of the last books that set out the complete psalms beneath the music. In the 18th century music was provided for organists, parish clerks and choirs, but not for congregations: not until the mid-19th century would the people again have the tunes printed in their hymnbooks. Selections of psalms and hymns in various versions were printed with music, often for the use of an individual church or chapel. The Dissenting Churches, where lining out continued to thrive, frequently printed their tunes in a supplement at the end of the psalm book, and the practice was followed with Tate and Brady’s New Version, whose Supplement was designed for use with either the Old or the New Version.

Adaptable tune books continued to appear throughout the 18th century for both Anglicans and Dissenters. They show that many places of worship maintained the conservative tradition of plain old psalm tunes throughout the period of elaborate psalmody. In 1790 Dr Miller’s Psalms of David was the first of a new type of book influenced by evangelical ideas. It was designed to embody the entire text and music needed for a parish church. The psalms were arranged in order throughout the year; settings were firmly congregational, with the tune in the treble and chords filled in for organ accompaniment. Several other books on the same lines appeared in rapid succession. Beginning with Sampson’s Ancient Church Music (c1800) and continuing with Crotch’s Tallis’s Litany with a Collection of Old Psalm Tunes (1803), an effort was made in some quarters to revive those of the ancient psalm tunes that had dropped out of knowledge.


  • Injunctions given by the Queenes Majestie concerning both the Clergy and Laity of this Realme (London, 1559); repr. in Visitation Articles and Injunctions of the Period of the Reformation, ed. W.H. Frere, iii (London, 1910), 8
  • [W. Whittingham:] A Brieff Discours of the Troubles Begonne at Frankfort (? Geneva or Zürich, 1575; repr. London, 1908)
  • G. Wither: A Preparation to the Psalter (London, 1619)
  • Directory for the Publique Worship of God (London, 1644/R)
  • T. Mace: Musick’s Monument (London, 1676; repr. with transcr. and commentary by J. Jacquot and A. Souris, Paris, 1958)
  • T. Bray: A Short Discourse upon the Doctrine of our Baptismal Covenant (London, 1697)
  • B. P[ayne]: The Parish-clerk’s Guide (London, 1709)
  • N. Tate: An Essay for Promoting of Psalmody (London, 1710)
  • L. Milbourne: Psalmody Recommended (London, 1713)
  • E. Gibson: A Method or Course of Singing in Church: the Excellent Use of Psalmody (London, 1724)
  • W. Riley: Parochial Music Corrected (London, 1762)
  • W. Mason: Essays on Church Music, 3 (London, 1795); repr. in W. Mason: Works (London, 1811)
  • W. Cole: A View of Modern Psalmody (Colchester, 1819)
  • J. Gray: An Inquiry into Historical Facts Relative to Parochial Psalmody (York, 1821)
  • J.S. Curwen: Studies in Worship Music (London, 1880–85, 3/1901)
  • J. Julian: A Dictionary of Hymnology (London, 1892, 2/1907/R)
  • W.H. Frere: A New History of the Book of Common Prayer with a Rationale of its Offices, on the Basis of the Former Work by F. Procter (London, 1902)
  • R. Steele: The Earliest English Music Printing (London, 1903)
  • W.H. Frere: The English Church in the Reigns of Elizabeth and James I (London, 1904)
  • R.W. Dale: A History of English Congregationalism (London, 1907)
  • L.F. Benson: The English Hymn (Richmond, VA, 1915)
  • W.T. Whitley: A History of British Baptists (London, 1923)
  • W.T. Whitley: Congregational Hymn-singing (London, 1933)
  • M.M. Knappen: Tudor Puritanism (Chicago, 1939/R)
  • W.S. Pratt: The Music of the French Psalter of 1562 (New York, 1939/R)
  • M. Frost: English and Scottish Psalm and Hymn Tunes c.1543–1677 (London, 1953)
  • H. Baillie: London Churches, their Music and Musicians (1485–1560) (diss., U. of Cambridge, 1958)
  • M. Frost, ed.: Historical Companion to Hymns Ancient and Modern (London, 1962)
  • P. le Huray, ed.: The Treasury of English Church Music, 2 (London, 1965/R)
  • E. Parks: The Hymns and Hymn Tunes found in the English Metrical Psalters (New York, 1966)
  • P. le Huray: Music and the Reformation in England, 1549–1660 (London, 1967, 2/1978)
  • A. Smith: The Practice of Music in English Cathedrals and Churches in the Reign of Elizabeth I (diss., U. of Birmingham, 1967)
  • R. Illing: Est–Barley–Ravenscroft and the English Metrical Psalter (Adelaide, 1969)
  • N. Temperley: ‘The Adventures of a Hymn Tune’, MT, 112 (1971), 375–6, 488–9
  • N. Temperley: ‘John Playford and the Metrical Psalms’, JAMS, 25 (1972), 331–78
  • D.W. Krummel: English Music Printing, 1553–1700 (London, 1975)
  • N. Temperley: ‘Middleburg Psalms’, Studies in Bibliography, 30 (1977), 162–9
  • N. Temperley: The Music of the English Parish Church (Cambridge, 1979/R)
  • N. Temperley: ‘The Old Way of Singing: its Origins and Development’, JAMS, 34 (1981), 511–44
  • B. Rainbow, ed.: English Psalmody Prefaces: Popular Methods of Teaching, 1562–1835 (Kilkenny, 1982)
  • A.W. Pollard and G.R. Redgrave: A Short-Title Catalogue of Books Printed in England, Scottland and Ireland and of English Books Printed Abroad (London, 2/1986–91)
  • R. Leaver: ‘English Metrical Psalmody’, The Hymnal Companion, ed. R. Glover (New York, 1990), 321–48
  • N. Temperley: ‘The Tunes of Congregational Song in Britain from the Reformation to 1750’, The Hymnal Companion, ed. R. Glover (New York, 1990), 349–64
  • R.A. Leaver: ‘Goostly Psalmes and Spirituall Songes’: English and Dutch Metrical Psalms from Coverdale to Utenhove, 1535–1566 (Oxford, 1991)
  • D. Davie: ‘Psalmody as Translation’, The Eighteenth-Century Hymn in England (Cambridge, 1993), 71–86
  • S. Drage: ‘Performance Practice in 18th-Century Georgian Psalmody’, The Gallery Tradition, ed. C. Turner (Ketton, 1997), 35–41
  • J.R. Watson: The English Hymn: a Critical and Historical Study (Oxford, 1997)
  • T.K. McCart: The Matter and Manner of Praise: the Controversial Evolution of Hymnody in the Church of England, 1760–1820 (Lanham, MD, 1998)
  • N. Temperley: The Hymn Tune Index (Oxford, 1998)
  • B. Quitslund: The Reformation in Rhyme: Sternhold, Hopins, and the English Metrical Psalter, 1547–1603 (Aldershot, 2008)
  • B. Quitslund and N. Temperley: The Whole Book of Psalms: A Critical Edition of its Texts and Tunes (Tucson, AZ, 2013)

IV. Scotland and Ireland

1. Scotland.

Metrical psalms have retained an important position in the Scottish service since the Reformation in 1560. The Scottish Church was persuaded by Calvin’s teaching that, first, praising God was the right of the whole congregation and not simply of priests and a select body of singers, and second, that only material from the Bible should be used. The psalms were translated into metre mainly for ease of recollection, but the fact that the original Hebrew psalms were also metrical was regarded as something of a divine injunction. Hymns were gradually introduced in the 19th century but they never entirely supplanted the psalms. Efforts to introduce chanted prose psalms have met with little success.

(i) Texts.

The earliest metrical psalms known in Scotland were 22 in Ane Compendious Buik of Godlie Psalms and Spiritual Sangis (?Dundee, 1542–6), brought out by the three Wedderburn brothers of Dundee. Commonly known as The Gude and Godlie Ballatis, they were Scots translations by John Wedderburn of psalms and hymns by Luther. Though never authorized for use in church, they were very popular for domestic use: the last edition was printed as late as 1621. Apparently they were intended to be sung to common secular melodies, for no music was printed. In one instance the tune of Exaudi Deus orationem meam (Psalm lv) is indicated, possibly an adaptation of a Gregorian melody.

