Goostly psalmes and spirituall songes

Some time ago I announced a new edition of what, in shorthand, can be called the first English hymnal: Coverdale’s Goostly psalmes and spirituall songes of 1535. The edition is still in preparation, in the midst of a fresh study of the underlay of the complete English and multiple versions of the German texts, which is further resolving the distribution of some melismata and some questionable rhythmic readings in Coverdale. This effort has been spurred by the quite practical challenges inherent in performing Coverdale’s spiritual songs as I will do in the following:

Concert series

St David’s Episcopal Church

Martin Luther himself was an avid amateur musician and particularly a fan of the music of Josquin. Lutheran practice in many places allowed for and promoted the use of elaborated music alongside simple congregational song. Indeed in 1524 – just when the very first melody-only collections of Protestant vernacular religious song were being published – Johann Walter published the first edition of his Geystliche gesangk Buchleyn, a collection of polyphonic settings of such song (indeed this is the first known source for some of the melodies in question). Walter continued to write and published several more editions of his work; other composers such as Hellinck, Senfl, Ducis, and Finck also turned their attention to making polyphonic settings of these songs, and in 1544 a large collection thereof, Newe Deudsche Geistliche Gesenge..., was published. Though the latter was explicitly intended for use in the Latin schools which the Lutheran Reformers established, its contents no doubt found their way into church services alongside the Latin-texted motets, Magnificat settings, and other polyphony used in conjunction and alternation with choral Latin-texted and congregational German-texted chant, since the school choirs supplied such music for services.

The organ was used in similar ways, and by the end of the sixteenth century we have substantial organ chorale settings by composers such as Hieronymus Praetorius, Michael Praetorius, and Johann Steffens. A number of North German organists of the next generation, most prominent among them Hieronymus’s sons Jacob and Johann; Heinrich Scheidemann; and Samuel Scheidt studied with the renowned organist-composer Sweelinck in Amsterdam and returned to Germany to create chorale-based organ works of great length, complexity, and beauty. This tradition continued through several more generations among composers such as Weckman, Reincken, Tunder, Buxtehude, Bruhns, and Lübeck, as well as being one stream that fed the mighty river of Bach’s output.

This series of concerts will present most of the songs found in Coverdale’s book in various combinations of unaccompanied melody, simple harmonization from collections of the period, vocal polyphonic settings (all sung with Coverdale’s texts), and settings for organ. I am very pleased to be joined by the choirs of St David’s under the direction of David Stevens for this project.