Loys Bourgeois


(Louis, Louys)


LOYS BOURGEOIS, the son of Guillaume Bourgeois, was born in Paris at the beginning of the 16th century. In 1541 he was invited to Geneva, about the time of Calvin’s return from Strasburg. On the removal of Guillaume Franc to Lausanne in 1545, his place was given to Bourgeois, jointly with a Genevan named Guillaume Fabri, the former receiving 60, the latter 40 florins, of the salary of 100 florins which had been paid to Franc. Of the personal history of Bourgeois we know nothing beyond what may be gathered from some notices of him in the registers of the Council of Geneva. These are curious as illustrative of the place and the time. In 1547 the Council admitted him gratuitously to the rights of citizenship “in consideration of his being a respectable man and willing to teach children.” Shortly afterwards, to enable him the better to pursue his studies, they exempted him from duties connected with the town guard and the works of the fortifications, and presented him with a small china stove for his apartment. Before long his salary was for some reason reduced to 50 florins. On his petitioning that it should be restored to its former amount, or even slightly increased in consequence of his poverty, the parsimonious Council gave him two measures of corn “for that once, and in consideration of an expected addition to his family.” To a second petition, even though supported by Calvin, they turned a deaf ear. On Dec. 3, 1551, Bourgeois was thrown into prison for having “without leave” altered the tunes of some of the psalms, but through the intervention of Calvin obtained his release on the following day. The alterations, however, were sanctioned and adopted. Another innovation proposed by Bourgeois fared better with the Council. His recommendation to suspend a printed table in the churches to show what psalm was to be sung was approved of, and rewarded by a donation of sixty sols.

In 1547 he published Pseaulmes cinquante de Dauid … traduictz … par Clement Marot, et mis en musique par Loys Bovrgeoys, à quatre parties, à voix de contrepoinct egal consonnante au verbe (Lyon, 1547). In the same year he also published Le premier liure des Pseaulmes de Dauid, contenant xxiv pseaulmes. Composé par Loys Bovrgeois. En diuersité de Musique: à scauoir familiere on vaudeuille; aultres plus musicales (Lyon). In the latter the words of the psalms are those of Marot, but the melodies are original and wholly different from those of the former work. All these harmonised psalters were intended only for private use. Down to the 19th century nothing beyond the melody of the psalms was tolerated in the worship of the Reformed Churches, and it was not improbably the aversion of Calvin to the use of harmony that compelled Bourgeois to print his psalters at Lyons instead of Geneva.

The story which ascribes to Franc the editorship of the Genevan Psalter will [is described in an article about Franc], but recent investigations in the archives of Geneva have clearly shown that the task of selecting and arranging the tunes was entrusted to Bourgeois, and an entry in the registers of the Council, dated July 28, 1552, which will be found quoted [in the article about Franc, here], distinctly states that Bourgeois had set to music the psalms of Beza, published the year before, and had arranged those already published in the earlier editions of the Psalter.

A minute collation which M. Douen has made of these earlier editions enables us to see what Bourgeois did. In 1542 he adopted, with modifications, seventeen tunes from the Strasburg Psalters and added twenty-two new ones. In or before 1549 seventeen tunes were more or less altered and eight replaced by others. In 1551 four were altered and twelve new melodies substituted, some for earlier ones of Bourgeois himself. In several instances, therefore, the tune is of later date than the psalm. These last changes were final, and mark the time since which the tunes adopted before 1562 have remained unaltered. The old Strasburg tunes of 1539 which still survived were those to Psalms 1, 2, 15, 36, 91, 103, 104, 114, 130, 137 and 143, two of which (36 and 137) retained almost their primitive form, and one, 103, remained unaltered. M. Douen considers these Strasburg melodies to possess more of a German than a French character, and according to Riggenbach 36 and 91 are by Matthäus Greiter, a member of the choir of Strasburg Cathedral. How far the other tunes adapted by Bourgeois are original it is impossible to determine. A few can be traced to a German origin, some are constructed out of fragments of earlier melody, while others are adapted from secular songs popular at the time. It is not improbable that every tune in the Genevan Psalter belongs to one or other of the above categories.

Bourgeois left Geneva in 1557, and undoubtedly had no connection with the Genevan Psalter after that time. The forty tunes of 1562 were added by another and a less skillful hand. In June 1561 an entry in the “Comptes des recettes et depenses pour les pauvres” records the payment of 10 florins to “Maitre Pierre” for having set the psalms to music. This person is conjectured by Becker to be Pierre Dubuisson, a singer who in 1565 was admitted gratuitously to the rights of citizenship at Geneva, but nothing certain is known on the subject.

