Metrical Psalm Singing Development
As Illustrated by Psalm 19

We have been intending for some time to post a history of the singing of metrical psalms, and we still intend to do so. However, straight history can be quite dry without something to bring it to life. The purpose of this page is to illustrate the history of metrical psalms by looking at versions of a single psalm along with tunes that we can either demonstrate were used with that psalm version around the time it first appeared, or at least tunes that appeared at about the same time as the psalm version.

Note: the Psalm version links on this page will launch the text of the Psalm in a separate copy of your browser. You might want to arrange the two copies of your browser side-by-side.

The oldest metrical version of Psalm 19 that we we have on this web site is from the Sternhold and Hopkins (or "Day's" Psalter). 

Here is Psalm 19 from Sternhold and Hopkins

We do not have a copy of the Sternhold and Hopkins psalms that includes music or tune recommendations, so we cannot know for certain which tune or tunes were generally used with this version.

However, there are several tunes from the original Day's Psalter that are still in use today. Here are two of them:

St. Flavian, played at a very slow tempo.
This tune has a majestic, reverent flavor that seems well suited to the dignity and majesty that should be associated with Psalm 19.

Old 137th (very slow tempo) (CMD)
Psalm tunes that carry names such a "Old 137th" are tunes from the original Geneva Psalter. In their day they were criticized because John Calvin had hired secular composers to write them, and they were often irreverently called "Geneva Jiggs," or "Beza's Ballets."
     The very slow tempo of this version of the tune is the way this tune is played in at least one local Psalm-singing congregation in our area. We do not know if it is typical of how this is used elsewhere, or of how it was originally sung. Here is a slightly speeded up version:
Old 137th (slightly speeded up)

We intend to continue this study later this week. This is a relatively uncertain territory for us, so we will be researching each portion as best we can. If you can provide information, or correction, relevant to this study we would welcome your help or criticism. One practice that particularly puzzles us is the practice of naming tunes after saints. As we understand the thinking of the leading reformers, they wanted to put the practices of the Roman church as far from them as they could, and yet the use of terms such as "Saint so-and-so" is distinctly Roman in origin.

We are currently drawing most of our information and tunes from two sources:

"The Book of Psalms in Metre and the Scottish Hymnal, with Accompanying Tunes, Published for use in Churches by Authority of the General Assembly, the Harmonies of the Tunes Revised by W. H. Monk"  Edinburgh: Thomas Nelson and Sons, 1880
     This is a "split leaf" book, with tunes on the top and words below, with the pages split so that they can be turned independently. It generally recommends at least three tunes for each set of words.

"The Revised Northern Psalter" edited by William Carnie, Aberdeen, Edition of 1900.  This charming little volume contains only the tunes, and the words of one verse of a psalm with which to practice the tune.  It also contains a nice list of recommended tunes for each psalm.

We have heard that there is an excellent version of the Scottish Psalter that has been fairly recently published in Scotland. It supposedly contains a good selection of tunes of recent composition, along with indexes of the "style" of both tunes and Psalms (i.e.: Jubilant, penitent, etc.) to assist in matching tunes to words. We are actively seeking to acquire a copy of this Psalter, so if anyone can help us locate a copy of a Psalter that matches this description we will be very grateful.


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Page last modified on: 07/29/2004