The early psalms of Sternhold and Hopkins also seem to have been known in Scotland. John Knox, the leader of the Scottish Reformation, when describing the death of Elizabeth Adamson in 1555, stated that she sang ‘Psalm ciii’, My saule praise thou the Lord always (this is actually Psalm cxlvi by Hopkins). According to the Protestant exiles in Frankfurt in 1554 the singing of metrical psalms ‘in a plain tune’ was the custom in Scottish churches, but there is no evidence that they formed a part of the service itself.

Although Knox knew the Wedderburn psalms he did not adopt them for the Reformed Church, perhaps because he found the language too broadly Scots, but probably on account of their Lutheran origins. In 1555 he went to Geneva where he came under the influence of Calvinism, and in 1558 he was appointed one of the ministers of the English congregation there. The following year he took to Scotland their Book of Order, The Forme of Prayers and Ministration of the Sacraments (Geneva, 1556), which had been rejected in Frankfurt in favour of the Prayer Book. The 11th section contained One and Fiftie Psalmes of David, in English Metre, 37 of which were by Sternhold, seven by Hopkins and seven by Whittingham.

The first General Assembly of the Church of Scotland (1560) recognized the Geneva Forme of Prayers as its Book of Common Order, and in 1562 it was printed, without the psalms, by Robert Lekprevik of Edinburgh. By 1563 the number of psalms for the Anglo-Genevan Church had increased to 87 (the additional translations were by Pullain and Kethe). These were adopted by the Assembly as the basis for a complete metrical psalter, and new translations of the outstanding psalms were ordered. In fact most were borrowed from the English psalter, with only 21 by Scots (15 by John Craig and 6 by Robert Pont). All the versions were carefully revised and printed with music in 1564 by Lekprevik as an adjunct to the Forme of Prayers.

In 1579 an Act of Parliament ordained that ‘all Gentlemen with 300 merks of yearlie rent, and all substantious yeomen, etc., worth 500 pounds [Scots] in land or goods, be holden to have ane bible and psalme booke’, under specific penalties. 60 editions of the Book of Common Order together with the psalms were printed in the period 1564–1644. Many were printed abroad – in Middelburg, Dort, Geneva and London – probably because printing there was of a better quality without being more expensive. In 1575 Bassandine changed the title to The CL Psalmes of David; this was adopted and gave rise to the custom of calling the whole of the service book the Psalm Book.

At first the Assembly had the right to supervise the copy and the printing of the book, but later this vigilance was relaxed, perhaps owing to the Church’s increasing involvement with politics. After the first edition of 1564, some of the spiritual songs from the Anglo-Genevan book had been appended, but Bassandine’s 1575 edition included metrical versions of the Lord’s Prayer (Coxe’s), Whittingham’s Ten Commandments with a responsory prayer, the first Lamentation, the Veni creator from the English Prayer Book and a metrical doxology. Andro Hart, in his edition of 1615, added on his own initiative a metrical version of the Song of Moses.

Many of the editions from 1601 onwards printed the prose version of the psalms in the margin, probably to aid comprehension. Only Raban’s edition (Aberdeen, 1633) and Tyler’s edition (Edinburgh, 1644), the last of the 1564 psalter, used the Authorized Version; the rest all used the translation from the Genevan Bible of 1560.

Ex.19 Psalm lxxxi from the 1564 psalter; text by Pont

The main drawback of the 1564 psalter was its variety of metres. 27 psalms were in metres other than common, long or short, and were not easy for an illiterate people to learn. Some had been created to fit French melodies and were more suited to the French language than the Scots (ex.19). The General Assembly of 1601 proposed a new translation of the Bible and a revision of the psalms. James VI (later also James I of England), who had versified some psalms in His Majesties Poeticale Exercises at Vacant Hours (1591) supported the proposal enthusiastically. The Assembly, not wanting to encourage interference from the king but seeking to placate him, charged Robert Pont with the revision. Nothing further was done but James, far from forgetting the matter, set to work himself. Other writers such as Alexander Montgomerie, Mure of Rowallen (compiler of the Rowallen Lutebook), Drummond of Hawthornden and Alexander of Menstrie were also making new versions but, because of the king’s declared purpose, could not do so openly.

The strained relations between Crown and Church delayed any new version until the middle of the century. James’s introduction of the Five Articles (concerning kneeling at Communion, the Christian calendar, private communion, private baptism and confirmation) in 1618 aroused much hostility. Although the Five Articles were widely disregarded in practice, such a storm had been raised that even moderate reforms were impossible. The Church successfully resisted James’s version of the psalms during his lifetime. Such was the king’s industry that by the time he died in 1625 he had reached Psalm cxxx. Charles I believed it his duty to see his father’s wishes carried out and instructed Menstrie to review them. The result, a substantial revision, was printed as The Psalmes of King David translated by King James (Oxford, 1631), commonly known as the ‘Menstrie Psalms’. Another version, again thoroughly revised, appeared in 1636. There was considerable opposition to the ‘Metaphrase’, as James’s version was called, although it appears that some congregations did use it. Charles’s disastrous attempts to impose a version of the English Prayer Book on the Church of Scotland provoked the signing of the National Covenant in 1638. In the same year the General Assembly, controlled by Covenanters, rejected all Charles’s innovations, including the royal psalter.

The Westminster Assembly of Divines of 1643–7 aimed to produce a new version of the psalms for use throughout England and Scotland. Rous’s psalms were revised, first by the Westminster Assembly (which included Scottish commissioners) and subsequently by Scottish divines in Scotland. The Scottish Church as well as the English refused to accept it, and on 8 July 1647 the General Assembly recommended another complete revision. The revisers were permitted to draw on other versions as well as the Westminster one and the 1564 Scottish one. The revision was extensive: of a total of 8620 lines only 1588 are from the Westminster version. Other sources used include James’s version, the Bay Psalm Book of 1640 and Rous’s original translation. On 1 May 1650 the Psalms of David in Meeter came into use, and has remained unaltered as the official Scottish psalter (see Paraphrases, Scottish).

The Reformed Scottish Churches never adopted the practice of having proper psalms for the day. As a result some of the more obscure psalms are rarely, if ever, sung. The Church Hymnary: Third Edition (London, 1973), authorized by the Assemblies of the Church of Scotland and the Presbyterian Churches of England, Wales and Ireland recognized this by including only the most common psalms. In most cases only excerpts from the psalm texts are printed, distributed among the hymns. Of the 57 psalms or psalm portions obtained, all but nine are taken from the 1650 psalter; two are from the psalter of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland and the remaining seven combine verses from each. This hymnary has not been popular. The new edition is intended to include a substantial majority of the psalms, many from the 1650 psalter but also some modern metrical versions; they will once more be printed in their own section at the beginning of the book.

The seceding churches have never adopted hymns at all and still use the 1650 psalter. However, the Free Church of Scotland undertook a new translation of the psalms into modern idiom for the year 2000, issuing Supplementary Versions of the Scottish Metrical Psalms from 1994. 51 psalms or psalm portions had been published by 1997.

Nearly all the psalms are in common metre. Including second versions, four are in short metre: Psalms xxv, xlv (2nd version), l, lxvii; four are in long metre: Psalms vi, c, cii (2nd version), cxlv (2nd version); and five are irregular: Psalms cxxiv (2nd version), cxxxvi, cxxxvi (2nd version), cxliii, cxlviii.

The first Gaelic translation of The Forme of Prayers, entitled Foirmna nurrnuidheah (Edinburgh, 1567) was printed without the psalms, which were not translated until the following century. In 1659 the Synod of Argyll issued the first 50 in An ceud chaogad do Shalmaibh Dhaibhidh. Robert Kirk, minister at Balquidder, made an independent translation of the complete psalter, Psalma Dhaibhidh an meadrachd (Edinburgh, 1684), but the one recommended by the Assembly was the completed Argyll version of 1694. An amended version by Alexander MacFarlane (Glasgow, 1753), containing fewer Irishisms, became popular in the north Highlands; John Smith’s translation of 1787 was more popular in the west. Sailm Dhaibhidh (Edinburgh, 1826), a revised version of Smith’s translation, was authorized by the Assembly, and, with modern revisions, is still bound with the Gaelic Bible issued by the National Bible Society of Scotland.

(ii) Music.

