Met erkenning aan die bron plaas ek die inligting hier onder oor die Geneefse Psalter, spesifiek vanuit die nuwe publikasie, The New Genevan Psalter.  Dit lyk of daar geleidelik ‘n al groter wordende belangstelling is om weer die Psalms in die eredienste te sing, en hierdie boek sal ook help vir Engelsprekende gelowiges spesifiek.

Die inleiding en voorwoord tot die boek gee egter ook goeie inligting oor die belangrikheid om Psalms te sing, asook oor die Geneefse wysies, wat ons as Afrikaanssprekende Psalmsingers baie van kan leer. Vir iemand soos ek wat baie lief is vir musiek, maar nie veel musiek kennis het nie, is hierdie twee artikels hier onder ook van groot waarde.  Hopelik sal alle gelowiges meer erns maak met ons sang in die erediens, die inhoud en die wysies is albei belangrik, want dit gaan bo alles oor die verheerliking van die Here, daarom dat dit ‘n ere-diens is.

Hier is die voorwoord tot die harmonisering van die Psalms:

Instrumental music is not required in reformed worship services and neither are animal offerings. The Bible clearly shows that God requires our heart-felt offerings in our worship services, that is the fruit of lips (Heb 13:15; Hosea 14:1,2; Psalm 19:14; etc.). Such offerings are brought with the God given instrument, namely the human voice-box (see appendix for an article on “Music in Reformed Liturgy”).

Congregational singing in reformed liturgy is the orderly reaction of believers presenting song-offerings that were born by the Spirit, welling up from the heart and responding to the redemptive acts of God (S. Greydanus, Korte Verklaring).

Singing in Unison

During the Great Reformation, John Calvin in Geneva acknowledged that versification of Bible songs would best enable all believers to actively participate in the public worship services. Under his guidance and encouragement the divinely inspired songs in the Book of Psalms as well as other Bible songs were versified. One melody for multiple verses of each song were composed during the mid 1500’s to reflect the content and character of each entire song.

These melodies enabled all believers to join-in and make the orderly song-offerings possible during the worship services. Their unique, flowing melodies for congregational singing in unison, require no musical training. Moreover they encourage and stimulate believers to participate in this responsive nature of the reformed public worship services.


The melodies are characterized not only by their suitability for congregational use. They are written in nine of the age-old twelve ‘church modes’ that had developed in the Western world since the fifth century. These gave birth to the two popular keys of today, the major and minor. Overall, these modes generally show an absence of tension that is so prevalent in major and minor keys. Moreover, the Genevan tunes use only two note values as well as one note for each syllable (half and quarter notes). The melodies never start on an upbeat, but always with one or more long notes (half notes). They never show intervals greater than a fifth except for an occasional octave interval between sentences. For more information on ‘modes’ please refer to my paper on Tunes of the Anglo- Genevan Psalter 2005, ISBN 0-9737275-1–9, or the Notes in my The Hymns 1990 and Organ Offertories 1990 (Inheritance Publications, Neerlandia, AB T0G 1R0).

The tunes also reflect the free-flowing rhythm of the Hebrew language of these poetic songs. Their musical style appears timeless as well as linked to the early christian churches and likely even to the music used in the synagogues of earlier times [Fulfil Your Ministry, Dr.K.Deddens, Premier Publ. p.105; for more detailed information see also my booklet, Genevan Tunes, an updated version (2013) of the first part of my paper under the title “Tunes of the Anglo-Genevan Psalter” (2005)].

Tempo and Rhythm

The melodies are not metrical (no bars), but rhythmic. They have a natural, flowing pulse rhythm with the beat on the longer of the two note values. In summary, the tunes are simple but not simplistic, unique but not difficult, easy but not repetitive, comforting but not boring, mood reflective but not sentimental, uplifting but not frenzied, rhythmic but not metric.

Chorales are usually composed for four-voice choirs, but this keyboard collection of the 150 Psalms is particularly written to accompany congregational singing in unison. The harmonies are simple and easy to play. The distance between voices is kept to less than an octave. The base line represents the ongoing beat or pulse which is between 40-70 per minute depending on the content of the song, the culture and the customs of the congregation.

