Which psalm translation to set to music?
  • jchthys
    Posts: 22
    Hello, all –

    Before giving the background, here are my two questions:

    * Which translation of the psalms should I set, now, for responsorial psalms at mass?
    * What hoops I would need to go through, and what royalties I would need to pay, if that translation is under copyright? (Perhaps someone can speak from personal experience!)

    I've been working on a project of setting responsorial psalms. I set the selection from Psalm 34 for my brother's wedding, using the Revised Grail translation from the USCCB website. The setting was very well received, so I've been working on a set of Advent psalms, plus a funeral psalm.

    The style is monophonic, with a simple refrain and melismatic verses suitable for a trained soloist, evocative of plainsong but semi-metrical. I plan to include an optional organ accompaniment for anything I write outside Advent and Lent.

    I'm Episcopalian but am interested in writing for whoever will use the psalms, and in this case I think it may be US Catholics. I haven't gotten so far as being ready to contact a publisher, but it's possible I would approach CanticaNOVA first.
    Thanked by 1JonathanLC
  • Since you are Episcopalian I don't see why you don't use Coverdale or the rite two setting of the psalms. This rite two version has, in my opinion, not been bettered as a modern psalter for setting to music.

    If you want your settings to be used by Catholics, as well, you would need to use the translation found in the Lectionary, which isn't exactly 'music friendly'. It lacks grace and colour.
  • I would second sticking to Coverdale.
    Thanked by 1CHGiffen
  • chonakchonak
    Posts: 7,846
    Another version has been granted approval by the US bishops, the "Revised Grail Psalter", but the bishops have reportedly decided that some text changes to that version will be needed, so until that is stabilized, it's too early in practical terms to write settings with it. Besides, settings with this version don't sell well because it doesn't match what's printed in worship aids that follow the Lectionary.

    So if you would like your settings to be usable by mainstream parishes, the Lectionary text is the way to go. Rights to the text belong to the USCCB (actually, a sub-agency of theirs).
    Thanked by 1jchthys
  • jchthys
    Posts: 22
    Thank you for this feedback, and especially to M. Jackson Osborn! I believe I will focus my efforts on the BCP 1979 psalter. It's what I usually pray from, so I am biased, but as someone who is familiar with Coverdale and the KJV it is by far the least jarring modern translation from a traditional-language point of view, and I think a lot of care was taken for it to read as traditional liturgical poetry.

    I'll still get a copy of the Lectionary as trustworthy reference in case I encounter a definite audience for an official Catholic text. I haven't warmed to either NAB or Grail (or their variants), but always welcome a definite text as long as I know what it is before I start writing.
  • chonakchonak
    Posts: 7,846
    If it proves difficult to get a lectionary, you can get the psalms from a small hand missal such as the "St Paul Sunday Missal" or the "Daily Roman Missal", or even (week by week) from the USCCB web site. Note: the NAB Psalms sometimes do not match the Lectionary.
    Thanked by 2JonathanLC jchthys