Although the reformers believed that each psalm should be sung only to its own or ‘proper’ tune, this ideal was never fully realized, with the result that sometimes the same tune had to be used for two psalms. The first Scottish psalter of 1564 contained 105 tunes; 42 came from Geneva, of which 31 were French including some by Loys Bourgeois. A few were German and the rest were presumably by Scottish and English composers; it shared 16 tunes with Day’s Whole Booke of Psalmes (1562). Out of 28 editions of the psalter printed by 1625 only three omitted the music.

The tunes were unbarred and written in C clefs. The majority were eight lines long. The first verse of the psalm was underlaid; only one note was allowed for each syllable, but long and short notes were interspersed to give a certain rhythmic flexibility. However, the rhythms varied slightly from edition to edition, gradually becoming more regular.

In 1562 the Earl of Moray, later Regent of Scotland, commissioned David Peebles to produce simple four-part harmonizations of the psalm tunes coming into Scotland from Geneva. By 1566 the completed psalter was copied into partbooks by Thomas Wood, vicar of St Andrews. (Two copies by Wood survive, five partbooks in GB-Eu, one in IRL-Dtc and one in GB-Lbl; the contratenor is incomplete.) Most of the settings are by Peebles but other Scottish composers contributed, including John Angus, Andrew Blackall, John Black, John Buchan and Andrew Kemp. The harmonies are simple, with the melody in the tenor (see ex.21).

In spite of Moray’s attempt to uphold the musical tradition threatened by the Reformation, standards seem to have declined rapidly. In 1579 an Act of Parliament provided money to revive the decaying ‘sang schules’ (song schools), but the austere psalm tunes could not revitalize institutions created to study the complexities of Renaissance polyphony. The churches had no musical instruments and choirs were rare, for past experience had shown that they tended to be used for display, thus supplanting congregational singing. Many of the proper tunes, particularly those of French origin, were too difficult for congregations to sing unaided and it appears that many were not sung at all. Editions of the psalter between 1599 and 1611 omitted some of the tunes altogether.

Ex.20 ‘Common’

The Middelburg Psalter of 1602, which left out 61 proper tunes, was the first to introduce the principle of common tunes by printing three tunes for 22 psalms. One of these tunes, later called ‘Common’ (ex.20) was originally the proper for Psalm cviii; the others were ‘London’, from Daman’s psalter of 1579, and ‘English’, from East’s psalter of 1592. The 1615 edition contained 12 common tunes, grouped together at the beginning and distinguished by names after the English practice. In Raban’s Aberdeen psalter of 1625 the common tunes, increased to 15, were harmonized, and the local tune ‘Bon accord’ in reports (i.e. with imitative entries; see Reports) was added. The harmonized psalter of 1635 contained 31 common tunes.

Ex.21 Psalm c from the 1635 psalter

Only six of the 31 editions printed after Raban’s 1625 psalter contained music. One of these was the harmonized psalter of 1635, edited by Edward Millar. In the introduction he expressed his hope of standardizing the harmonies used in churches ‘where sundrie Tribles, Bases and Counters set by diverse authors … do discordingly rub upon each other’. Some of the harmonizations appear to have been his own but he took most of them from Wood’s psalter, sometimes modifying them. Not all the tunes from the 1564 psalter are included and some are used for different psalms. In all there are 104 proper tunes, 31 common tunes and eight in reports. The harmonies are simple, and he took care to make each part move as melodically as possible (ex.21). The tune is in the tenor throughout except in two reports, Psalm xii (‘Bon accord’) and Psalm xxi (‘Aberfeldy’ from Raban’s psalter of 1633).

There is no evidence that the Church ever authorized this psalter or even that it was used in church. The common tunes are laid out with the tenor and contra on one page and the treble and bass upside down on the facing page, suggesting a domestic setting where the singers could gather round the book. It is possible that Millar was encouraged by those who supported Charles I’s desire for a more elaborate service. Livingston suggested that the tunes in reports were sung as anthems in the Chapel Royal, Stirling, where Millar was appointed Master of Music shortly before the psalter’s publication. According to the Records of the Privy Seal the English Service, with choristers and organs, had been in force there since 1617. It is possible that such royal and episcopal associations prevented the psalter from arresting the decline in the standards of church worship.

Ex.22 ‘Martyrs’

The 1650 psalter was published without music, a reflection on the state of psalm singing at that time. In 1645 the Synod of Lothian had stopped psalm singing and Scripture reading altogether (replacing them with ‘lectures’, presumably political); not until 1653 were they restored. In 1666 an edition was published in Aberdeen containing 12 of the old common tunes – ‘Abbey’, ‘Common’, ‘Duke’s’, ‘Dundee’, ‘Dunfermline’, ‘Elgin’, ‘English’, ‘French’, ‘King’s’, ‘London’ (‘London New’), ‘Martyrs’ (ex.22) and ‘Stilt’ (‘York’) – and ‘Bon accord’ in reports. A later edition by John Forbes, also of Aberdeen, contained printed harmonized versions and in addition a short-metre tune, the old proper to Psalm xxv. By the end of the 17th century the 12 common tunes were firmly entrenched and no others were allowed.

The first attempt to improve this state of affairs was made in 1726, when Thomas Bruce challenged the sanctity of the common tunes with his The Common Tunes, or Scotland’s Church Music made Plain (Edinburgh, 1726); in addition to 11 common tunes (‘Common’ was dropped) it contained 11 from the 1635 psalter and eight entirely new ones. The latter were short-lived.

The turning-point came in the middle of the 18th century with the beginning of the choir movement in Aberdeenshire. In 1748 Sir Archibald Grant instructed the local schoolmaster to form a children’s choir for the parish church of Monymusk. Five years later Grant appointed Thomas Channon, an English soldier stationed in Aberdeen and probably a Methodist, to improve the standard of psalm singing. Channon endeavoured to impose a simpler, more disciplined style of singing, without ornaments, and to encourage singing in parts, normally treble, tenor and bass. His innovations met with considerable opposition in the Aberdeen establishment, not only because he introduced new tunes but because he increased the speed of singing and used a pitchpipe. The choir movement spread, encouraging the production of such tutors as Robert Bremner’s The Rudiments of Music with Psalmody (Edinburgh, 1756) and anthologies of tunes. The psalms were held in such reverence that it was considered sinful to use them outside actual acts of worship, so practice verses were substituted; many maintained a strong moral tone but some were surprisingly irreverent (see Patrick, 164–78).

Ex.23 ‘Desert’, first two lines

Among the first anthologies were Thomas Moore’s various psalter ‘companions’, published between 1750 and 1761. They contained a number of English tunes adapted to the Scottish metres. A large number of tune books followed, reviving old Scottish psalm tunes, importing old English ones and introducing new ones. Similar 19th-century anthologies include R.A. Smith’s Sacred Harmony (Edinburgh, 1820–25), T.L. Hateley’s Free Church Psalmody (Edinburgh, 1844), G. and J. Cameron’s The Sacred Harp (Glasgow, 1849) and William Carnie’s The Northern Psalter (Aberdeen, 1872). The tune writers, many of whom were amateurs, enjoyed their new freedom to the full and included decorative runs, dotted rhythms and repeat lines (ex.23). Tunes with a Scottish flavour using a pentatonic or six-note scale were popular: one of the best known is ‘Kilmarnock’ (ex.24).

Ex.24 ‘Kilmarnock’

Melodies were also adapted from Handel, Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven and even Palestrina. Inevitably many of the Victorian tunes are cloyingly sentimental, such as the ubiquitous ‘Crimond’, popularized to Psalm xxiii by the Glasgow Orpheus Choir.

In 1899 the Church of Scotland issued a new hymnary and psalter, the latter containing 226 tunes of a generally higher standard. It was followed by The Scottish Psalter (London, 1929), containing 192 tunes. Many of the 16th-century tunes were restored: 14 tunes from the French and Anglo-Genevan psalters, 9 common tunes from the 1615 psalter and six more common tunes from the 1635 harmonized psalter. Its four tunes in reports included ‘Bon accord’ and ‘Aberfeldy’. The music was printed in semibreves and minims, and many of the long notes ironed out in the preceding two centuries were restored. As in earlier psalters the pages were split, with music at the top and text at the bottom, so that a psalm could be sung to any tune. This has now been largely superseded by The Church Hymnary: Third Edition (London, 1973), which contains only a selection of the most commonly used psalms. The tunes, printed in modern notation, include 12 from the old Scottish Psalters: ‘Old 44th’, ‘Old 100th’, ‘Old 107th’, ‘Old 124th’, and eight common tunes. A substantially new edition contains more tunes, both old and new. The Free Church of Scotland has retained its own psalter, Scottish Psalmody, with 193 tunes, of which 137 are also found in the 1929 psalter. Seven tunes come from the French and Anglo-Genevan psalters, five from the 1615 psalter and six from the 1635 psalter.

