Thursday, March 24, 2011

Luther's Musical Achievement

How I LOVE when I find a gem among the ex-college library music books that I have accumulated! I'll be honest; most of these books are not exactly what I would consider pleasure reading. Not that this is a bad thing, they're just not easy to read. It's like overdone steak. You have to chew it for a VERY LONG TIME. Well, I was looking through my music books and came across this little gray book entitled, "Patterns of Protestant Church Music." It is wonderful! (So far) I just finished the first chapter which was on Martin Luther.
Luther had such a great love for music. He believed largely in singing in church, which was an issue argued by different reformers.  He said of music, "Next to the Word of God, only music deserves being extolled as the mistress and governess of human feelings.... Through the medium of praise the Holy Spirit placed His gifts into the hands of the Prophets; again through music the devil was driven away, as was the case with Saul, king of Israel.... The Fathers and Prophets desired....that nothing be more intimately linked up with the Word of God than music." 1

Luther not only loved congregational singing, but he also greatly liked polyphonic singing done by trained choirs. He is said to have defined music, "as an art which to be appreciated properly must be studied rather than merely listened to…" 2
 He knew music well and had a very good voice. He believed that the study of music was an essential part of the school curriculum. He would not hire a teacher that was not trained in music. He himself knew music well enough that when he got a new song book, if he saw one slight mistake he would return it and have it corrected.

"When natural music is sharpened and polished by art, then one begins to see with amazement the great and perfect wisdom of God in his wonderful work of music, where one voice takes a simple part and around it sing three, four, or five other voices, leaping and springing round about, marvelously gracing the simple part, like a square dance in heaven, with friendly bows, embracings, and hearty swinging of partners." Martin Luther, Quotation from Luther's foreword to Georg Rhau (1538) 3

One other thing that struck me was that he enjoyed "researching" the composers of the time to see if their music was appropriate. This is something that I enjoy doing myself, to some extent.
I intend to write a brief summary on every chapter of this book as I go through. Thus far, I have been exceedingly delighted by what I have found.  One thing is certain, the more you study music and the history of music, the greater appreciation of music one has.

In Christ,

1. Stevenson, Robert M. Patterns in Protestant Church Music. London, England: The Duke University Press, 1953. pg.9
2. Ibid pg.4
3 Ibid pg.9-10

1 comment:

Peter Bringe said...

I am so grateful for Luther's love of good music (despite my not being a huge fan of performance choirs). As a result of his love of music, the Lutheran Church became a great producer of Hymnody. I credit the fact that both my parents grew up as Lutherans for much of my love of music. We have three old Lutheran hymnals from the mid-1900s that I like to sing from at times (I think they were some of the first English language Lutheran hymnals). I have realized that in many American hymnals we have straitened out the old German hymns, and that many of them were originally very lively and sometimes even bouncy, yet orderly and beautiful.

I agree with Luther that music forms a large part of our education. In fact, if you look at the Bible, music is commanded much more than math, and perhaps it should be Reading, Writing, and Music that are the basics of learning.

-Peter Bringe
Deo Vindice