You can’t wander far in articles and discussions about Reformed church music without stumbling across references to the Genevan Psalter. Indeed, we’ve even devoted a page to this songbook here on URC Psalmody. In that article I explained, “The Genevan Psalter was groundbreaking in numerous ways. Within the Reformation, it was one of the first, if not the first, complete book of psalms in the common language of the congregation. It was revolutionary in that it used contemporary tunes, remaining reverent yet accessible to the singers. And its unique style of harmonization has become standard practice through more than four centuries of hymn-writing.”
The Genevan Psalter is also important because it formed the basis for the Dutch psalm-singing tradition we in the United Reformed Churches in North America have inherited. In his introduction to the Genevan Psalter, David Koyzis says:
The Genevan Psalter would come to exert a considerable influence on the liturgical life of Reformed churches elsewhere as well. A Reformed minister in the Low Countries, Petrus Dathenus (Pieter Datheen, 1531-1588), in addition to translating the Heidelberg Catechism, versified the psalms in the Dutch language only four years after their publication in French. Thereafter his rhymed psalms became the dominant liturgical psalter until a new, Enlightenment-influenced version was introduced in 1773 by the States General of the United Netherlands.… To this day some 30 Reformed congregations in the province of Zeeland hold fast to Dathenus’ version.
It was this same Dutch Psalter, in a very similar form, that came across the ocean with the first Dutch settlers in Michigan and formed the musical repertoire of the Christian Reformed Church until the early 1900s. (This ties in with yesterday’s post about the history of the CRC.) And a number of the Genevan tunes are included in our own blue Psalter Hymnal.
In appreciation of this rich musical heritage, I present to you today’s Featured Recording. It’s a stirring rendition of Psalm 42, known to us by way of Psalter Hymnal number 74 (“As the Hart, About to Falter”), but sung here in Dutch. This is probably one of the most beloved Genevan tunes, even today, and you’ll understand why once you listen to it!