(iii) Performing practice.

Few details survive concerning early performing practice. According to Walter Steuart of Pardovan’s Collections and Observations … concerning … the Church of Scotland (Edinburgh, 1709, ii, 1, §26), the minister or the ‘uptaker of the psalm’ read over the whole of the intended portion, and then the singing followed without interruption. At the Westminster Assembly the Scots agreed only reluctantly, after some debate, to adopt the English practice of ‘lining out’ (intoning and singing the lines one by one). In 1746 the General Assembly recommended that this practice should cease but it continued in many churches until well into the 19th century, and can still occasionally be heard in the west Highlands and islands.

To what extent conclusions and doxologies were sung is unclear. The first of these appeared to Psalm cxlviii in Bassandine’s 1575 edition. Charteris’s Edinburgh edition of 1596 includes 32. The 1635 psalter contains two conclusions and one doxology, all in common metre (which may have been added simply on the printer’s initiative). The 1650 psalter contains none, but in 1661 the Synod of Lothian ordered them to be sung with the psalms. Bearing in mind Calvin’s principle that all matter extraneous to the Bible should be rejected, it is unlikely that doxologies were ever very popular; in the 17th century the Church may have been under some pressure to adopt them to conform with episcopal practices. The 1929 psalter contained seven in different metres at the end of the book, but they were not generally sung.

There is no information about the speeds at which the early psalms were sung. It is clear, however, that by the 18th century they were sung extremely slowly: as late as 1772 Bremner wrote in his Church Harmony, or Psalm-Tunes in Four Parts that the length of a semibreve in common time (𝄵) ought to be between three and four seconds, although for tunes in triple time, being of a ‘more light and airy nature’, the time of one second to a minim was sufficient. With the subsequent improvement of church singing standards, the psalms were gradually taken faster. In the 1990s the speed was approximately crotchet = 120 (i.e. three or four times quicker than Bremner’s speed), triple-time tunes being rather faster. In those seceding churches that sing unaccompanied the speed was usually considerably slower.

The old slow speeds naturally encouraged the congregations to ornament the tunes with runs, turns and shakes. Bremner wrote in his Rudiments of Music:

Had these nonsensical graces been the same everywhere, it would have been the less matter, but every congregation, nay, every individual, had different graces to the same note, which were dragged by many to such immoderate length that one corner of the church, or the people in one seat, had sung out the line before another had half done: and from the whole there arose such a mass of confusion and discord as quite defaced this noblest part of Divine worship.

In the Gaelic-speaking congregations of the east coast of Ross, Sutherland and Caithness a highly ornamented style of singing was developed which may have originated in the melismas of plainchant. Only six tunes were sung: ‘Dundee’, ‘Elgin’, ‘French’, ‘Martyrs’, ‘Old London’ and ‘Stilt’. In the middle of the 19th century T.L. Hately, the precentor to the Free Church General Assembly, attempted to notate these so-called ‘long tunes’ (ex.25). Joseph Mainzer also transcribed them (Gaelic Psalm Tunes of Ross-shire, 1844); his edition of ‘French’ is now sung at the close of the annual National Mod, but as he fitted it into regular bars of 4/4 with four-part harmony it is a poor echo of the old manner. With the retreat of Gaelic from the east coast in the 20th century the long tunes died out. However, the practice of adding grace notes and slurs to the unaccompanied, unison melody still flourishes in some congregations in the west Highlands and islands. They are rather simpler than the long tunes but the melody can only sometimes be identified. (See Scotland, §II, 5, (iii).)

Ex.25 ‘French’

Although choirs were largely discarded at the time of the Reformation, there is some evidence that harmony was sung in centres that had sang schules. James Melville wrote in his diary of 1574 that, as a student in St Andrews, he had learnt many of the trebles of the psalms (the melody being in the tenor); Calderwood claimed that in 1582 crowds in the streets of Edinburgh welcomed the returning minister Durie with Psalm cxxiv ‘sung in such a pleasant tune in four parts’. There are a few exceptional references to choirs: in 1587 the Kirk Session of Glasgow ordered the music teacher William Struthers to choose four men to sing beside him in the church, and in 1621 Stirling Kirk Session decreed that the children of the sang schule should sit beside their master in the reader’s place. These are isolated examples, however, and the members of the sang schules and others who could sing a part normally sat in the body of the congregation. The table-book format of the 1635 psalter suggests that harmony may have been used in private or family worship, which was strongly encouraged.

Choirs were not formed until the middle of the 18th century, when it was realized that they could assist the singing without taking the place of the congregation, but in the first decades of the 19th century in Paisley Abbey and St George’s, Edinburgh, R.A. Smith and Andrew Thomson improved the choirs so much that the congregations felt discouraged. Later in the century Hately in the south and William Carnie in the north-east avoided this danger by teaching huge classes – from 500 to 1000 members – which were congregational rather than choir practices.

Ex.26 ‘Dunfermline’: ‘faux-bourdon’ setting in the 1929 psalter

The use of instruments in church was banned altogether in accordance with Calvin’s principles. Not until the beginning of the 19th century did organs and reed organs begin to appear; some of the seceding churches still consider them inappropriate. With the advent of the organ the melody, for so long in the tenor, was transferred to the treble. However, the distinction is to some extent academic as the majority of the congregation sing in unison at their own pitch. The 1929 Scottish psalter attempted to introduce a modified form of the old style, printing alternative settings known as ‘faux-bourdons’ in which the tune is in the tenor while the rest of the choir add the harmony (ex.26). In other, two-part versions, a descant was sung above a unison melody, the harmonies being provided only by the organ.

The Church Hymnary: Third Edition includes a few prose psalms, some pointed for Anglican chant and some for Gregorian psalm tones. The latter are simpler for a congregation to sing, but in view of the continuing resistance of the average congregation to anything Roman, it will be a long time before they are accepted.

2. Ireland.

The Presbyterian Church in Ireland, like the mother Church in Scotland, has a strong tradition of metrical psalm singing. The Church came into being when the General Synod of Ulster (founded in 1642) joined with the Secession Synod in the Union of 1840. Before the Union, Presbyterian practice had been to use the psalms alone in public worship, although the Scottish paraphrases (and, in a few congregations, hymns) had already come into use in the Synod of Ulster. One of the terms of the union, in fact, was that the paraphrases ought not be authorized, even though they were not prohibited and thus continued to be used by some congregations.

In 1841, 1859, 1868 and 1887 the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland issued revisions of the Westminster Directory for the Publique Worship of God (1644). The last of these stated that ‘the metrical version of the Book of Psalms, as published by this Church or as used by the Church in Scotland, is the only psalmody authorised by the General Assembly’ (the first three had only approved the Psalter ‘as used in the Church of Scotland’). The reason for the double approval was that following the Evangelical Revival of 1857 an attempt had been made to introduce hymns. There was strong opposition to this, for while many approved the use of hymns in mission services they were opposed to any such innovation in the ‘House of God’.

At the same time, some of the criticisms of the Scottish Psalter of 1650 were considered to have substance, so instead of approving the introduction of hymns it was agreed to revise the Psalter. The result was the publication in 1880 of The Psalter in Metre, a Revised Version, Prepared and Published by the Authority of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland, with Tunes. By removing a number of archaisms, by providing a considerable number of new alternative versions, and by introducing a greater variety of metres it was hoped to solve the hymnody problem. But this failed, and the Church Hymnary (in cooperation with the Scottish Churches) was approved in 1899. The new psalter was primarily the work of Rev. John Moran and Professor J.G. Murphy. The revision had much to commend it and it is now used universally throughout the Church.

