Dave Douglas to release SECULAR PSALMS, Commissioned for 600th Anniversary of van Eyck’s Ghent Altarpiece 

Dave Douglas to release SECULAR PSALMS featuring a newly commissioned suite of ten pieces, with cellist Tomeka Reid and young European musicians.

Inspired by Jan van Eyck’s Ghent Altarpiece, as well as music by 15th-Century Flemish composer Guillaume Dufay, and commissioned by Handelsbeurs Theater, Ghent to celebrate the 600th anniversary of the painting.

Douglas combines old and new music into a contemporary clash of the sacred and the profane.

Secular Psalms is a new Dave Douglas album featuring a newly commissioned suite of ten pieces, with an entirely new group of young international musicians.

Commissioned by the City of Gent and Handelsbeurs Theater to commemorate the 600th anniversary of the creation of the Ghent Altarpiece by Jan van Eyck, Douglas branched out into new instruments

including serpent, lute, organ, and sampler, providing a painterly panorama of new sounds.

Drawing on Latin Mass, on early medieval folk songs, on composers of the period, like Guillaume DuFay, and on improvised music, Douglas and his cohorts deliver a lyrical, mystical and spiritual score full of upbeat optimism for our times. Douglas says the title refers to “songs of praise for all of us.”

For this project, Douglas invited musicians Tomeka Reid, Marta Warelis, Berlinde Deman, Frederick Leroux, and Lander Gyselinck. A surprising and uplifting release was created during these pandemic times.

Dave Douglas’ Liner Notes:

“Inspired by and dedicated to The Adoration of the Mystic Lamb by Jan and Hubert van Eyck – a

the polyptych was originally painted for display in St. Bavo’s Cathedral in Ghent, Belgium. Begun in the mid-1420s and was completed by 1432.

Secular Psalms took shape over a medieval-seeming time span. The first messages from Wim date to July 10, 2018, when we began to formulate a plan to celebrate the 600th anniversary of the Altarpiece with the creation of new music. Research led to a few discoveries: elements of the polyptych were moved and/or stolen, then almost entirely recovered over the years. Restoration began in 2012 discovered that the work had been mostly overpainted around 1550—removal of the overpaint revealed an almost entirely new contemporary vision of the piece.

Van Eyck worked in the court of Philip The Good of Burgundy, speaking multiple

languages. It’s likely he would have encountered composer Guillaume Dufay and writer Christine de Pisan in the same court. Bringing in elements of both these artists helped give me a connection to the atmosphere of those times. With a band and instrumentation in place, we were on our way.

Then all work came to a halt. Initially, like for so many of us, it was unclear how work would carry on. I kept writing. The meaning of the piece (and the title) took on a new scope as we dealt with the global crisis. Close communication with the assembled musicians, shut down in their own home countries, helped cement the message and the meaning of Secular Psalms: sacred songs for all of us as we are. We continued working. The first parts were recorded around May 2020. Over the course of a year and a half, my score came to life as I worked with each musician to create their performances. New techniques had to be invented to capture interactive improvisations. And new texts came in as I began to write them myself, in addition to the Latin Mass, Marvin Gaye, and Christine de Pisan.

This music came to life as a result of many forces: artistic, spiritual, pragmatic, physical, psychic, poetic, and interpersonal. In a visual sense, the piece begins in the space of the outer panels, with muted colors and dank interiors. Subsequent sections explore the inner panels, full of light, showing people from all walks of life. With Edge of Night, the piece returns to the mysterious and darker panels of the Arrival, where Van Eyck’s Gabriel and Mary play out this mystery for all eternity.”


Commissioned by Handelsbeurs Concert hall (Gent, Belgium), in co-production with 

KAAP/Concertgebouw Brugge; Jazzfest Berlin; November Music, the piece premiered Europe November 2022.

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