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Saturday quotes 2.27: Thanksgiving & Vallet

November 24, 2012

21PsalmsToday, we take a short break from our series on Dowland to acknowledge the Thanksgiving holiday, a time to reflect on the little things that meant a lot.

We also take this opportunity to humbly indulge in one of the little things that keeps the wolf from the door and helps Mignarda remain afloat as a very, very small business, as we mention a brand new edition of music for voice and lute by one of our favorite composers for the instrument, Nicolas Vallet (c1583 – 1642)We are pleased to announce availability of Vallet’s complete Vingt et vn Pseavmes de David (1615), in its first modern edition, offered along with a selection of his beautiful music for solo lute.

Psalm (from Gk. Psalmos; Lat. Psalmus). An ancient Greek term which, though originally meaning a ‘striking’ or ‘plucking’, especially of the strings of a musical instrument, was given to the poems of the Hebrew ‘Book of Praises’…

– Eric Werner: ‘Psalm §I’, The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, ed. S. Sadie and J. Tyrrell (London: Macmillan, 1980), xv, 320-335

From the earliest known appearance of the term psalm, it is defined as a poem of praise sung to the accompaniment of plucked strings.  A ‘cross-platform’ element of  Judaism and Christianity, the Hebrew title for the book of Psalms is Tehillim and individual psalms are referred to as Mizmorim.  Inspired by Martin Luther’s examples, psalm-singing in the vernacular was a hallmark of the 16th century Reformation, the same era that saw a dramatic rise in publication of music for the most popular instrument in domestic use, the lute.

“What is the Psalter, for the most part, but such earnest discourse in all manner of such winds? Where are finer words of gladness than in the Psalms of Praise and Thanksgiving?”

– Martin Luther, Preface to the Revised Edition of the German Psalter (1531)

Jean Calvin’s Pseaumes de David (1562) was the first complete edition of all 150 versified psalms, with texts by Clément Marot and Théodore de Bèze and tunes attributed to Loys Bourgeois, although other plain and polyphonic settings of selected psalms appeared earlier. In 1552, Adrian Le Roy’s Tiers livre de tabulature de luth, contenant vingt & un Pseaulmes initiated what became a very popular trend of printed psalm settings for the lute, arranged as instrumental solos with variations or set for voice and lute, and aimed at domestic audiences. The trend continued well into the 17th century and reached a high level of refinement some 60 years after Le Roy’s initial publication with the settings by Nicolas Vallet, who chose to set the same number of psalms.

Mignarda’s new edition presents Vallet’s settings of twenty-one psalms for voice and lute, originally published as Vingt et vn Pseavmes de David, accommodés pour chanter & jouer de Luth Ensemble (1615), complete, newly transcribed and edited for performance in what we believe to be their first modern edition. The versified French psalm texts by Clément Marot and Théodore de Bèze are given a new literal English translation and presented along with the same texts from the 1611 King James Bible for comparison. Vallet published the very same music under the Dutch title, Een en twintich Psalmen Davids, also in 1615, but we chose the title that more appropriately represents the French texts.  The new edition also includes a selection of instrumental psalm settings by Vallet drawn from Secretum Musarum, 1615 and 1616, as well as music from his ample collection of all 150 psalms, Regia pietas, hoc est Psalmi Davidici (1620).

Vallet’s lute music represents the melding of imitative polyphony of the past with a lightness and delicacy of texture characteristic of French dance music of the early 17th century. The composer’s style masterfully connects performer and listener with the contemplative or joyful mood of the psalm settings; never excessively showy for the sake of shallow virtuosity, but rather challenging the musician to enter into a spirit appropriate to the text. There is a surprising variety in the instrumental accompaniments with sensuous melodic lines, clever use of suspension, intriguing phrasing with frequent enjambment, and variations composed in what modern historians describe as style brisé, a highly nuanced arpeggiation that suggests a denser contrapuntal framework.

We always like to give credit where credit is due, and take this opportunity to acknowledge two separate sources of information we consulted in creating our new edition.  First, a significant amount of highly useful information regarding the psalm versifications of Clément Marot  has generously been made available by independent scholar, Dick Wursten through his website.  We are also pleased to draw your attention to an article by our friend, Susan G. Sandman,”Interpretive Left-Hand Fingerings for Lute in Nicolas Vallet’s Le Secret des Muses (1615)”, Performance Practice Review, Vol. 6 [1993], No. 2, Art. 5: Produced by The Berkeley Electronic Press, 1993 (pdf).

The significance of Vallet’s Vingt et vn Pseavmes de David lies in the refinement and intricacy of the lute accompaniments, evidencing the very high standard of technical ability among typical 17th-century musicians in domestic households, as well as uniquely demonstrating the integration of spiritual life and devotional practice into daily life through psalm-singing.

To check out the specifics, we invite you to visit our website where you will find a sample page from the new edition (click here).  The edition may be supplemented by a version with the lute accompaniment transcribed for keyboard if there is enough interest.  Keyboard players: Let us know.

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