Until the 1970s it was usual for every service of worship in Irish Presbyterianism to include at least one metrical psalm. The Church Hymnary: Third Edition (1973), compiled by a number of British Presbyterian churches, contains 57 metrical psalms or portions of psalms. These were included to encourage a fuller use of the psalter and to increase the range of selection. Two versions from the 1880 Irish Revised Psalter are included and in many cases verses and lines from it replace those from the Scottish Psalter of 1650. Paradoxically, however, the inclusion of metrical psalms in The Church Hymnary may have led to a decrease in their use as they came to be regarded simply as hymns. This, allied with a great increase in modern hymns and songs in varying idioms (including a number based on psalms), means that the singing of traditional metrical psalms might no longer be as distinctive a part of Irish Presbyterian worship as it was in the past.


  • D. Calderwood: History of the Kirk of Scotland, Wodrow Society (Edinburgh, 1842–9)
  • N. Livingston: The Scottish Metrical Psalter of 1635: Reprint with Dissertations (Glasgow, 1864)
  • J.W. MacMeeken: History of the Scottish Metrical Psalms (Glasgow, 1872)
  • W. Cowan: ‘A Bibliography of the Book of Common Order and Psalm Book of the Church of Scotland: 1556–1644’, Publications of the Edinburgh Bibliographical Society, 10 (1913), 52–100
  • D. MacKinnon: The Gaelic Bible and Metrical Psalter (Dingwall, 1930), 3–29
  • W. McMillan: The Worship of the Scottish Reformed Church, 1550–1638 (London, 1931)
  • M. Patrick: Four Centuries of Scottish Psalmody (London, 1949)
  • J.H.S. Burleigh: A Church History of Scotland (London, 1960)
  • T. Knudsen: ‘Ornamental Hymn/Psalm Singing in Denmark, the Faroe Islands and the Hebrides’, DFS Information, 68/2 (Copenhagen, 1968)
  • J. Porter: ‘A Northwest European Heterophony Type: Gaelic Psalm-Singing in the Isle of Lewis’, St Andrews Review, 1/4 (1972), 55–9
  • T.H. Keir: ‘The Church Hymnary: Third Edition’, Liturgical Review, 3/1 (1973), 26–33
  • E.A. MacLean: ‘Gaelic Psalm-Singing and the Lowland Connection’, Liturgical Review, 3/2 (1973), 54–62
  • A. Macleod: ‘Scottish Tradition 6: Gaelic Psalms from Lewis’, TNGM 120 (1975), reissued as CDTRAX 9006 (1994) [disc notes]
  • R.S. Louden: ‘Psalmody in the Church’, Handbook to the Church Hymnary: Third Edition, ed. J.M. Barkley (1979), 34–43
  • M. Chibbett: ‘Sung Psalms in Scottish Worship’, The Bible in Scottish Life and Literature, ed. D.F. Wright (Edinburgh, 1988), 140–54
  • K. Elliott: ‘ Some helpes for young Schollers: a New Source of Early Scottish Psalmody’, The Renaissance in Scotland: Studies in Literature, Religion, History and Culture offered to John Durkan, ed. A.A. MacDonald, M. Lynch and I.B. Cowan (Leiden, 1994), 265–75

V. North America

In the early years of the Protestant settlements of North America, metrical psalm singing was often the only form of organized music. It occupied a most important place in the cultural life of the people, and was invested with the strong feelings of a struggling community far from home. The Puritans, in particular, treated the psalms and their tunes with veneration, and sang them in everyday situations as well as at church on Sundays. The tradition naturally followed very similar patterns to those of the parent countries in Europe. By the time a more assertively American school of psalmody had arisen in the late 18th century, metrical psalms were rapidly giving way to hymns in most churches.

1. History of psalm singing.

(i) Episcopal churches.

The psalms of Calvin’s French psalter were sung in America as early as 1564–5 during the Huguenot expeditions to Florida and South Carolina, just as Sir Francis Drake’s men sang psalms, to the delight of the Amerindians, while camping on the coast of California in 1579. However, the first Protestant Church to establish itself permanently on the American continent was the Church of England: at Jamestown, Virginia, a church was built in 1608, the year in which the colony was founded. Commercial enterprise rather than religious fervour was dominant in the minds of the early Virginian colonists. They were content to continue the traditions of the Anglican Church, which was established there by law, as it was later in Maryland, North and South Carolina, Georgia and Nova Scotia. In New England, Anglican churches were organized by the early 18th century.

The bibles and prayer books imported from England had the usual metrical psalms bound in the back – Sternhold and Hopkins, or, later, Tate and Brady. The singing was very much as it was in English parish churches. In the larger town churches organs were gradually acquired: at King’s Chapel, Boston, in 1714; at Christ Church, Philadelphia, and St Philip, Charleston, in 1728; at Trinity, Newport, Rhode Island, in 1733; at Trinity, New York, in 1741; and so on. In smaller churches, parish clerks led the people in unaccompanied singing. Tate and Brady’s New Version of Psalms, which was first published in America in New York in 1710, was very widely used by the mid-18th century. After the Revolution authority over the congregations passed to the Protestant Episcopal Church, and for the first time, in 1790, a selection of psalms and hymns for use in the churches was laid down by authority, and annexed to the Book of Common Prayer. It consisted of the entire New Version of Tate and Brady, with 27 hymns. A revised selection was made in 1833, still including a large number of Tate and Brady’s psalms, and continued in use until 1866.

Ex.27 Peter Valton (c1740–84): ‘St Peters’, in Eckhard’s book of 1809, where it is allocated to ‘Psalm 46’ – i.e. Psalm cl (New Version), v.1 of which is underlaid here

The tunes sung with these psalms were at first the same as those used in England, as can be seen from a tune supplement bound in with a Boston edition of Tate and Brady in 1720; they were also largely the same as those used by the Puritan churches. A later tune supplement to Tate and Brady was engraved and probably compiled by Thomas Johnston, who was also one of the first American organ builders; Daniel Bayley’s collections indicate a more florid taste. On the whole, however, Episcopal churches were musically more conservative than Congregational ones, avoiding the excesses of the Fuging tune and the elaborate ‘set piece’. A most influential Anglican musician was Francis Hopkinson. His Collection of Psalm Tunes … for the Use of the United Churches of Christ Church and St Peter’s Church in Philadelphia (Philadelphia, 1763) contains some fairly ornate tunes, including some of Hopkinson’s own, but they are in the galant taste of the time, resembling the music of town rather than country churches in England. The prevalence of organs and the stronger links with the mother country tended to keep Anglican church music closer to the European art music of the time. The same tendency is shown in the tunes of The Book of Common Prayer … Proposed to the Use of the Protestant Episcopal Church (Philadelphia, 1786), and in Jacob Eckhard’s Choirmaster’s Book of 1809, used at St Michael, Charleston, South Carolina, together with a special Selection of Psalms and Hymns prepared by the rectors of the two principal Charleston churches in 1792 (ex.27). (See Anglican and Episcopalian church music, §10.)

(ii) Pilgrims.

The band of about 100 English Pilgrims who founded the colony at Plymouth, Massachusetts, in 1620 were members of a group of ‘Separatists’ who had gone into exile at Leiden in 1609. They had rejected the worship of the Church of England, and so instead of Sternhold and Hopkins’s psalms they adopted the version of Henry Ainsworth, pastor of a neighbouring Separatist community at Amsterdam. Ainsworth was one of the most cultivated biblical scholars of his day, and in The Book of Psalmes: Englished both in Prose and Metre (Amsterdam, 1612) he offered not only a complete new prose translation of the psalms accompanied by a pithy commentary, but also a new metrical version and an excellent selection of tunes. In variety of metres and in his choice of tunes, Ainsworth was as much influenced by the Franco-Dutch psalter as by Sternhold and Hopkins:

Tunes for the Psalms I find none set of God; so that each people is to use the most grave, decent and comfortable manner of singing that they know. … The singing-notes, therefore, I have most taken from our former Englished Psalms, when they will fit the measure of the verse. And for the other long verses I have also taken (for the most part) the gravest and easiest tunes of the French and Dutch Psalms.

Details of Ainsworth’s tunes and their origins are provided by Pratt and Frost. Edward Winslow recalled ‘there being many of our congregation very expert in music’ at Leiden; some of these must have been on the momentous voyage of the Mayflower, for Ainsworth’s Psalmes were used for many years in the Plymouth colony, in the total absence of instrumental or professional aid. Later generations lost their forefathers’ skill. In 1681 the Plymouth church decided to institute lining out, and in 1691, on the amalgamation of the Plymouth colony with the much larger and more successful settlement to the north, the church formally recognized the ‘difficulties’ of many of the Ainsworth tunes and allowed the substitution of easier ones used with the Bay Psalm Book. So Ainsworth’s book was never to be widely popular in America, though it was used at Ipswich and Salem, both outside the Plymouth colony, until 1667. It was reprinted several times, but never in America.

