Database of sheet music (Psalm settings)


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). At first sight this seems  remarkable, but on the other hand: Clément Marot (the poet) was a 'cult-figure' at  the French court (prince des poètes français). He  had published them as literary texts in the early 1540s. So why not? 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 and became ecclesial.

So, by nature these musical settings are extra-liturgical, and are best performed in small ensembles. Indeed: the earliest even pre-date the hymnbooks: 'Abel' and 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), 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 yet. 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 !


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

Clément Marot
Psalterium (Dutch)