Translation of sacred texts is always a dangerous act. In the sixteenth century, translators of the Bible into vernacular languages faced persecution and even execution for their perceived heresy. Nevertheless, when Archbishop of Canterbury Matthew Parker (1504-1575) published his poetic paraphrases of the biblical psalms, for which Thomas Tallis wrote the corresponding psalm tunes, Parker joined a growing number of scholars and clerics risking the translation of scripture under the aegis of the Protestant Reformation. In his paraphrases Parker carefully negotiated between strict translation and poetic interpretation of the text, particularly in regards to musical themes. I argue that in his psalm paraphrases, Parker advanced a musico-theological justification for the inclusion of music in liturgy during an era when vocal polyphony and instrumental music in sacred settings fomented the suspicion of many proto-Puritan Protestant reformers. Comparison of the printed 1567 text with Parker’s original manuscript held at the Inner Temple Library in London reveals that Parker often chose explicitly musical terms in his paraphrases of the psalms. In doing so, he provided foundational justification for establishing a central role for music in Anglican liturgy, harnessing all the tools of his humanist training and the power of his position to advance his conviction that music, far from distracting congregants, enriched and uplifted them spiritually. Drawing on recent scholarship on the genre of metrical psalmody, I demonstrate how Parker’s art of paraphrase facilitated his multifaceted defense of church music in the face of increasingly hostile factions within the English Protestant Church.

Author Biography

Sonja Wermager is a PhD Candidate in Historical Musicology at Columbia University. Her research focuses on intersections of religion and music, most recently the social and political context of Robert Schumann's sacred works. At Columbia, she serves on the editorial board of Current Musicology and teaches Music Humanities. She received a B.A. in Music and History at St. Olaf College and a M.A. in Renaissance, Reformation, and Early Modern Studies at the University of Birmingham (UK).

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