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Early Reformation Settings of Psalm 130 (Part 4)

This entry is part 4 of 6 in the series

"A History of Psalm 130 in Music"

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Our series on the history of Psalm 130 in music led us last week to the pinnacle of Renaissance polyphony (via Lassus) and the dawn of the Reformation (via Martin Luther).

The Reformation rightly saw that singing needed to return to the hands of the congregation of saints. While this led to some innovations in the music to better implement congregational singing, we saw, particularly with Luther, that the spirit of Psalm 130 rung true in his paraphrased (and highly theological) version of Psalm 130.

So it was in France as well. Louis Bourgeois (c. 1510-1560)((Bourgeois is the composer of the tune “Old 100th,” to which we sing the doxology and “All People that on Earth Do Dwell.”)), Guillaume Franc , and Pierre Davantès are among the predominant composers of the tunes for the Genevan Psalter. Enter Claude Goudimel (c. 1520-1572), an Italian music teacher who joined the Reformed Huguenot movement in France in 1562 and thereafter harmonized the metered psalms of Clement Marot, Theodore Beza, and others. Goudimel’s chief “innovation” was placing the melody in the top part. He would later be among the Huguenots slaughtered in the St. Bartholomew Day Massacre in 1572.

The melody and harmonization is simple and sober, once again well representing the text. Here is a rendering of his setting of Bourgeois’ tune for the metered version Psalm 130, “re-translated” into English.

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The Scottish and English speaking Reformation was influenced by this trend towards Psalms in Geneva. In fact, it is clear from the 1621 psalter of Thomas Ravenscroft that English-speaking persons were familiar with the French version of Psalm 130. The Scottish Psalter of 1635 used the same French tune sung in the example above for Psalm 130 (see pp 194-5). As far as the words to the Scottish Psalter, John Knox put together his own brief psalter of 51 psalms in the 1550’s. This led to a full Scottish Psalter published in 1564. The English paraphrase of the 1635 version is:

1 Lord, unto thee I make my moan,
when dangers me oppress;
I call, I sigh, complain, and groan,
trusting to find release

2 Hearken, O Lord, to my request,
unto my suit incline,
And let thine ears, O Lord, be pressed
to hear this prayer of mine

3 O Lord our God, if thou survey
our sins, and them peruse,
Who shall escape? Or who dare say,
I can myself excuse

4 But thou art merciful and free,
and boundless in thy grace,
That we might always careful be
to fear before thy face

5 In God the Lord I put my trust,
my soul waits on his will;
His promise is for ever just,
and I hope therein still

6 My soul to God hath great regard,
wishing for him always;
Much more than they that watch and ward
to see the dawning day

7 O Israel, trust in the Lord,
with him there mercy is,
And he doth plenteously afford
redemption unto his.

8 E’en he it is that Israel shall,
through his abundant grace,
Redeem from his offences all,
and wholly them deface.

I’ll close this week with one final example of a musical setting of Psalm 130, returning again to high culture and the continent. Heinrich Schutz (1585-1672) was educated by Gabrieli (who, you may remember, put together his own version of Psalm 130) and worked as court composer for the Elector of Saxony in Dresden. It was while in Dresden that he composed this work. Schutz’s setting of Psalm 130 is in Gerrman (Aus der Tiefe ruf ich, Herr, zu dir), but is not the Martin Luther paraphrase (mentioned last week). His text is a straight-forward translation of Psalm 130 into the German followed by a Gloria Patri. If you take the time to sit and listen to the music with the words, you will find Schutz’s setting very apt, expressing vividly the sense of the Psalm:

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Next week we look at what is perhaps my favorite setting of Psalm 130.

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Ryan Martin

About Ryan Martin

Ryan Martin is pastor of the First Baptist Church of Granite Falls, Minnesota. Prior to that, he served as the associate pastor of Bethany Bible Church in Hendersonville, North Carolina. He is on the board of directors of Religious Affections Ministries. Ryan received his undergraduate degree at Northland Baptist Bible College, and has received further training from Central Baptist Theological Seminary of Minneapolis, Minn. (M.Div., 2004; Ph.D., 2013). He was ordained in 2009 at Bible Baptist Church of Elk River, Minn. (now Otsego, Minn.). He has a wife and children too. Ryan is the associate editor of Hymns to the Living God (Religious Affections Ministries, 2017). He contributed to the Jonathan Edwards Encyclopedia (Eerdmans, 2017) and is the author of Understanding Affections in the Theology of Jonathan Edwards: "The High Exercises of Divine Love" (T&T Clark, 2018).

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