Commemoration of Johann Walter, Kantor
Johann Walter (1496-1570) began service at the age of 21 as a composer and bass singer in the court chapel of Frederick the Wise. In 1524, he published a collection of hymns arranged according to the church year. It was well received and served as the model for numerous subsequent hymnals. In addition to serving for 30 years as kantor (church musician) in the cities of Torgau and Dresden, he also assisted Martin Luther in the preparation of the Deutsche Messe (1526). Walter is remembered as the first Lutheran kantor and composer of church music.
God of majesty, whom saints and angels delight to worship in heaven, we give You thanks that You provided music for Your Church through Johann Walter, kantor in the Church of the Reformation. Through music You give us joy on earth as we participate in the songs of heaven. Bring us to the fulfillment of that song that will be ours when we stand with all Your saints before Your unveiled glory; through Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
More Extensive Information about Kantor Walter
Johann Walther (1495-1570) is often referred to as the father of Lutheran Church music. It was Walther who laid the foundation upon which composers of later generations built the traditions of Lutheran music. A direct kinship exists between the music of later composers and that of Walther. This applies not only to the style, but also to the spirit of their music. A careful study of the compositions of these composers reveals the fact that their music is usually spiritual, rather than aesthetic. The music of these men was deeply religious. They frequently sought merely to present, not to interpret, the Evangelical message. This impersonal and objective mode of composition, as well as many other characteristics found in the music of Lutheran composers may be traced back directly to Walther.
Walther was the first cantor of the Evangelical Church. The cantorates of Germany played a most important part in the early development of Lutheran music. Walther’s office of cantor, and the influence that he exerted through this office was tremendous in scope and effect. Walther was also the first German composer to write a Passion. The importance of this accomplishment can easily be realized when one considers that men like Heinrich Schütz and Johann Sebastian Bach put their best efforts into their Passion settings.
Many people today think of Walther primarily as a composer of chorale melodies. Although various chorales have been attributed to him, it is doubtful that he composed any chorales at all. Current musicological research has not unearthed a single hymn tune which may with certainty be ascribed to Johann Walther. In his own day, Walther was regarded as a distinguished musician. Walther has been regarded as a composer of hymn tunes, because some have erroneously concluded that he had written at least several of the thirty-six new hymn tunes which appeared in the various editions of his Geistliches Gesangbuchlein published between the years 1524 and 1551.
However, modern scholars believe that he edited and arranged hymns of Reformation and pre-Reformation times as “chorale motets” so that they could be used in the Evangelical Mass. These arrangements were prepared for choirs, not for the congregation. His Geistliches Gesangbuchlein is not a Choralbuch, as some believe, but it is a collection of “chorale motets” arranged for choirs. Walther arranged chorales as other contrapuntal composers of his time and earlier days had arranged Gregorian chants. For this reason, Walther must be regarded, not only as an editor and arranger, but also as a gifted composer of the Evangelical Church.
Johann Walther was born in the year 1496 in Kahla, a village near Jena, Germany. His father, whose name likewise was Johann Walther, was a prosperous peasant who enjoyed a good reputation in his community. Many of Walther’s relatives, from his father’s as well as from his mother’s side, were peasants, and one cannot help but note that, while many of the more eminent men of the Renaissance were sons of prosperous businessmen, the leaders of the Reformation were largely the sons of peasants. George Rhau, a prominent musician, editor, and publisher of the early Lutheran Church, was the son of a peasant; and Luther once boasted: “My father, grandfather, and all other ancestors were genuine peasants.” Although we know that Walther attended the school in Kahla in his early youth, we know very little concerning his early life. Neither is it known where he received his musical education. Through the influence of Conrad Rupsch, Walther became a member of the Hofkapelle of Frederick the Wise in 1517, the year in which Martin Luther nailed his Ninety-Five Theses to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg.
Frederick the Wise had organized this Hofkapelle c.1490 and had modeled it after the foremost Hofkapellen of Europe, particularly that of Emperor Maximilian, which was the most famous of that period. In order to maintain the highest standards possible, Frederick had engaged such men as Adam von Fulda (1446–1506) and Heinrich Isaac (1450–1517) for his organization. The Elector did not hesitate to expend large sums of money in order to maintain a first-class Hofkapelle, and the group presented compositions by such masters as Arcadelt, Willaert, Morales, Josquin Des Préz, Okeghem, Obrecht, and others. Through the influence of Frederick the Wise, Martin Luther, and Johann Walther, the members of the early Lutheran Church were exposed to the very best church music available. Rupsch had been connected with the Hofkapelle before Walther; in 1524 he accompanied Walther to Wittenberg in order to help Luther prepare his Deutsche Messe. Some believe that Walther received much of his musical training from Rupsch. As a member of the Hofkapelle, of which Conrad Rupsch was the musical director, Walther was a bass singer.
In the later years of Elector Frederick’s life, Conrad Rupsch sympathized and sided in with the iconoclasts, Thomas Muenzer and Carlstadt. For this reason, as well as for others, Frederick’s love for his Hofkapelle waned to the point of indifference, and he began to neglect the organization which he at one time had loved most ardently. However, his brother John the Steadfast and his nephew Frederick then took it upon themselves to look after its welfare.