(iii) Dutch Reformed Church.

The Dutch colony of what is now New York was established in 1613, but the first Church was not organized until 1628, when the Dutch and French Protestant settlers combined; they knew identical tunes, and each sang them in their own language. The Dutch psalter, prescribed by the Synod of Dort (1618), was used with strict invariance for a full 100 years after the English conquest of the colony in 1664. An organ was erected in the New York church in 1727. The first English psalm book for the Dutch Reformed Church was The Psalms of David … for the Use of the Reformed Dutch Church of the City of New York (New York, 1767). Francis Hopkinson was the translator, and his job was the singular one of adapting the psalm versions of Tate and Brady to fit the tunes of varying metres in the old Dutch psalter. The music still remained unaltered.

The new book did not long satisfy the English-speaking congregations; many of the tunes in peculiar metres were unfamiliar through long disuse, and there was a demand to relax the strict confinement to psalms and to introduce some of the hymns popular in other American churches. The central Synod continued to maintain a strict control over the worship of individual congregations, but after the Revolution it authorized a new book (1789) that included 135 hymns selected by Dr John Livingston. The psalms in this book were selected largely from Tate and Brady’s and Watts’s versions, with only a few of Hopkinson’s remaining; and the great majority were in common, short or long metre. Later editions increased the proportion of hymns, until in Hymns of the Church (New York, 1869) the remaining metrical psalms were mixed in with hymns. Similarly, the tunes of the surrounding English-speaking churches were gradually adopted, as for instance in Peter Erben’s Selection (1806). From the beginning, harmonized versions carried the tune in the top voice. (See Reformed and Presbyterian church music.)

(iv) Puritans.

The Massachusetts Bay colony was founded in 1629 by puritan members of the Church of England, who had at first no idea of seceding from the church, though they rejected its ritual. They brought with them Sternhold and Hopkins’s psalms, and we may suppose that they sang them mainly to the handful of four-line tunes then in common use (see ex.9, above). They were not of a temper to concern themselves with artistic improvements in the singing. But they were unhappy with Sternhold and Hopkins because ‘their variations of the sense, and alterations of the sacred text too frequently, may justly minister matter of offence’. Accordingly, a group of 30 divines assembled to prepare a still more literal translation, ‘that as wee doe injoye other, soe (if it were the Lord’s will) we might injoye this ordinance also in its native purity’. They published, in 1640, The Whole Booke of Psalmes Faithfully Translated into English Metre (see §2(ii) below).

The Bay Psalm Book, or New England Psalm Book, as this collection became known, was at once adopted by almost every church in the colony. By means of lining out, which was in use in 1647 and perhaps earlier, the people could easily be taught to fit the new words to the old tunes. The compilers referred at the end of the book to 48 tunes to which the psalms might be sung, including 39 common-metre tunes ‘as they are collected, out of our chief musicians, by Tho. Ravenscroft’. But it is highly unlikely that more than a handful of these were used in church. Copies of Ravenscroft’s and Alison’s harmonized settings are known to have been in the possession of early New England settlers, but, as in the old country, they would have been used domestically.

Ex.28 ‘Low Dutch Tune’, from the Bay Psalm Book (1698)

The Bay Psalm Book lasted for over a century, and spread to other American colonies and even to many Dissenting Churches in Britain. There is no doubt that the new psalms continued to be sung to the old tunes. When for the first time a musical supplement appeared, with the ninth edition of 1698, the 13 tunes in it were all standard ones from English sources (see fig.6 below). They were set for tenor and bass, with sol-fa letters below the staves, suggesting that the basses were sung, not played (ex.28). In later editions the tunes were printed without basses. As in English country churches, the speed of singing had slowed to a drawl by this date (See Old Way of Singing). With no strong leadership of any kind, tunes were ornamented at will by individual members of a congregation, and the discordant heterophony that resulted was described by would-be reformers as ‘indecent’, ‘like the braying of asses’, ‘tortured and twisted as every unskilful throat saw fit’ and so on (see ex.11, above). Something of the chaos that often prevailed may be gathered from entries in Samuel Sewall’s Diary, describing services at the South Meeting House, Boston:

1705, Dec. 28. Mr. Willard … spoke to me to set the Tune; I intended Windsor and fell into High-Dutch, and then essaying to set another Tune went into a key much too high. So I pray’d Mr. White to set it; which he did well, Litchf[ield] Tune.

1718, Feb. 2. In the Morning I set York Tune, and in the 2d going over, the Gallery carried irresistibly to St David’s which discouraged me very much.

Ex.9 Psalm viii (Sternhold), to the tune Frost no.19. Source: East’s Psalmes (1592), harmonies omitted

But the people liked this way of singing, and in some churches persisted with it despite efforts at reform. In the strongly individualistic, Congregational tradition of New England, every church was at liberty to govern its own practice.

Reform got under way in 1720, with the appearance of the Rev. Thomas Symmes’s anonymous pamphlet, The Reasonableness of Regular Singing, or Singing by Note. In the following year two important singing methods were published by John Tufts and Thomas Walter. Each carried an appendix of psalm tunes, and Tufts introduced a new musical notation based on sol-fa letters. Walter’s appendix presented the tunes in three-part harmony. (For discussion of the new era of American singing that resulted from these publications and from the formation of singing schools, see Psalmody, §II.) It is sufficient to point out here that the teaching of singing from notes naturally generated church choirs on the Anglican model, which tended, as in England, to take the singing out of the hands of the people – where the people would let them. The attention that was thus focussed on singing led in turn to a desire for better literary and musical materials to sing. The Bay Psalm Book soon gave way in popularity to more elegant if less literal translations – the New Version of Tate and Brady, and (particularly among Congregationalists) Isaac Watts’s Psalms of David Imitated in the Language of the New Testament (first American edition, Philadelphia, 1729). More conservative congregations stuck to the old book (revised in 1758), but the supplements attached to later editions show that the traditional psalms, as well as the newer ones, were sung to increasingly elaborate tunes.

Ex.29 ‘Southwel New Tune’, from Walter (1721) [originally on three staves, ]

Two tunes of this date appear to be the first printed compositions of American origin: ‘Southwel New’ (ex.29), from Walter (1721), and ‘100 Psalm New’ from Tufts (1723; see Temperley, 1997). Some of the earliest tunes containing florid melismas (‘Northampton’, ‘Isle of Wight’, ‘24 Psalm’) were drawn from English sources. But at the mid-century two tune supplements from New England, engraved (and possibly compiled) by James Turner and Thomas Johnston respectively, include some ornate tunes. One of them in the Johnston supplement (1755), called ‘Psalm 136’, comes near to being a fuging-tune, though it is English in origin (ex.30). In the latter part of the century, more especially after the Revolution, there was a burgeoning of elaborate psalmody in which the Congregational churches (descendants of the old Puritan bodies) were often in the vanguard (see Psalmody, §II, 2). It was perhaps partly for the purpose of countering this trend that organs were gradually introduced in Congregational churches towards the end of the 18th century. The first was at Providence, Rhode Island, in 1770; in 1798 Bentley had heard of only four Congregational churches with organs in America – three in Boston and one in Newburyport.

Under the influence of the ‘Great Awakening’ and subsequent evangelical movements, metrical psalms tended to be replaced by hymns, and by 1830 formed a small proportion of the verses in most Congregational hymnbooks (see Hymn, §IV, 4). Recently, however, the successor denomination (the United Church of Christ) has revived the use of metrical psalms. Versions of all 150 psalms are printed in the Psalter Hymnal of this Church. (See Congregational church, music of the.)

(v) Presbyterian churches.

