The Genevan Melodies 

the Melodies 

The melodies of the Genevan Psalter of  1562

The Genevan Psalter has grown in stages: 1539, 1542, 1543, 1551 (1554). Net result 89 Psalms. One had to wait until  1562 for the completion (150 Psalms). Two poets worked on it: Clément Marot (d. 1544) and Théodore de Bèze; Three cantores provided the melodies (tunes): Guillaume Franc, Louis Bourgeois en 'Maistre Pierre' - according to many Pierre Davantès. From 1554 onwards not every new Psalm poem gets a melody of its own. Apparently Bèze composed some of his new psalms using the metrical scheme of an already existing. E.g., Psalm 68 gets the melody of the already existing Psalm 36. Sum total: 125 melodies for 150 Psalms. Most popular: psalm 24 (used thrice, see below)


De complex origins of the Genevan Psalter can still be seen in its melodic material. In the 'end product' the previous stages are still very much present. An overview. I also assembled a list of all Psalms with the date of the first publication and a note if major changes of the melody occurred in the successive editions. You can find this list in my Dutch website dedicated to the Psalms. 

1. Aulcuns pseaulmes et cantiques mys en chant  (Strasbourg 1539)

[Some psalms and songs set to be sung]

This small Strasbourg Hymnbook is the oldest layer of the Genevan Psalter. It was published by John Calvin, who was at the time the Pastor of the French-speaking community of Strasbourg. From the 21 melodies in this booklet only some made it into the final edition of 1562, and none unchanged. The most famous survivor is the melody of Psalm 36, in 1551 re-used for Psalm 68. The melody was composed by the German cantor of Strasbourg  Matthias Greiter and dates from 1525 (it was composed as tune for the German Psalm 119). Who composed the original melodies to a number of Psalm poems by  Marot is not known. 

2. La forme des prières et chants ecclésiastiques (Geneva 1542; augmented and revised in 1543): 

[The Form of Prayers and Church Songs] Melodist Guillaume Franc

In 1542 Calvin was back in Geneva and procured a second impression of his Hymnbook (including some Forms). There were 30 Psalms and a number of tunes from the previous were replaced, some were altered and a number of new melodies was published. The cmoposer and music editor is not mentioned in the booklet, but the Acts of the City reveal a number of specific payments to the cantor of the St. Pierre, Guillaume Franc. Within a year 20 new Psalm poems are added (sum total : 50). Marot was in town and created his second series of Psalm poems. Melodies were provided by Guillaume Franc.  Unfortunately no copy of this edition (text and music) is known. From the text editions both a Paris and a Lyon print have survived the centuries. The earliest appearance of these new melodies are  often  found in polyphonic versions, which begin  to appear after 1545.

3. Pseaumes octante trois de David (Genève 1551  [+ 6 new psalms: 1554])

[Eighty-three Psalms of David] Melodist Loys Bourgeois.

In 1547 Loys Bourgeois became cantor in  Geneva. He is the composer of the first batch of Psalm poems, made by Théodore de Bèze (34). They were printed in 1551. Bourgeois for his part also replaced some of the already familiar tunes with new ones and revised some others. Three years later a reprint is published with six new Psalms poems by Bèze, but without melodies. They have to be sung on the tunes of another Psalm (f.i. psalm 65, to be sung on the tune of ps. 72). For a list see the table at my Dutch website.

4. Les CL Pseaumes de David mis en rime francoise…  (Geneva 1562): 

[The 150 Psalms of David in French rhyme...] Melodist Pierre Davantès.

In the Psalter all 150 Psalms have a melody. Some are used twice, one even thrice. The sum total is 125 different tunes. The last melody-composer (and musical supervisor?) is mentioned with the name 'Maître Pierre’. This probably refers to the very learned cantor of the St. Pierre: Pierre Davantès, who did not live to see the publication.

Recurring melodies

  • 15 Psalm melodies occur twice: 5 + 64, 14 + 53, 18 + 144, 28 + 109, 31 + 71, 33 + 67, 36 + 68, 46 + 82, 51 + 69, 60 + 108, 65 + 72, 74 + 116, 77 + 86, 78 + 90, and 117 + 127.
  • 4 Psalm melodies  occur three times (17 + 63 + 70,30 + 76 + 139,66 + 98 + 118 and 100 + 131 + 142).
  • 1 melody  occurs four times (24 + 62 + 95 + 111).
  • The melody of Psalm 140 is also used for the Decalogue (Lève le coeur), or the otherway round in this case.

Aulcuns Pseaulmes

The ten commandments from the 1539 edition (later replaced by Marot's version: Lève le coeur.)

83 Psalms (1551)

Title page

Psalm 9 (1551)

Psalm 9 from the 1551 edition, procured by Louis Bourgeois

Complete Psalter

Edition by Christophe Plantin (Antwerp) of the complete Psalter in 1565.