Home Classical Music The Reformation: how did Martin Luther revolutionise church music?

The Reformation: how did Martin Luther revolutionise church music?

The Reformation: how did Martin Luther revolutionise church music?


What was the reformation?

The reformation was a spiritual, political and cultural upheaval that break up Catholic Europe within the Sixteenth century. It started within the German city of Wittenberg in October 1517 with the publication of Martin Luther’s ‘95 Theses’ protesting on the Pope’s sale of ‘indulgences’ (providing day without work from penance), adopted later by Luther’s wholesale rejection of the ability of the papacy.

Christians ought to, he stated, be free to comply with their religion by the teachings of the Gospel. This led to new types of worship and a rising Lutheran church galvanised by Luther’s writings, broadly circulated by the brand new energy of the printing press.

By the second half of the Sixteenth century, Lutheranism had turn into the state faith all through a lot of Germany. The important thing concepts of the Reformation – a name to purify the church and a perception that the Bible, slightly than custom, needs to be the only real supply of non secular authority – impressed reforms throughout Europe, placing Henry VIII in a stronger place as regards the English Reformation, and inspiring the extra excessive views of John Calvin in Switzerland.

There have been, in impact, a number of Reformations, triggering wars, persecutions and in the end the so-called Counter-Reformation virtually 30 years later, the Catholic Church’s tardy however highly effective response to the Protestants which, from the mid-Sixteenth century, noticed the Catholic church develop extra non secular, literate and educated.

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Who was Martin Luther?

Martin Luther (1483-1547) was an Augustinian monk and theologian who took a stand in opposition to the Roman Church, seemingly nailing his 95 objections to Catholic excesses to the doorways of All Saints’ Church in Wittenberg on 31 October 1517.

After ultimately breaking away from Rome, Luther created the local weather inside his new ‘reformed’ church for a recent musical custom to develop – one which discovered its excellent fulfilment within the music of Bach. Some 500 years after Luther’s non secular reforms, the musical legacy of the Reformation lives on, with a wider attain and larger common enchantment than ever.

How Luther’s reformation influenced music

The slightly bleak austerity of Protestant reformers like John Calvin and Huldrych Zwingli in Switzerland has rubbed off a little bit on Martin Luther’s posthumous status. However whereas Calvin and Zwingli had been suspicious of music, both banning it totally or limiting its use in church, Luther ‘at all times beloved music’.

He was, by his personal admission, an enthusiastic singer, lutenist and composer who delighted within the most interesting polyphonic music of the age. He significantly admired his up to date Josquin Desprez (c1455-1521), who ‘preached the Gospel by music’ with ‘compositions which circulation freely, gently, and cheerfully, are usually not cramped by the foundations, and are just like the tune of the finch’.

Luther believed that ‘he who is aware of music has a superb nature’, and was decided that music ought to play a central half in youngsters’s schooling. There’s a really trendy ring to his calls that ‘Necessity calls for music be saved in faculties. A trainer should be capable to sing … and earlier than a younger man is ordained into the ministry, he ought to practise music commonly’.

At a deeper stage Luther noticed music and theology as inextricably linked, likening the Gospel to ‘music in efficiency’, and acknowledging that music had typically ‘induced and impressed me to evangelise’. It was a robust symbiotic relationship which inspired him to plan new companies for his church with music and preaching at their coronary heart.

It’s one thing of a shock to find simply how musical these companies had been. Moderately than eradicating the previous Catholic Mass and Vespers from the liturgy, he revised them, and so was in a position to retain each conventional plainchant and an excessive amount of Latin polyphonic music by composers like Josquin.

However Luther’s main innovation – with far-reaching penalties for Protestant church music – was the addition of a completely new musical component. In 1523 he stated he would introduce ‘as many songs as doable within the vernacular which individuals may sing throughout Mass’. With texts by Luther himself and his shut colleagues, these congregational songs – or chorales – unfold like wildfire, and drew congregations in ever larger numbers.

There’s nothing new beneath the solar, in fact, and whereas Luther might have offered his congregational hymns as one thing of a novelty, many had been simply variations of music individuals had been singing for generations: in a single day Veni sancte spiritus took on a extra common metre and have become Komm Heiliger Geist (‘Come Holy Spirit’).

With no obvious misgivings Luther did the identical with secular music. It says so much in regards to the musical tastes of early Lutherans that they need to have recognized so foolish a chunk as Giovanni Gastoldi’s ‘fa-la-la’ canzonet ‘A lieta vita’, nevertheless it undoubtedly supplied the proper tune for the chorale textual content In dir ist Freude – ‘In Thee is gladness’.

The favored enchantment of memorable melodies was only the start. Luther now instructed his colleague Johann Walter to make use of these chorale melodies as Catholic composers did plainsong: as a scaffold round which to construct extra elaborate music. Walter developed two types: chordal, easy-to-sing harmonisations of hymn tunes, and extra formidable items during which the chorale impressed complicated imitative textures – like these of Josquin.

These settings of early Wittenberg hymns, alongside 5 Latin motets, shaped the primary nice work of Lutheran church music – the Geystliches, gesangk Buchleyn of 1524 – and thus the Lutheran custom of mixing easy congregational singing with complicated choral music, in each German and Latin, was established.