The Presbyterians also claimed descent from the Puritans, but retained a more authoritarian and centralized form of church government by Synod. From 1668, and especially in the 18th century, both in what is now the USA and in Canada, a steady trickle of Scots and Scots-Irish produced a distinctive brand of Presbyterianism – one that was strongly resistant to liberal trends. It greatly increased after the Union of England and Scotland (1707) opened the colonies to legal Scottish immigrants. The Psalms of David in Meeter, in the Scottish version of 1650, was to Presbyterian minds almost a part of the Bible with which it was usually bound. The success of the Scots in colonizing the frontier outposts of the American and Canadian interiors left them often remote from acculturating influences, and they continued the ‘old way’ of singing long after it had been forgotten elsewhere. The 12 common tunes were lined out by a precentor, and sung by the people in the kind of slow heterophony described by Joseph Mainzer, which survived well into the 20th century in remote places. In urban centres such as Boston, Philadelphia and New York, there were schisms in the 18th century: ‘New Side’ synods welcomed the influence of the evangelical movement; ‘Old Side’ synods preferred to continue in the old ways. The psalm singing was, indeed, often the central issue in the fierce disputes that raged in Presbyterian circles at this date. James Lyon’s Urania (Philadelphia, 1761) was subscribed to by a number of prominent Presbyterian clergymen; it must have represented the avant garde of Presbyterian singing. In 1774 John Adams, accustomed to the elaborate choir singing of New England, reported that the Old Presbyterian Society of New York was still ‘in the old way, as we call it – all the drawling, quavering, discord in the world’. A revision of Watts’s Psalms in a conservative direction, restoring those portions that Watts had deliberately omitted, was prepared by Joel Barlow in 1785, and the synods of Philadelphia and New York left individual parishes to decide whether to use it or to continue to sing the old psalms in the old way. The Directory for the Worship of God (1788) at last substituted ‘singing psalms or hymns’ for the 1644 Westminster directory’s ‘singing of psalms’, paving the way for the authorization of Watts’s hymns in 1802. In town churches the sterner kind of Presbyterianism faded gradually; organs were purchased, choirs took over the psalms and hymns. Congregational singing survived only in the wild country places. (See Reformed and Presbyterian church music, §II, 2, (ii).)

(vi) German Reformed Church.

Of the various sects that flourished among the German communities in Pennsylvania during the 18th century, only the Reformed Church, with its Calvinist ancestry, sang metrical psalms. The first settlements were founded by Dutch Reformed ministers early in the century. They used the Marburg Collection of psalms in Lobwasser’s version, and in 1753 this book was reprinted by Christopher Sauer at Germantown, Pennsylvania, as Neu-vermehrt und vollständiges Gesang-Buch, with all the traditional tunes. But the knowledge of the old chorale melodies was disappearing among the people; lining out had to be introduced, and by the end of the century it often happened that the minister and the organist were the only audible singers. At a synod held in Reading in 1794, it was resolved ‘that a new hymn-book be prepared, of which the Psalms shall be taken from Lobwasser and Spreng’s improved version, and the Palatine hymn-book shall form the basis of the hymns’. This, the first officially authorized book, was published in 1797. The psalm tunes had been greatly reduced in number, by the omission of little-used tunes. Between 1800 and 1850 there was a gradual change to the English language in many churches, and the first English collection, Psalms and Hymns for the Use of the German Reformed Church in the United States of America, appeared in 1830: all 150 psalms were still included, but they were largely in Watts’s version and drew on Anglo-American sources for their tunes. A newly compiled German book appeared in 1842, and another, Deutsches Gesangbuch (edited by Philip Schaff), in 1861. By this time such metrical psalms as survived were embedded in a large collection of hymns, arranged by the church year. Tunes were no longer printed with the words; suggestions for tunes showed, however, an interest in reviving the traditional German chorale melodies.

2. Psalm books.

(i) Function and character.

Of the psalm books printed in America only those for the Dutch and German Reformed Churches contained tunes printed with the psalms. In the Dutch version the tune was reprinted over each verse of the psalm; in the German, the first verse was underlaid and the rest printed beneath. These formats were modelled on European books that had been used with a tradition of accompanied singing. When an organ could not be obtained the congregation was at a loss and the knowledge of the tunes quickly faded. With the introduction of English psalms and hymns the older type of underlaid psalm book disappeared.

The great majority of psalm books in the English American tradition had no music at all (perhaps 80% of the surviving editions up to 1800). Before the era of the singing schools, there were so few tunes that they were known from memory, having been sung unaccompanied for generations. After choirs were well established, they generally sang from their own books containing special selections of psalm and hymn tunes and through-composed set pieces and anthems. Most of the tune supplements date from the intermediate period (about 1720–75).

In the early days, when psalms were lined out, the congregation did not really need books at all in church. They knew the tunes, and they took the words from the parish clerk, elder or minister. No doubt the Bay Psalm Book was designed, as much as anything, for domestic singing and private reading – as the title of the third edition suggests (see §2(ii) below). In the same way the early tune supplements were for the benefit of devout singers at home rather than for the church; bass parts were soon found unnecessary. With the singing school movement came the possibility of learning new music in parts, and for this Walter and Tufts prepared their instructional books. When the music was sung in church it was convenient for the singers to have it in the psalm book. The tune appendix of Tufts was itself used as a supplement for editions of psalm books; others had supplements of similar scope, usually (from 1737 onwards) in three parts. Tune supplements were only loosely attached to psalm books. The same supplement was used for different psalm books and vice versa, while most psalm books had no tunes at all. Evidently it was up to the purchaser to order whatever tunes he liked. Very probably the books with tunes were used by the members of the ‘choir’ – those who had rehearsed them in the singing school or psalmody society. The tunes attached to the 1774 Tate and Brady are entitled A New Collection of Psalm Tunes Adapted to Congregational Worship, which might seem to indicate an effort to prevent choirs from monopolizing the singing. But all the tunes in it are in four-part harmony, many are elaborate, and some are of the fully fuging variety. It seems that in some churches tunes of this sort were actually sung by congregations at large. With the disappearance of tune supplements and the flowering of psalmody books after the Revolution, choirs took over an increasing share of the music, singing anthems and set pieces in which nobody could take part without rehearsal. When evangelical hymn singing made its way into churches, congregations could once more take their full part (see Hymn, §IV, 4). However, psalm books (without tunes) continued to appear until after the middle of the 19th century.

(ii) The Bay Psalm Book.

The Bay Psalm Book (1640) was the first English book ever printed in America: 1700 copies were run off on a small press belonging to Harvard College. The compilers, like Barton and Rous in England, eliminated some of the more unusual metres found in the Old Version, thus allowing all 150 psalms to be sung to the few tunes that were at the command of congregations. The collection was thoroughly revised for the third edition of 1651, chiefly by Henry Dunster and Richard Lyon. They polished the versification somewhat and added alternative translations. They further reduced unusual metres, so that 125 (instead of 112) out of 150 psalms were now in common metre; and they added 36 other ‘scripture-songs’, still maintaining the Calvinistic principle that only inspired words were suitable for singing in worship. The new title was The Psalms Hymns and Spiritual Songs of the Old and New Testament Faithfully Translated into English Metre for the Use, Edification, and Comfort of the Saints in Publick and Private, especially in New England. This proved to be the definitive edition. It was reprinted under this title, with scarcely any alterations in the verbal text, for over a century.

When for the first time a tune supplement, printed from wood blocks, was bound in with the ninth edition (1698), the 13 tunes in it, and their basses, were drawn from the 1679 edition of Playford’s Introduction to the Skill of Musick, though the preface and the idea of using sol-fa letters probably come from the 1672 edition of the same book. Lowens has conjectured that the supplement was printed in England as part of a lost London edition of the Bay Psalm Book, but in that case it would surely have been printed from type. The tunes are as set out in Table 1. It is a curious fact that the allocation of ‘Lichfield’ to Psalm lxix, like the rest, is copied from Playford, where it is actually a misprint for xcvi (through printing 69 for 96): the first verse of Psalm xcvi is printed under the tune in Playford. In New England, however, the tune (as a result of this misprint) came to be associated with the real Psalm lxix, the first verse of which is printed with it in editions from 1705 to 1730. Other misprints closely follow Playford, proving the provenance of the tunes beyond doubt.