The proclamation of God’s Word on the sabbath redirects our lives to observe God’s day, to rest from our evil works and so to make a beginning of the eternal sabbath. The responsive singing is not only the required offering, but it also helps to slow down the believers’ average heart beat, which is between 60 and 70 beats per minute for a person at rest. ‘Concertizing’ these melodies, and their use in the past with only long notes, has possibly contributed to feeling the beat on every syllable instead of on the long notes only.

Instrumental accompaniment

The sole purpose of instrumental music in a reformed worship service is to serve the peoples’ offering of the ‘fruit of lips’. Short preludes are added to properly identify the song, its rhythm and its pitch. These ensure that every member of the congregation starts at the same time, especially when a rest, equal to a full-pulse-beat, is observed. This allows everyone to inhale before starting. Short postludes allow a musical closure. Any other music was added to simply fill a page.

Repeated notes in the melodies are never to be tied. Other repeated notes may be tied at the player’s discretion. This depends on the song, the tempo and the need of the congregation. Therefore, ties are not shown in chorales. On a large keyboard instrument, of course, the melody can be played with a solo voice and the bass-line on a clear, strong pedal. Tying melody notes displays a lack of respect and sloppiness.

This collection would not have been possible without the computer know-how of my son James. I owe him my thanks for allowing me, a computer-illiterate eighty-two year old, to be productive, for he set up the program and helped me out. Whenever I was at my wit’s end, he managed to get me back on track.

The purpose of making these harmonizations available is to encourage the unison singing of the Genevan tunes. These accompaniments may appear simple, but when they promote and improve the intended rhythm, pulse and tempo of these long-lasting melodies for congregational singing, their goal has been reached. When congregations catch on to the correct rhythm and speed, with the pulsating beat on the long notes, the unison singing will also feel more flowing, lighter, quicker and more natural.

Preface  (geskiedenis agtergrond van die berymde Geneefse Psalms)

John Calvin wrote these magnificent words in the preface to the Psalter he published in 1543:

As for public prayers, there are two kinds: the one consists simply of speech, the other of song…. And indeed, we know from experience that singing has great strength and power to move and to set on fire the hearts of men in order that they may call upon God and praise him with a more vehement and more ardent zeal. It is to be remembered always that this singing should not be light or frivolous, but that it ought to have weight and majesty…. Now, what Augustine says is true, namely that no one can sing anything worthy of God which he has not received from him. Therefore, even after we have carefully searched everywhere, we shall not find better or more appropriate songs to this end than the Psalms of David, inspired by the Holy Spirit. And for this reason, when we sing them, we are assured that God puts the words in our mouth, as if he himself were singing through us to exalt his glory.

When John Calvin arrived in Geneva in 1536 there was no congregational singing in the worship service. Before the Protestant Reformation, laypersons were expected to stand mute as the music was given to the priests and cantors. The clergy sang long-winded Latin sequences that were incomprehensible to the people. Under the influence of the reformers the church in Geneva had banned all music from worship so that there was no singing at all.

Calvin and other ministers, concerned about a coldness of worship, tried unsuccessfully to introduce congregational singing of Psalms for the edification of the people and the praise of God.

“…this singing ought to have weight and majesty…”

In 1538 Calvin left Geneva for Strasbourg, where he served a French refugee congregation for about three years and where the German Protestant congregations had, by this time, been singing the Psalms for about a decade. While in Strasbourg Calvin began to develop a French Psalter, and in 1539 he published Aulcuns pseaulmes et cantiques mys en chant, a songbook of nineteen Psalms and two canticles, the Ten Commandments and the Song of Simeon. A metrical version of the Apostles’ Creed was also included. Six of the Psalms were from Calvin’s hand while thirteen had been composed by Clement Marot, the distinguished poet laureate of the court of King Francis I of France.

When Calvin returned to Geneva he continued to develop the Psalter. He and the other ministers of Geneva pursued the matter of congregational singing, and this time they were successful. The following, dated 1541, was recorded in the minutes of the church council:

It will be desirable to introduce songs in order the better to incite people to prayer and to the praise of God. To begin with, the little children shall be taught, and then in course of time the whole church will be able to follow.

At last, in 1562, after several other editions (1542, 1543, 1551), the Psalter was complete. It included 49 texts prepared by Clement Marot and 101 from the hand of Theodore Beza, scholar and professor in Geneva. Calvin had withdrawn his own contributions, deferring to these two superior poets. This Psalter became a bestseller in Europe: thousands of printings rolled off dozens of presses. Calvin’s songbook was eagerly embraced by Protestants, and even by many Roman Catholics who were happy to be able to sing the Psalms.

