Remembering the Drama of Easter

Five hundred years ago, the life of music in churches was transformed radically. In 1524, at least three separate books of hymns—intended to nourish the young Reformation movement—were made available to eager Germans. Printed in Nuremberg, Erfurt, and Wittenberg, these small booklets (containing between eight and 32 hymns each) were soon encouraging singing throughout Europe. Not surprisingly, Martin Luther had a hand in the production of all three collections and in the production of the texts and tunes included.

Two of the hymnbooks presented only the melody line and the stanzas of the hymns, while the third included harmonizations—in three, four, or five parts—composed by Luther’s colleague Johann Walter, an experienced singer and composer. That third book, Eyn geystlich Gesangk Buchleyn (“A spiritual song booklet”), also included a foreword by Luther, which provided authorization and rationale:

That it is good, and pleasing to God, for us to sing spiritual songs is, I think, a truth whereof no Christian can be ignorant.  . .  . These songs have been set in four parts  . .  . because I wished to provide our young people (who both will and ought to be instructed in music and other sciences) with something by which they might rid themselves of amorous and carnal songs, and so apply themselves to what is good with pleasure, as becometh the young.

Luther’s Hymn

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Ken Myers is the host and producer of the Mars Hill Audio Journal. Formerly an arts editor with National Public Radio, he also served as editor of Eternity, the Evangelical monthly magazine, and This World, the quarterly predecessor to First Things. He also serves as music director at All Saints Anglican Church in Ivy, Virginia. He is a contributing editor for Touchstone.

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