It only remains to add that in 1550 Bourgeois published Le droict chemin de musique, composé par Loys Bourgeois auec la manière de chanter les pseaumes par vsage ou par ruse, comme on cognoistra, au xxxiv, de nouveau mis en chant, et aussi, le cantique de Siméon (Genève, 1550). This treatise, in twelve chapters, is the first in which a proposal is made to abandon the method of the Guidonian hand and to teach music by the employment of the solfeggio. An analysis of it will be found in Fétis, Biogr. des Musiciens, ii, 42. The last-known work of Bourgeois shows him still employed in working on the Genevan melodies. It is entitled Quatrevingt-trois Psalmes de Dauid en musique … à quatre, cinq, et six parties, tant à voix pareilles qu’autrement, etc. (Paris 1561).

For full details respecting Bourgeois and the history of the Genevan Psalter, see the exhaustive work of Douen, entitled Clément Marot et le Psautier Huguenot, 2 vols., Paris, 1878-79. The following works may also be consulted: Bovet, Histoire du Psautier des églises réformées (Neuchâtel et Paris, 1872); G. Becker, La Musique en Suisse (Genève et Paris, 1874); Riggenbach, Der Kirchengesang in Basel; and six articles in The Musical Times (June to Nov. 1881) by the present writer.

by George Arthur Crawford
Grove’s Dictionary of Music and Musicians, vol. 1 (1904)
ed. J.A. Fuller Maitland
[abridged for Hymnology Archive]

Featured Tunes:


Collections of Tunes:

Pseaulmes cinquante de David mis en musique par Loys Bourgeoys (Lyon, 1547): WorldCat

Le premiere Livre des Pseaulmes, composé par Louys Bourgeois (Lyon, 1547)

Pseaulmes cinquante de David, mis en vers françois par Cl. Marot (Lyon, 1549): WorldCat

Pseaumes octantetrois de David

Geneva (1551): WorldCat
Rutgers Facsimile (1973): WorldCat | BNF

Pseaumes de David . . . par C. Marot, avec plusieurs cantiques (Strasbourg, 1553): WorldCat

Pseaumes octantetrois de David, plus 6 ps. nouvellement traduits par Th. de Bèze (Geneva, 1554)

Pseaulmes LXXXIII de David . . . à 4 p. par Louys Bourgeois (Lyon, 1554): WorldCat

Octanteneuf Pseaumes de David (Geneva, 1556): WorldCat

Quatrevingt-trois Psalmes de Dauid en musique (Paris, 1561).

Les Pseaumes mis en rime françois

Geneva (1562): WorldCat
Facsimile Libairie Droz (1986): WorldCat

Other Works:

Le Droict chemin de musique . . . par Loys Bourgeois (Geneva, 1550): PDF


Pierre Pidoux, Le Psautier huguenot du XVIe siècle, 3 vols. (Bärenreiter, 1962): WorldCat

W.S. Pratt, The Music of the French Psalter of 1562 (NY: Columbia University, 1939): WorldCat

Related Resources:

H. Leigh Bennett, “French Psalters,” ed. John Julian, A Dictionary of Hymnology (London, 1892), pp. 932-936: Google Books

Waldo Selden Pratt, “The significance of the old French psalter,” Papers of the Hymn Society (NY: The Hymn Society, 1933): PDF

John H. Gerstner Jr., “Singing the words God has put in our mouths: A personalized account of the 1551 Genevan Psalter,” The Hymn, vol. 4, no. 1 (Jan. 1953), pp. 69-76: HathtiTrust

John Wilson, “A link with Loys Bourgeois,” HSGBI Bulletin (Summer 1957), pp. 93-98: PDF

Emily R. Brink, “A reformed approach to psalmody: The legacy of the Genevan Psalter,” The Hymn, vol. 56, no. 1 (Winter 2005), pp. 16-25: HathiTrust

Duck Schuler, “The history of the Genevan psalter,” Credenda Agenda, vol. 13, no. 2 (2007): PDF

Karin Maag, Lifting Hearts to the Lord: Worship with John Calvin in Sixteenth-Century Geneva (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2016): Amazon

Karin Maag, “No better songs: John Calvin and the Genevan Psalter in the sixteenth century and today,” The Hymn, vol. 68, no. 4 (Autumn 2017), pp. 28-33.

Nicholas Temperley, “Loys Bourgeois,” Canterbury Dictionary of Hymnology: