Psalms - intro
Polyphonic Psalms
Psalms for Lute
Psalm 137

Psalms accompanied by Lute

and even guitar and cither

Pierre Certon (Morlaye) and Adrian Le Roy

"In mid-16th-century France the pious middle classes and even on occasion the worldly courtiers were wont to sing psalms in elegant French translations by the court poet, Clément Marot. Since Marot had not made his translations for narrow sectarian reasons, both Catholics and Protestants used them, either for devotional purposes in their own homes, or for their own edification, singing the simple straightforward tunes to which the translations had been set, either monophonically or accompanied with lute, guitar, harpsichord, or some other similar instrument. Even though numerous notices recommend or describe the practice of singing psalms and other "sainctes chansonettes" to the lute, no collection of this sort appeared in print until 1552 [not true, see below, DW], when Adrian Le Roy published his Tiers livre de tabulature de luth, contenant vingt & un Pseaulmes, Le tout selon le subjet. This was two years before Guillaume Morlaye published his intabulations for voice and lute of the psalms à 4 by Pierre Certon, Psaumes de Pierre Certon réduits pour chant et luth par Guillaume Morlaye (1554), the only other collection of psalms with lute printed in France in the 16th century."

Howard Mayer Brown                     

NOTE: modern editions:
- Adrian Le Roy: Psaumes. Tiers livre de tabulature de luth (1552); Instruction (1574). Edition and transcription by Richard de Morcourt. (Paris: Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, 1962) (Pss. 1, 3, 5, 9, 14, 19, 24, 33, 43, 46, 50, 72, 91, 101, 104, 113, 114, 128, 130, 137, 143)

- Psaumes de Pierre Certon réduits pour chant et luth par Guillaume Morlaye (1554). Historical Introduction by François Lesure; Transcription and Commentary by Richard de Morcourt. (Paris Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, Paris, 1957). (Pss. 6, 32, 33, 2, 13, 130, 114, 143, 137, 46, Simeon, 3) -- The 1555 edition (Cinquante Pseaulmes... Pierre Certon publ. LeRoy/Ballard ) contains all Marot Psalms and Canticles. 

Christopher Dalitz (see below) informed me that the original psalm books for voice and lute by Morlay (1554) and Le Roy (1552) have been made available by the Bavarian State Library (BSB):

titlepage (premier livre) psalm 3 (tiers livre)
Lade Bild... Sollte hier kein Bild erscheinen, wenden Sie sich bitte an: Lade Bild... Sollte hier kein Bild erscheinen, wenden Sie sich bitte an:


Lute - continued

HOWEVER, before Certon/Morlaye and Adrian Le Roy published these intabulations for lute, already some had appeared in print in Lyon:

  •  1547 - Tabulature de lutz, en diverses formes de Fantasie, Bassedances, Chansons, Pavanes, Pseaulmes, Gaillardes. Composées par divers musiciens, & entablées, selon le jeu du lutz par M. Francescho Bianchini venetiano. Lyon, J. Moderne. [RISM 1547/27 - Pogue, p.197]. Three Psalms are present: 
    • f° 18 In domino confido [ps. 11, Veu que du tout en Dieu] A. Mornable
    • f° 20 Domini est terra [ps. 24, La terre au Seigneur appartient] A. Mornable
    • f° 22 Benedic anima mea dominum [ps. 104, Sus, sus mon ame] P. Certon


For people familiar with the way vocalmusic was treated in the 16th-17th century, it will come as no surprise that there are many more to be found. Just to mention some:

  • Eustache du Caurroy: Fantaisies (publ. 1610), several (of the 43, how many?) are based on Psalm melodies
    • These phantasies can be played on lute, but are basically instrumental.
      Just listen to Psalm 46 (Hesperion XX)
  • Nicolaes Vallet:  Een en twintich Psalmen Davids (1615): 21 Psalms for voice and lute
    • fragment from Ps. 69 (Peter Söderberg - Lute) lute and voice:
  • Nicolaes Vallet: Regia pietas, hoc est Psalmi Davidici (1620): all (150) Psalms with variations for lute solo
    • (J.-M. Poirier transcribed the tablature of Ps. 130 in PDF, click here to download) 
    • The Complete Works of Nicolaes Vallet are published in facsimile, ed. L.P. Grijp (Utrecht: Dutch Lute Society, 1986-1992)

    In another collection (Secretum Musarum, the secret of the Muses, 1615, f° 22) Vallet also published a lute-intabulation of "A Ton bras droit" (= Psalm 110, verse 5), based on the composition by Claude Lejeune (last Psalm in the Dodecacorde). On the CD Psaumes et Chansons de la Réforme Eric Bellocq supposedly plays this piece (track 22). However this is not the case. In reality he plays "Quand on arrestera la course coutumiere" (Secretum Musarum f° 21), also a composition of Claude Lejeune (no psalm but an Octonaire de la vanité et inconstance du Monde). Discovery made with the help of Christoph Dalitz (see below).

The German translation of the Marot/Bèze Psalter by Ambrosius Lobwasser, also created a - albeit contested - popularity of the Geneva melodies, resulting - of course - in music. Vallet also was aware of the German market since he provided the titles in four languages (in this order!): Latin, French, German, Dutch. Clearly aiming at the German market we find:

  • Matthaeus Reymann, Cythara Sacra sive psalmodiae davidis as usum testudinis (Cologne, 1613)
  • Daniel Laelius, Testudo Spritualis continens Psalmos Davidis, juxta melodias Gallicas sive Lobwasseri ad
    testudinis usum non ineleganti modo accommodatos
    (Arnhem, 1617).


And even in the 21st century this tradition continues

This is a collection of six two part ricercars having a cantus firmus in the lower part that is taken from the 16th century Genevan psalter. The countersubject is related to the cantus firmus through polyphonic imitation. both these vocal versions (for alto and tenor) and the arrangements for Renaissance lute (with the idiomatic divisions and embellishments) can be found and downloaded under creative commons copyright from the site of the composer: Here one hears psalm 5:






Psalm 2 and two versions of Psalm 137 arranged for guitar are even older than the lute intabulations mentioned above: They are part of

troysieme livre
contenant plusieurs Duos, et

Trios, avec la bataille de Ianequin a trois,
nouvellement mis en tabulature de Guiterne, par
Simon Gorlier, excellent joueur

And even better: You can hear it:


And for cither: Adrian Le Roy, Second livre de Cistre, contenant les Commandemens de Dieu: Six Pseaumes de David (Paris: le Roy &
Ballard, 1564): (The six psalms are: 1, 3, 33, 72, 79, 138)


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