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Psalms in Church and at Home

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"If Any of You Be Mery Let Hym Synge Psalmes"

Psalms in Church and at Home

The New Testament of ovr Lord Iesvs Christ. Bound with: The Whole booke of Psalmes. London, ca. 1610

It is hard to overestimate the importance of psalm singing in early modern England. Chanted Latin psalms had played an essential part in Roman Catholic worship, but with the coming of the Reformation, metrical psalms in the English vernacular were introduced for congregational singing. Psalm books became treasured possessions of nobility and commoners alike, to be used both in church and in family prayers. They were published in more than 1,450 editions over 300 years.


The so-called “Old Version” of the English psalter appeared in over 450 editions with tunes between 1562 and 1688, in sizes from large to small. Many, like the edition above, were bound with bibles or prayer books. The small, dos-à-dos binding reflected the Puritan principle that women as well as men should sing. Festooned with decorative embroidery, it could be easily carried in a purse.




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Henry Lawes. Choice psalmes put into musick, & for three voices. London, 1648

Exhibition Highlights

This partbook is one of a collection of five original settings by Henry Lawes and his late brother William, who was killed fighting for Charles I at the siege of Chester in 1645. The texts are psalm paraphrases by George Sandys, set as vocal chamber music. The dedication shows that Lawes, one of Charles I's court musicians, was unafraid to advertise his loyalty even at this late date.

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