Thus far, so unexciting – musically, not less than. However issues started to scorching up for Lutheran church music with the rise of the brand new Baroque type which, with its vibrant expression of the textual content, couldn’t have been extra beneficial to the immediacy of the Lutheran message. The main composer of the early German Baroque was Heinrich Schütz (1585-1672), who spent a lot of his profession as senior Kapellmeister on the Dresden Courtroom Chapel – unrivalled in Lutheran Germany for its grandeur and completely Italianate tastes.

Congregational singing appears to have been a lot much less essential in main court docket chapels like Dresden, and Schütz, who wasn’t in any respect interested by chorales, concentrated as an alternative on enriching the liturgy in different methods.

He was significantly happy with adapting the brand new operatic recitative type to serve a non secular objective in his Christmas Story. Carried out throughout Vespers on the Dresden court docket in December 1660, the declamatory writing for all of the singers – from Herod to the Evangelist – is powerfully expressive and enriched by all kinds of instrumental colors characterising every scene of the biblical narrative.

Luther might by no means even have envisaged the wholesale use of devices in church nevertheless it was a pure improvement of his music-friendly theology. The colorful publications of Michael Praetorius (1571-1621) provided north German church buildings with all they wanted, from the best congregational hymns to polychoral motets for enormous vocal and instrumental forces. Whereas in Hamburg, Thomas Selle (1599-1663) was one in every of a number of enterprising Kapellmeisters who constructed up enviable musical institutions with the categorical objective of constructing church music a number one characteristic of town’s cultural life.

The organ was at all times on the centre of Lutheran worship, and as church buildings elevated in measurement to cater for swelling congregations, so organ design superior to create bigger and extra versatile devices. Germany grew to become the centre of organ improvement, placing builders like Gottfried Silbermann on the very forefront of contemporary know-how. Within the driving seat, an formidable new era of organists grew as much as exploit these thrilling new sources.

On the Marienkirche in Lübeck the proficient Franz Tunder (1614-67) developed all kinds of approaches, from free, quasi-improvised items, to stricter fugal ones, however none extra ingenious than the preludes and fantasias during which he teased out the musical potentialities of the chorales sung and cherished by his congregation. Tunder’s fantasia on Christ lag in Todesbanden is a masterpiece of ingenious variation approach, and one in every of many such works written on the time which elevate the standard Lutheran chorale to the best musical heights.

An surprising by-product of the music-loving Lutheran Reformation was the beginning of the German public live performance – in church. Tunder started presenting occasional concert events of organ and sacred vocal music on the Marienkirche, which his successor, Dietrich Buxtehude, constructed up into an annual live performance collection. A Lübeck guidebook of 1697 tells us that these afternoon concert events, held instantly after Vespers, had been relaxed affairs providing a leisurely succession of ‘nice vocal and instrumental music’. Admission was free and the prices had been borne by native businessmen and donors who obtained a printed libretto and a superb seat in return. The concert events grew to become well-known all through Europe, attracting many distinguished guests, together with Bach in 1705.

By the 18th century, the Reformation might have misplaced its pioneering zeal, however by now Lutheranism was firmly established because the state faith in Germany, Scandinavia and the Baltics. With its ethical code firmly embedded in society, church and council authorities labored in consort to manage musical life. For Bach this meant that taking over his submit as Thomaskantor of Leipzig in 1723 was depending on passing an examination in Lutheran theology; holding his place meant submitting to supervision from the native council – an indignity he at all times resented.

However was Bach a Lutheran by conviction or comfort? It’s been argued that, since he gave up writing new church music some 20 years earlier than his loss of life, his spiritual convictions had been solely skin-deep. But the current discovery of Bach’s private copy of the nice Lutheran Bible of 1681, full along with his copious annotations, suggests the presence of a deep and intellectually rigorous religion which had at all times nourished his music. On one web page he famous – ‘NB. The place there’s devotional music, God along with his grace is at all times current’.

Bach’s music is in some ways the fruits of the Lutheran custom. The organ chorale preludes, cantatas, Passions, and even the B minor Mass, had been all self-consciously composed throughout the sphere of Lutheran theology and apply. However Bach’s music didn’t simply complement the liturgy, it surpassed its on a regular basis wants, even perhaps with an eye fixed consciously fastened on posterity. The shut bond which Luther recognised between music and theology in the end bore fruit in musical masterpieces which have, remarkably, transcended their authentic time and place to encourage and enrich the broader trendy world.

Some 5 hundred years after the Reformation there’s a lot to have fun. However whereas marvelling on the energy of Bach’s music, we must also maintain an ear out for performances of works by minor Lutheran masters – the likes of Tunder, Kuhnau, Pachelbel and Buxtehude: composers whose wealthy, untapped legacy may gain advantage most from this yr’s anniversary. There’ll even be an opportunity to get to know many extra of Bach’s cantatas, most of that are nonetheless by no means commonly carried out. Maybe we’ll even get to know extra about their perplexing Lutheran texts.

Bach and his contemporaries would likely have accredited of this yr’s celebrations. They honoured the anniversary of the Reformation yearly with a festal cantata, and there have been many written for the bi-centenary of 1717, together with one by Johann Kuhnau, Bach’s predecessor at Leipzig, and a brassy setting by Telemann.

For the 1723 festivities, Bach primarily based his cantata on Luther’s most well-known hymn Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott whose ringing first line – ‘A mighty fortress is our God’ – precisely captures the highly effective optimism of Luther’s daring Reformation and the resolute spirit which has sustained it.

Important picture © Getty Photos



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