The Psalm Tones

Beginning in 1529, the Wittenberg hymnals prepared by Martin Luther included four-part harmonizations of the traditional Gregorian psalm tones, simplified for congregational singing in the vernacular. These tones are now presented in a form suitable for singing the psalms as pointed in the Psalter. With the addition of the Psalm Player, which can be opened from the lower-left corner of the screen, these tones can now be sung in private devotion with the full Wittenberg settings.

Directions for Singing
The Wittenberg psalm tones are a drastic simplification of the much more complex Gregorian tones. The original tones are intended to be sung to Latin texts, whose patterns of accentuation lend themselves to the Gregorian melodies. They are also intended exclusively for trained choirs. The Wittenberg tones, on the other hand, are intended for the singing of German texts and omit many of the possible variations of the Latin tones, making up for the loss in complexity with the addition of rich harmonies. They are readily adaptable to English texts according to the following rules.

A text is pointed as follows:

Let us break their | bands ( a- ) sunder,*
and cast a- | way their ( cords from ) us.

This one verse is divided into two half-verses. The division between half-verses is marked by an asterisk *. In the music, each half-verse is divided into a reciting tone, represented by a whole note, and a cadence, represented by half-notes. The cadence of the first half-verse is called the mediant, and the cadence of the second half-verse is called the termination. The opening text of each half-verse is sung to the reciting tone. The vertical bar | corresponds to the barline that begins the cadence of each half-verse. It does not indicate accentuation. Accented syllables are in boldface. Each syllable after the vertical bar is sung to one note of the cadence, with the exception that the syllables in parentheses (), whether one or more, are to be sung to the same note in the cadence. Thus the syllables “Let us break their” and “and cast a-” are sung to the reciting tones of their respective half-verses. The syllable “bands” is sung to the first note of the mediant, the syllable “a-” to the second, “sun-” to the third, and “der” to the fourth. The syllables “way” and “their” are sung to the first and second notes of the termination, respectively, while the syllables “cords” and “from” are both sung to the third note. The syllable “us” is sung to the fourth and final note of the termination.

If there are additional notes before or after the reciting tone, as in the second half-verse of Tone I, one syllable is to be sung to each regardless of accentuation.

If there are but two notes in the mediant, as is the case in Tones II, V, and VIII, the syllable immediately preceding the parentheses is sung to the reciting tone, and the syllables in parentheses are sung to the first note of the mediant. If the syllable immediately following the parentheses is accented, it too is sung to the first note of the mediant. If it is unaccented, it, together with the final syllable, is sung to the second and final note of the mediant. In the above example, the syllable “bands” is sung to the reciting tone; the syllable “a-” is sung to the first note of the mediant; the syllable “sun-,” because it is accented, is also sung to the first note of the mediant; and the syllable “der” is sung to the second and final note of the mediant.

Tone 1.


Tone 2.


Tone 3.


Tone 4.


Tone 5.


This tone has been transposed down a fourth to facilitate easier singing. It was originally in the key of F.

Tone 6.


Tone 7.


Tone 8.


Tonus Peregrinus.


This tone is typically used only for the Fifth Psalm at Vespers on Sunday (Pss. 114–115; Ps. 113 in the LXX and Vulgate) and for the vernacular Magnificat. The Wittenberg hymnals included slightly different settings of both, elements of which are combined here. The Tonus Peregrinus is the basis for the well-known Miserere of Allegri: