Book Series Epitome musical

Jean Servin, Psalms

James Porter (ed)

  • Pages: 775 p.
  • Size:185 x 270 mm
  • Illustrations:8 b/w
  • Language(s):French
  • Publication Year:2015

  • ISBN: 978-2-503-52346-0
  • Paperback
  • Available


"Les spécialistes de la littérature néolatine du xvie siècle, les chefs d’ensembles vocaux, choristes et musicologues, les théologiens apprécieront à sa très juste valeur cet impressionnant volume (...). Bel exemple d’interaction entre Réforme et Humanisme évoquant une étape particulière de l’histoire des mentalités littéraires et des sensibilités religieuses." (Édith Weber, dans: Church History and Religious Culture, 95, 2015, p. 334-335)


The present edition of Jean Servin’s Psalmi Davidis a G. Buchanano versibus expressi, nunc primum modulis IIII, V, VI, VII et VIII vocum, a I.Servino decantati is the first since the work was published in Geneva in 1579. At that time it followed on the publication, in 1578, of two volumes by Servin, Premier (Second) Livre de Chansons Nouvelles à quatre, cinq, six, sept et huit parties, and another entitled Meslange de Chansons Nouvelles à quatre parties. The Psalmi Davidis and all three volumes of chansons were published by Charles Pesnot with an imprint of Lyon (‘Lugduni’), apparently because the publisher wanted to sell them in France at a time when importation of books from Geneva was banned; in particular, he wanted to make them available through the book-fairs in cities like Lyon. In the context of the times such polyphonic works with an imprint of Lyon would have greater appeal to a French public than volumes ostensibly printed in Geneva, then a refuge for Protestants fleeing the Wars of Religion such as Servin and his editor, Simon Goulart, pastor of the Reformed church of St Gervais for some forty years.

Servin’s settings of George Buchanan’s Latin texts bear a dedication to ‘Serenissimo Scotorum Regi, Jacobo Sexto’, namely King James VI of Scotland, then a youth of thirteen who had been tutored from his early years by Buchanan. Buchanan (1506-82), a distinguished historian, poet and dramatist in the Humanist tradition had held teaching posts in France, first at the Collège de Sainte-Barbe (from 1529) in Paris and the Collège de Guyenne (1539) in Bordeaux, where Montaigne was one of his students. Buchanan’s Latin version of the psalms, a genre that had attracted contemporary French writers, was begun during his internment by the Inquisition in the Monastery of San Bento, Portugal, from 1547 to 1552 following the accusation of heresy.

Taking the Vulgate version of the psalms as his basic text, Buchanan styled his paraphrases after classical authors, principally Horace. Dedicated to Mary, Queen of Scots (mother of James VI), the work aroused the admiration of his first biographer, Henri Estienne, who described Buchanan as ‘poetarum sui saeculi facile princeps’.

Buchanan was also known to Calvin’s successor in Geneva, Theodore de Bèze, who provided Servin with a letter of introduction to Peter Young, King James’s other preceptor besides Buchanan from 1572 to 1578. The links between Geneva and Scotland were well established, for John Knox, Christopher Goodman, Andrew Melville and other Reformers had visited the city earlier in the century and come under Calvin’s influence even before the Scottish Reformation of 1560.