From the Committee for the Publication of an Anglo-Genevan Psalter of the Canadian Reformed Churches I received a review copy of their Book of Praise: Anglo-Genevan Psalter. I hereby express my sincere thanks to the Committee, and I gladly comply with their request for a review. Because I deem this publication to be especially significant and worthwhile, I am placing these remarks in the editorial columns of our magazine, rather than in the Book Review section. Before I proceed with this discussion, let me add the information (for any who may wish to purchase this book) that it may be purchased for $3.00 from the following address: Committee for the Publication of the Anglo-Genevan Psalter, P.O. Box 661, Hamilton, Ontario, Canada.
Perhaps I can best acquaint our readers with the origin and nature of this worthwhile publication by quoting some of the introductory material. First of all, I quote the “Preface,” which informs us briefly of the origin and purpose of this book. (By the way, the Canadian Reformed Churches—for such as may not know—are sister churches of the so-called “Liberated Churches” of the Netherlands.) Here follows the explanation given in the preface:
The appearance of the Book of Praise: Anglo-Genevan Psalter is an event of considerable significance in the life of the Canadian Reformed Churches as well as a landmark in the history of psalmody. All 150 Psalms are here published for the first time in English metrical versions that can be sung to the sixteenth-century Genevan melodies.
This book of praise is evidence of the desire of the Canadian Reformed Churches to preserve their rich Calvinist heritage. Already in 1954 their first Synod appointed a committee to study the problems connected with the versification of a Genevan Psalter in the English language. In 1956 this committee published a report entitled Op weg naar een Engelse Reformatorische Psalmbundel, and in 1958 the second Synod appointed a new committee with the mandate to produce an English Psalter according to the guidelines offered in this report. In 1961 a provisional edition of the Book of Praise appeared, followed in 1967 by a Supplement.
The Synod of 1958 also urged that, in addition to the Psalms, “other hymns of the Scriptures” be incorporated in the proposed Psalter. The results can be seen in the Hymns and Paraphrases that follow the Psalms in this edition (61 of them, HCH). The melody of Hymn 45 (the Credo), to which the committee holds the copyright, was composed especially for the Book of Praise by Mr. J. Schouten. The text of Hymns 10, 17, 18, 30, 46, 47, 48, and 49, and the metrical versions of the Psalms are copyrighted as well.
Since the various authors whose work has been adopted for publication are generally not identified in this Psalter, it should be mentioned that in the archives of the committee their individual contributions are duly recorded. To Messrs John Cozens and K. F. Ettinger the committee expresses its thanks for many useful suggestions regarding matters of versification. Grateful acknowledgement is hereby made also to all those who gave permission for the use of their copyright material.
English translations of the Belgic Confession, the Heidelberg Catechism, and the Canons of Dordt—the Reformed doctrinal standards—are included in this edition, along with the ecumenical creeds, prayers, and liturgical forms, for the Book of Praise is intended to serve as the “churchbook” of the Canadian Reformed Churches.
Included in the introductory part of this book is also a section of “Notes on the Genevan Melodies” as follows:
The Psalm melodies can be divided roughly into three groups:
(a) the melodies of the 50 Psalms in the Geneva edition of 1551, for which Clement Marot provided the text. Louis Bourgeois is usually considered to be the composer, but there is as yet no certainty on this point.
(b) the melodies of the 34 Psalms for which Theodore de Beze (Beza) provided the text and which also appeared in 1551. Although the details are not yet clear, it is assumed that Bourgeois composed or edited these tunes as well.
(c) the 40 remaining melodies, which appeared in the completed edition of 1562. They are usually ascribed to a certain Maistre Pierre, but it has not yet been established whether he composed or merely copied them; his identity also remains unsolved.
Since 124 melodies are used for the 150 Psalms, some of them are repeated; 15 melodies occur twice, 4 occur three times, and 1 occurs four times. (Here follows a list of the repeated tunes, HCH)
Eight of the Genevan Psalm melodies have been assigned to ten of the Hymns and Paraphrases. (Here follows another list, HCH)
Furthermore, the Hymns and Paraphrases include six hymn melodies used in the original Genevan Psalters (Here follows a third list, HCH).
