Psalms set to music (16th Century)


In the 16th century lots of composers have set French psalm poems to music: sometimes simple - there are bicinia  (Le Jeune), trios, but generally 4vv - but also more complex: from embellished counterpoint to complete polyphonic motets (up to 8 voices). This might seem remarkable for what we perceive as calvinist hymns, but it's not: Clément Marot (the poet, versifier) was a 'cult-figure' at  the French court (prince des poètes français) and his Psalm poems were a 'must-read' in those days. He  had published them as literary texts in the early 1540s. It was only when Calvin (the Genevan pastor) adopted these texts to be sung - unisono and unaccompanied - in church services, they got their proper melodies/tunes and became ecclesial/lilturgical.

So, these musical settings are extra-liturgical, and are best performed by small ensembles. The earliest compositions even pre-date Calvin's hymnbooks: psalm 137 set to music by 'Abel', and ps. 130 by Appenzeller. They are part of the private music practice, at homes and courts. To be performed, sung, with or  without instruments; or even completely instrumental. In the 16th century that was almost always 'up to the musicians to decide'. Audio-examples added to some biographies illlustrate this. Some (many) of the composers don't use the Genevan tunes (for example: Hubert Waelrant, but also Louis Bourgeois the melody-composer himself, and even Claude Goudimel in his compositions in motet-form), some use other psalm poems then the ones made by Théodore de Bèze (for example : Jambe de Fer), simply because Bèze had not finished his versifications at that time. For more info, there is a Very Short History on this site.

Using the button Sheet Music you will find (an ever growing - I hope) number of these music partitions all belonging to that lively, rich, and 'cross-confessional' (proto-ecumenical?) musical culture of the 16th century. I also added  short biographies of the composers to sketch the context.

I am not an editor, or a musicologist, simply an 'amateur'. I collected these transcriptions and/or collated them. I share them with you 'as they are'. 

Enjoy !


List of composers who set Psalms to music. Hyperlinks both to short biographies and sheet music - if available:

Andreas Pevernage  [bio | score]
Antoine (de) Mornable  [bioscore]
Benedictus Appenzeller  [bioscore]
Claude Goudimel  [bioscore]
Claude Le Jeune  [bioscore]
Jacob Clemens non papa  [bio | score]
Clément Janequin  [bioscore]
Gentian  [bioscore]
Hubert Waelrant  [bioscore]
Jean Cauléry [bioscore]
Jean Louys  [bioscore]
Louis Bourgeois  [bioscore]
Orlando di Lasso  [bioscore]
Pascal de L'Estocart  [bioscore]
Philibert Jambe de Fer  [bioscore]
Pierre Certon  [bio | score]
Guillaume Morlaye  bio | score]
Pierre de Manchicourt  [bioscore]
Philippe de Monte  [bioscore]
Thomas Champion  [bioscore]


For info about the origin of these Psalms (texts, poets, score):

Clément Marot
Psalterium (Dutch)