For the 1705 edition the music was completely reset in a different style, without basses or sol-fa letters but with the first verse of the allocated psalm underlaid. Many of the tunes are transposed up a tone (‘Martyrs’ down a 3rd), a somewhat pointless manoeuvre for unaccompanied singing. The reason was evidently that the 1705 tunes were copied from the 1694 or 1697 edition of Playford, where the same transpositions had been made to bring the tunes into line with Playford’s Whole Book of Psalms (1677). The 13 tunes were reduced to 11 by omitting ‘Hackney’ and ‘Psalm 115’. The printer evidently had little competence in music: there are no clefs, several misprints and ‘Oxford’ has a key-signature of one flat despite transposition to A minor. These mistakes were not corrected until 1726. The next few editions were closely similar to that of 1705, with one other tune, ‘Ten Commandments’ (Frost no.178), appearing in some editions and not others. The tune selection was evidently a standard one in New England, for the 1720 Boston edition of Tate and Brady had the very same 11 tunes in a different order. One British edition of the Bay Psalm Book (Glasgow, 1720), surviving in an incomplete copy, evidently contained a similar selection, printed by James Duncan, printer to the city of Glasgow.

The 1737 edition carries an entirely different tune supplement of a much more ambitious kind, along the lines of Tufts’s and Walter’s books. It has 39 tunes in three-part harmony, with sol-fa letters underlaid. The selection of tunes owes far more to Tufts and Walter than to the previous supplements, reprinting some of their most ‘advanced’ and ornate tunes and such novelties as ‘100 Psalm New’.

Two copies of the 1744 edition are bound up with the Tufts supplement itself, printed from the plates of the 1738 edition. The 1758 edition has Turner’s supplement, first printed with a psalm book of local use only, made by John Barnard, minister of a church in Marblehead. This edition has also a revised text, by Thomas Prince. But the days of the Bay Psalm Book were numbered. A few more editions were still to come, without music, but between 1761 and 1780 the New Version and Watts’s Psalms each appeared in more than ten times as many editions.


  • The Whole Booke of Psalmes Faithfully Translated into English Metre (Cambridge, MA, 1640/R) [The Bay Psalm Book]
  • J. Cotton: Singing of Psalms a Gospel Ordinance (London, 1647)
  • T. Symmes: The Reasonableness of Regular Singing (Boston, 1720)
  • J. Tufts: An Introduction to the Art of Singing Psalm-tunes (Boston, 1721, 3/1723/R)
  • Das neue und verbesserte Gesang-buch (Philadelphia, 1797)
  • G. Hood: History of Music in New England (Boston, 1846)
  • D.D. Demarest: History and Characteristics of the Reformed Protestant Dutch Church (New York, 1856, rev. 4/1889 as The Reformed Church in America)
  • J.S. Curwen: ‘New England Psalmody’ Studies in Worship Music, 1 (London, 1880), 57–63
  • C.W. Baird: Huguenot Emigration to America, 1 (New York, 1885/R), i, 65–77
  • J. Sabin and others: Bibliotheca americana, 16 (New York, 1886), 27–38
  • O. Seidensticker: The First Century of German Printing in America 1728–1830 (Philadelphia, 1893)
  • S. Lothrop Thorndike: ‘The Psalmodies of Plymouth and Massachusetts Bay’, Colonial Society of Massachusetts Publications, 1 (1895), 228–38
  • J.H. Dubbs: ‘History of the Reformed Church, German’, American Church History, 8 (1902), 213–423
  • L.F. Benson: ‘The American Revisions of Watts’s “Psalms”’, Journal of the Presbyterian Historical Society, 2 (1903–4), 18–34, 75–89
  • O.G.T. Sonneck: Francis Hopkinson … and James Lyon (Washington DC, 1905/R)
  • A.H. Messiter: A History of the Choir and Music of Trinity Church, New York (New York, 1906)
  • W. Bentley: The Diary of William Bentley, 2 (Salem, MA, 1914/R)
  • L.F. Benson: The English Hymn (New York, 1915/R)
  • W.S. Pratt: The Music of the Pilgrims (New York, 1921/R)
  • M. van Doren, ed.: Samuel Sewall: Diary (New York, 1927)
  • W.S. Pratt: The Music of the French Psalter of 1562 (New York, 1939/R)
  • H.C. Macdougall: Early New England Psalmody: an Historical Appreciation, 1620–1820 (Brattleboro, VT, 1940)
  • W.W. Sweet: Religion in Colonial America (New York, 1942)
  • D. Wing: A Short-Title Catalogue of Books Printed in England, Scotland and Ireland … 1641–1700 (New York, 1945–51, 2/1972)
  • A.P. Britton: Theoretical Introductions in American Tune-books to 1800 (diss., U. of Michigan, 1949)
  • H.B. Satcher: ‘Music of the Episcopal Church in Pennsylvania in the Eighteenth Century’, Historical Magazine of the Protestant Episcopal Church, 18 (1949), 372–413
  • M. Frost, ed.: English & Scottish Psalm & Hymn Tunes c.1543–1677 (London, 1953)
  • G. Chase: America’s Music, from the Pilgrims to the Present (New York, 1955, 3/1987)
  • L. Ellinwood, ed.: The Charleston Hymnal of 1792 (Charleston, VA, 1956)
  • T.W. Dean: The Organ in Eighteenth Century English Colonial America (diss., U. of Southern California, 1960)
  • I. Lowens: Music and Musicians in Early America (New York, 1964), 25–7
  • T.M. Finney: ‘The Third Edition of Tufts’ Introduction … ’, JRME, 14 (1966), 163–70
  • C.K. Shipton and J.E. Mooney: National Index of American Imprints through 1800 (Worcester, MA, 1969)
  • D.K. Stigberg: Congregational Psalmody in Eighteenth Century New England (diss., U. of Illinois, 1970)
  • G.W. Williams, ed.: Jacob Eckhard’s Choirmaster’s Book of 1809 (Columbia, SC, 1971)
  • N. Temperley: ‘John Playford and the Metrical Psalms’, JAMS, 25 (1972), 331–78
  • R.G. Appel: The Music of the Bay Psalm Book (Cambridge, MA, 1975)
  • V.K. Folgers: ‘The Importance of Psalmody in the Reformed Tradition’, The Hymn, 33 (1982), 79–83
  • A.P. Britton, I. Lowens and R. Crawford: American Sacred Music Imprints 1698–1810: a Bibliography (Worcester, MA, 1990)
  • J.L.H. Brumm,: ‘Coming to America: RCA Hymnals in the 18th and 19th Centuries’, The Hymn, 41 (1990), 27–33 [on hymnbooks of the Dutch Reformed Church]
  • K. Kroeger: ‘Performance Practice in Early American Psalmody’, The Complete Works of William Billings, ed. H. Nathan, 4 (Charlottesville, 1990), xxiii–lxiv
  • C.G. Manns: ‘Psalmody in America to the Civil War’, The Hymnal Companion, ed. R. Glover (New York, 1990), 393–416
  • D.W. Music: ‘The Diary of Samuel Sewall and Congregational Singing in Early New England’, The Hymn, 41/1 (1990), 7–15
  • N.F. Vogan: ‘The Musical Traditions of the Planters and “Mary Miller Her Book”’, Making Adjustments: Change and Continuity in Planter Nova Scotia 1759–1800, ed. M. Conrad (Fredericton, NB, 1991), 247–52
  • N. Temperley: ‘Worship Music in English-Speaking North America, 1608–1820’, Taking a Stand: Essays in Honour of John Beckwith, ed. T.J. McGee (Toronto, 1995), 166–84
  • N. Temperley: ‘First Forty: the Earliest American Compositions’, American Music, 15/1 (1997), 1–25
  • N. Temperley: The Hymn Tune Index (Oxford, 1998)
  • N. Temperley: 'The Bay Psalm Book', The Canterbury Dictionary of Hymnology (online, London and Norwich, 2013)
Tijdschrift van de Vereniging voor Nederlandse muziekgeschiedenis [and earlier variants]
Dublin, Trinity College Library, University of Dublin
Journal of the American Musicological Society
Die Musik in Geschichte und Gegenwart
Journal of Research in Music Education
Die Musik in Geschichte und Gegenwart
Edinburgh, University Library, Main Library
Revue de musicologie
Annales musicologiques
Musical Times
J. Hawkins: A General History of the Science and Practice of Music (London, 1776)
Kassel, Gesamthochschul-Bibliothek, Landesbibliothek und Murhardsche Bibliothek, Musiksammlung
Jahrbuch für Liturgik und Hymnologie
Oxford, Christ Church Library
London, British Library