Psalm-Based Organ Music for Lent

by Sarah Hawbecker

I take great care in selecting my organ preludes and postludes for each Sunday. A prelude prepares the gathered community for worship. Whether the listener prays, reflects, or simply listens, they are still an active participant, and, as such, I believe they deserve the best the musician can give them. Likewise, the postlude, as the last thing they hear on the way out of church, is an opportunity to lift their spirits as they reflect on the worship that just ended and prepare to go about their week.

Sometimes it is easy to choose organ music that has an obvious connection with a given Sunday. I may select an organ chorale prelude (or a set) based on the tune from one of the hymns to be sung that day. Or I may select repertoire that simply conveys the mood I want to create, whether it is joyful or contemplative.

Perhaps a less obvious method of selecting organ music for any given Sunday is to connect it with the psalm. Psalms are both poetry and music, full of the range of human emotion, so it makes sense that instrumental music based on the psalms would be equally expressive. I realized that I have quite a bit of this music already in my repertoire.

I started working on a list of music that I might use for the season of Lent. Some of it is a composer’s interpretation of a psalm, like Emma Lou Diemer’s collections. Others are settings of hymn tunes based on psalms (like the various recognizable hymns based on Psalm 23). Occasionally I listed a piece based on a different psalm but the same theme. Others are pieces that express the emotion of a psalm. When listing one of these pieces in the bulletin, I always print the psalm verse under the title in order to help the listener.

I may continue to work on this list so that I eventually have the whole year covered. What would you add?


Ash Wednesday ABC – Psalm 51

Jehan Alain. “Choral Dorien” from Augsburg Organ Library: Lent

Max Drischner. “Aus tiefer Not” (Psalm 130) from Augsburg Organ Library: Lent


Lent 1 A – Psalm 32

Multiple settings of “Ein feste Burg” (Psalm 46)

David Maxwell. “Partita on ‘Old 124th’” from Loving Spirit: Hymn Settings for Organ (Prelude)


Lent 1B – Psalm 25

Emma Lou Diemer. “Psalm 25” from Psalm Interpretations for Organ, Vol. 2 (Sacred Music Press)

Gerald Near. “Solemn Prelude on a Theme of Thomas Tallis” (MorningStar Music)


Lent 1C – Psalm 91

Marilyn Biery. “On Eagle’s Wings” from Gathered into One: Organ Settings of Contemporary Tunes

Emma Lou Diemer. “Psalm 91” from Psalm Interpretations for Organ, Vol. 1 (Sacred Music Press)


Lent 2A – Psalm 121

Franklin Ashdown. “If You but Trust in God to Guide You: Cantilena” from Adagios of Hope and Peace

Franklin Ashdown. “Be Thou My Vision” from Augsburg Organ Library: Lent

Craig Phillips. “Prelude on ‘Slane’” from Oh, Love, How Deep (MorningStar Music)


Lent 2B – Psalm 22

Craig Phillips. “Psalm Prelude” (Psalm 40:1-3) (Selah Publishing)

Samuel Barber, arr. William Strickland. “Adagio for Strings” (G. Schirmer)


Lent 2C – Psalm 27

Joseph Jongen. “Priere” from Four Pieces for Organ

Richard Webster. “Thy Holy Wings: Bred dina vida vingar” from Augsburg Organ Library: Lent

Craig Phillips. “Uriel: God is my light” 4th mvmt from Archangel Suite (Selah Publishing)


Lent 3A – Psalm 95

Emma Lou Diemer. “Psalm 95” from Psalm Interpretations for Organ, Vol. 2 (Sacred Music Press)


Lent 3B – Psalm 19

Benedetto Marcello. “Psalm XIX” (various arrangements)


Lent 3C – Psalm 63

Edwin T. Childs. “Holy Manna” from Communion Hymns for Organ, Vol. 1

Wilbur Held. “Holy Manna” from Augsburg Organ Library: Baptism and Communion

J. S. Bach. “Jesu, meine Freude, BWV 610" from Das Orgelbuchlein 


Lent 4A – Psalm 23

C. V. Stanford. VI. “Andante con moto” from Six Short Preludes and Postludes, Set 1, Op. 101 (quotes the tune St. Columba) (Stainer & Bell)

Gwyneth Walker. “Beside the Still Waters” (Morningstar Music)


Lent 4B – Psalm 107:1-3; 17-22

Herbert Howells. “Psalm Prelude Op. 32, no. 1” (Psalm 34:6)


Lent 4C – Psalm 32

J. S. Bach. “O Lamm Gottes, BWV 656” from the Leipzig Chorales

J. S. Bach. “An Wasserflussen Babylon, BWV 653” from the Leipzig Chorales


Lent 5A – Psalm 130

Max Drischner. “Aus tiefer Not” (Psalm 130) from Augsburg Organ Library: Lent

Emma Lou Diemer. “Psalm 130” from Psalm Interpretations for Organ, Vol. 1 (Sacred Music Press)


Lent 5B – Psalm 51 or Psalm 119:9-16

François Couperin. “Kyrie” from Mass for the Parishes

J. S. Bach. “Kyrie, God Holy Ghost, BWV 671” from Clavierubüng III


Lent 5C – Psalm 126

J. S. Bach, arr. S. Drummond Wolff. “Sinfonia” from Cantata 29 (MorningStar Music)

Posted on Feb 10, 2022 9:00:00 AM
Filed Under: Hymnody, Filed Under: Music Ministry, Filed Under: Lent, Filed Under: Psalms,

Sarah Hawbecker

Written by Sarah Hawbecker

Sarah J. Hawbecker is a graduate of St. Olaf College and the Eastman School of Music. Since 1996, she has served as Organist and Director of Children's Music at Lutheran Church of the Redeemer in Atlanta, GA, overseeing a program of two children's choirs, three handbell choirs, a summer music camp, and a concert series. She has performed for and presented workshops at regional and national gatherings of the Association of Lutheran Church Musicians, and of the American Guild of Organists, and has served as adjudicator for several organ competitions.