Harmonizations (lacking in this book, HCH) of the Genevan melodies are available e.g. in Jac. P. Bekkers and Jac. Kort, Orgelbegeleiding bij het Psalmzingen (The Hague, 1947), and J. Worp, Melodieen der Psalmen en Lofzangen, arranged by George Stam (Groningen, 1956).
(A booklet with harmonizations of the other melodies used in the Book of Praise has also appeared. Those interested in further information are invited to write to the Committee for the Publication of the Anglo-Genevan Psalter.)
To the above I may add that the final section of the book contains the confessions and liturgical forms of the Canadian Reformed Churches. Preceding each of the Three Forms of Unity is a brief statement of the origin and history of each confession. The prayers which occurred in the Dutch Psalmboek are also published; I do not know whether they are in regular use in the Canadian Reformed Churches, however. I may also note: 1) That the language in parts of this section has been modernized somewhat. 2) That the Canadian Reformed Churches use a Form for Public Profession of Faith different from ours. 3) That the Canadian Reformed Churches have a “Form for Excommunication of Members Who Have Not Yet Made Profession of Faith,” something which we do not have among our Liturgical Forms. 4) That the Church Order is not included in this book—a regrettable omission, in my opinion.
The above will furnish our readers with somewhat of an idea of this Book of Praise. If you are interested in these matters, I strongly recommend that you purchase a copy.
And now for some comments.
In the first place, I believe that the Canadian. Reformed Churches are to be congratulated for this accomplishment. They are a rather young denomination, established in Canada (I think there is only one congregation in the U.S.—in Grand Rapids) after World War II. In the space of some twenty years they have produced their own Book of Praise— in fact, their own complete “churchbook.” This in itself, even apart from the contents of the book, is quite an accomplishment. I cannot refrain from expressing a bit of jealousy (and I think it is holy jealousy) when I think of the fact that the work of our Protestant Reformed Psalter Revision Committee and our Committee for a Revised Translation of our Liturgy has fallen by the wayside during that same period. Personally, I am of the conviction that the work of both committees should be revived; and I hope that this accomplishment of the Canadian Reformed Churches will provoke us to emulation!
In the second place,—and this is in reference to thecontents of the Book of Praise itself—the Canadian Reformed Churches are to be congratulated on the publication of a sound, usable, Scriptural, Reformed book of praise. This does not mean that I have checked all of the psalms and hymns in this book for their accuracy and faithfulness to Scripture and the confessions. But this is an over all judgment. And especially in a day when there is a clamor of unholy revisionism with respect to the church’s worship and a clamor for innovations in the music and singing of the church, this is noteworthy and commendable. What you find in this book is “solid stuff!” And this is true both of the metrical versions of the Psalms and of the Hymns and Paraphrases. The material of this book is certainly in the spirit of our rich Calvinistic heritage.
In the third place, this is also true, I believe, from a musical point of view. I am no musician; in fact, for some criticisms from a musical point of view, I had to consult others. But I love good music, and I think I can recognize good music to a degree. And while I am well aware that the Genevan melodies are held in disrepute and even despised by some (These are melodies such as those found in the chorale section of ourPsalter.), I think it cannot be denied that melodies of this kind and caliber represent what is recognized as good music, also outside of Reformed circles. Moreover, it is what I would class as “church music” in distinction from music which does not at all lend itself to the purposes of worship.
I almost hesitate to express any negative criticism in this day when there is in many quarters a totally negative attitude toward the type of work represented in this book. Hence, when I do make a few negative comments, I want it clearly understood that the favorable remarks made above stand.
