The Whole Booke of Psalmes, first published in 1562, became the most visible symbol of English Protestant music-making through its immense popularity and its perceived Protestant authority and monarchical authorization, and the psalter was directly responsible for the formation of the Church of England’s musical culture. Through close reading of the hymnal’s words about music—the versified texts of the psalms themselves, particularly the paraphrases of those psalms that speak directly about music, singing, worship, and instruments, and also other material including the versified hymns and prefatory matter—I argue that the WBP promoted a particular theology of music in Reformation England. Examining how questions of participation, accessibility, text selection, aesthetics, and instrumentation are presented in the psalter, I expand scholars’ understanding of the varied Protestant theologies of music to include study of the metrical psalter that functioned as propaganda, educational material, and a devotional tool for the Church of England. The WBP reflected the importance of communal liturgical musical practice for Protestants and presented a consistent portrait of the desirable theological aesthetic of congregational church music, one that drew upon aspects of both Lutheran and Calvinist theologies. According to the WBP, singing like a Protestant in Elizabeth’s England meant singing monophonic congregational hymnody using metricized texts from Scripture and the Book of Common Prayer, and especially from the Book of Psalms. The WBP also falls on the pro-organ side of the English debate, taking a definitive stand in support of the use of instruments in church, and the psalter places strong emphasis on the attitude of the individual even as it advocates for singing in community.

Author Biography

Samantha Arten received her Ph.D in musicology at Duke University (2018). She is currently affiliated faculty with the Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies, Saint Louis University. In addition to sixteenth-century English metrical psalmody, her other research interests include Reformation theology, print culture and book history, early music performance practice, and contemporary sacred vocal music.

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