“…thousands of printings rolled off dozens of presses…”

The peculiar beauty of the Psalter has always been found in its extensive variety of tunes, simple rhythm, fascinating modes, and complex rhyme schemes. The “Genevan tunes” were mostly new compositions by musicians such as Guillaume Franc, Louis Bourgeois, and “Maître Pierre,” whose real name was probably Pierre Davantès. Although it was Calvin’s wish that each Psalm should have its own unique melody, this goal was not achieved. The Psalter contains 125 different tunes, some being used for more than one Psalm. Several tunes, for example, Psalm 80 and Psalm 141, were borrowed from Gregorian chants. The rhythm of the songs is simple; it consists of two values, half and quarter notes. The pulse, or tactus, falling on the half note should be about the same as the resting heart rate of an adult.

Rather than major and minor keys, nine different modes are used for the tunes (see the list on pages vii-viii). The most common mode is the Dorian, which is the scale “D” to “D” using only the white keys. The complex rhyme scheme includes more than 100 stanza structures and over thirty rhyme patterns. This is quite different from Psalters that rely heavily on common and long metres. Because Calvin intended the songs to be primarily for the congregation rather than a choir, the intervals between the notes are small and each tune is within an octave. He insisted that the congregation sing in unison to emphasize that God’s people sing praise to the Lord with one voice, and so the Psalter did not have the music in various voices.

A single line of music, rather than four parts as is common in almost all contemporary North American hymnals, might look odd to some, but it has been maintained in this Psalter to be true to Calvin’s original intent of unison singing. However, harmonies for home and choir were composed for all the Psalms by Claude Goudimel, a composer of Calvin’s time, and are still readily available. The impact the Genevan Psalter has had on the worship of Reformed churches cannot be overstated. Although published 450 years ago, the Genevan Psalter has been consistently used by churches throughout the world and is growing in popularity. Throughout the centuries it appeared in many European languages as well as in Latin, Malay, Afrikaans, and Tamil. In recent decades new versions have been produced in Asia—in Korea, Japan, and Indonesia.

“…the Genevan Psalter is growing in popularity…”

The Canadian Reformed Churches have published several English versions of the Genevan Psalter, the first complete edition appearing in 1972. The aim of the current revision was to improve the songs’ literary quality and to bring them into greater harmony with the biblical text.  As such it is not a translation of the original sixteenth-century French version but a new poetic rendering of the entire Book of Psalms and of the four canticles long associated with the Genevan Psalter, the Ten Commandments and the Songs of Mary, Zechariah, and Simeon. Much of it is the work of Dr. William Helder. For complete authorship and copyright information, see pages 374-75. The text of the songs found in the New Genevan Psalter was adopted by the 2013 General Synod of the Canadian Reformed Churches for their songbook, Book of Praise.

In response to the ever-increasing interest in and appreciation for this precious legacy of John Calvin, it was thought good to publish a new English Psalter without the specifically Canadian Reformed elements that are included in the Book of Praise. With gratitude to our God we present the New Genevan Psalter to the English-speaking church. May our God be “enthroned on the praises of Israel” (Psalm 22:3) through the use of this book. To him alone be the glory, now, and forever!

George van Popta

General Editor

Sien ook die volgende:



Press Reviews

(Sien veral by die ‘Heidelblog‘ resensie, aan die einde van die artikel die verskillende bronne oor die Psalms, gereformeerde kerkmusiek, geneefse wysies, ens.).

Met die koms van die ‘alternatiewe wysies’ het baie van die rykdom van die Geneefse wysies verlore gegaan, sien hierdie artikels daaroor:

Die Musiek van die Afrikaanse Gesangboek

Ons Psalm- en Gesangboek

Met Hart en Mond

– Kriteria van die Reformasie soos opgestel deur Calvyn waaraan die Psalm melodieë moes voldoen

Totius en die Psalmmelodieë

Hier kan die Geneefse wysies afgelaai word in mp3 formaat: Genevan Psalter

In Afrikaans, sien hier vir beide Geneefse en ‘alternatiewe’ wysies van die Psalms: Psalmbegeleiding


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