My negative comments are as follows (and I cannot take the time and space to document them at present; perhaps I can add some details later):
1. Personally, I would not like a steady and exclusive diet of the Genevan melodies. I know our forefathers were limited to this kind of music in the Psalmboek; and I still love some of the Dutch psalms which I learned in my youth, both for their music and their words. But there is other good music, too; and I believe that a Book of Praise for a Reformed church in the 20th century need not be restricted to these 16th century melodies. Perhaps the Canadian Reformed Churches, who are not long out of the Netherlands, can succeed in transplanting the exclusive use of these melodies to Canada; I do not know. But I am convinced that in our churches, for example, it would never work. Whatever demerits our Psalter may have—and it has not a few—I do not believe that it would be practical to cut down the wide variety which we now have to the very limited variety represented in thisBook of Praise. Nor do I believe that to limit a book of praise to these melodies has any special merit.
2. In connection with the preceding, it seems to me that on the whole these are rather heavy, ponderous melodies. Not only does the maxim hold that “variety is the spice of life,” but, in my opinion, there is a lack, for example, of plaintive tunes to go with Psalms which are very definitely plaintive in tone.
3. It is regrettable, in my opinion, that only the melodies are printed in this book, rather than the 4-part music. Is it the intention that there shall be unison singing in congregational worship? If not, it would seem better to print the music in its four parts, especially in this day when so many are able to read music and to sing a part. I would hope that a future edition would include this change.
4. The rhythms of the Genevan melodies as here presented are not above reproach. I find many of them abrupt and unnatural; in our own circles we are more accustomed to singing these tunes as plain chorales. Some of the Genevan melodies can well be sung with half and quarter notes. But many of these tunes would require a goodly amount of practice, and some of them would, I think, never go very smoothly. In some cases, I would prefer the plain chorale; in some cases I would prefer to adjust the rhythm somewhat. And in not a few instances the rhythm and the versification do not fit; this results in incorrect accent of words and faulty emphasis in the thought.
5. One more criticism of the musical aspect—and here I confess that I am over my head, though I understand what is meant. There are no accidentals written in the music. This results in what I would call an unnatural (and also difficult) flow of the music.
Perhaps some of the points criticized above will be the subject of difference of opinion. Perhaps the fact that some of the music appears in this book as it does is due to the fact that the authors adhered strictly to the original Genevan tunes. I know not. But these are my criticisms.
As far as the versifications are concerned, I have the following criticism:
1. Some of the versifications are characterized by rather stilted, awkward language and by forced rhyming. I know that to prepare versifications like this is no easy task; but there is room for improvement. When I compare the versifications in our Psalter, I find these to be, on the whole, warmer, more singable, and smoothly flowing.
2. There is considerable use of the heavier, more mechanical, Latin-derived portion of our English vocabulary. Less of the latter and more of the sparkling, expressive Anglo-Saxon-derived English would be an improvement.
There are deeper questions involved in the production of a Book of Praise such as this. I cannot enter into these in detail at this time. One of these questions; is this when the church of the New Testament, day sings the Psalms, is it necessary and advantageous to sing them literally—almost literalistically—even to the figures of speech? And if the Psalms are rather literally versified, do we not tend to lose our New Testament perspective as we sing them? Is it not true that this “New Testament perspective” on the part of those who sing them must be assumed, rather than being expressed, when we attempt to sing the Psalms rather literally? Moreover, true that when you sing isolated stanzas, you tend to jerk that stanza out of the context of the Psalm—unless, of course, the stanzas are very skillfully composed, and thereby become, I would think, less literal?
But these questions go to the very heart of psalmody and of what constitutes proper psalm-singing by the church of the New Testament. And, by the way, let no one construe these remarks as constituting opposition to Psalm-singing. I am a dedicated Psalm-singer!
But let me end on a positive note. Some of the Psalms in this Book of Praise I found to be especially attractive. Let me mention Psalm 68 and Psalm 81 as examples in which the music and the words are well-suited. And I also want to make special mention of Hymn 47, a paraphrase of Lord’s Day 1.
Once again, congratulations to the Canadian Reformed Churches and especially to their Committee.