By 1524, Walther had established quite an excellent reputation. Not only was he a bass in the Hofkapelle, but he was also the official composer of Frederick’s Kantorei, having been elected to this office to succeed Adam Rener. During the 16th and 17th centuries, a composer at a court was second in rank to the musical director (Kapellmeister). Besides composing music for the Hofkapelle, it was the duty of the composer to assist the Kapellmeister in arranging the music, to copy the music for the choir, and, if he did not copy the music himself, to see to it that well-qualified boys connected with the Hofkapelle would copy it.
In 1524, Walther published his famous Geistliches Gesangbuchlein in Wittenberg. During this same year, four hymnals appeared among the Lutherans. The first of these was undoubtedly the Achtliederbuch, published by Jobst Gutknecht in Nuremberg. This was followed by two Enchiridia of Erfurt, edited very likely by Johann Eberlin of Guensberg. Walther’s Geystliche gesangk Buchleyn, which was published late in the summer, was quite independent of its three predecessors. It was the first collection to appear in Lutheran circles for which the music was selected and arranged systematically. It was edited with the cooperation of Luther, who wrote the Foreword. The book served as a model for practically all subsequent collections of music prepared for the Evangelical Church of that era. It contained thirty-eight settings of thirty German hymns. Twenty-three of the hymns were by Martin Luther. In addition, there were also settings of five Latin hymns. The arrangements were for three to five voices with the tenor singing the cantus firmus. Just as Gregorian music served as the cantus firmus in the music of the Roman Catholic Church, so did the chorale serve as the cantus firmus in the music of the Evangelical Church. The cantus firmus of the Catholic Church was the chant music of its clergy and choir, but the Lutheran cantus firmus was sung by its entire membership: clergy, choir, and congregation. This is evident already in the music prepared by Walther.
Walther’s Geistliches Gesangbuchlein was intended not only for use in the church service, but also for use in the home. Here, too, is evidence of the fruitfulness of the doctrine of the universal priesthood, which made of the Christian home a sanctuary and a chancel. Luther and Walther tried hard to encourage the people to sing part-music in their homes, and Luther himself set a good example in this respect by having much singing of this kind in his own home. His Christmas chorale “Vom Himmel hoch” was written for his family circle, and it likely never occurred to Luther that this fine hymn would soon find its way into Lutheran services of worship. Walther’s book experienced five editions during his life (1524, 1525, 1537, 1544, 1551), each new edition an improvement over its predecessor.
Walther’s Geistliches Gesangbuchlein impressed Martin Luther so favorably that he invited Walther, who was then only twenty-eight years old, to his home in Wittenberg for an extended and purposeful visit. Conrad Rupsch was likewise invited to be present. The visit took place at the beginning of October 1524, and it lasted three weeks. Luther had been working on his German Mass (Deutsche Messe) for some time and wanted to discuss parts of the same with these two men.
Realizing the far-reaching consequences this work would have, Luther wanted to make sure that what he had written was correct and simple. He derived his German chants from Gregorian sources, as was to be expected, but he simplified the chants as much as possible, leaving out practically all ornamentation and giving each syllable only one note. His syllabic settings had much in common with those prepared later by John Merbecke (1523–1585) for the Anglican Church. Luther was unquestionably of the opinion that elaborate settings of Gregorian chant would not be used by the average clergyman. Though less artistic and less beautiful than melismatic chant, the syllabic settings were better suited for use in churches which did not employ trained musicians. Luther wished to discuss particularly his settings of the Sanctus and the Words of Institution with Walther and Rupsch. He sang for them the settings he had arranged and then asked the two experts to express their misgivings or offer improvements. Walther was asked to take a copy of these settings to Torgau that he might examine them more closely at home and also to prepare a copy for Elector Frederick for his approval. During the three weeks’ visit in Wittenberg, Luther, Walther, and Rupsch devoted much time to discussions of the characteristics of the Medieval Modes, chorales, and music in general. Luther also submitted some of his chorale tunes for improvement. The great Reformer clearly had high regard for Johann Walther’s musical expertise.
Great changes occurred in Wittenberg c.1525. Bugenhagen and Jonas, after seeking the advice of Luther, introduced many changes in the Mass. Luther’s Deutsche Messe, it must be remembered, did not appear until 1526. Luther had prepared a special Christmas liturgy in 1524, and in the fall of 1525 another new liturgy was introduced. The liturgy of 1524 called for the use of German hymns which Luther had recommended. Latin hymns were likewise used. Introducing the singing of hymns into the Masse was in itself already a departure from the regular liturgical practice of the Roman Catholic Church, which left no room and made no provisions for congregational singing in the Mass.
Unfortunately, the Hofkapelle at Torgau and the choir of the Castle Church in Wittenberg suffered neglect at this time. The Elector may have been so preoccupied with certain heavy duties imposed on him by the Reformation itself that he neglected the arts in order to advance the Evangelical cause. Luther was hardly to be blamed for the eventual disintegration of the Hofkapelle and of the choir of the Castle Church, for he later expressed his regrets over the fact that the musical standards were not sufficiently high in Wittenberg.
In the midst of all these changes and activities, on May 5, 1525, Elector Frederick the Wise died. His brother, John the Steadfast, took his place. John almost immediately disbanded the Hofkapelle at Torgau and the choir of the Castle Church in Wittenberg. It is possible that he had been influenced by the iconoclasts, Muenzer and Carlstadt. He may have thought that worshiping God through music was distinctly Roman Catholic and that it was the duty of the Church only to preach the Gospel. Some iconoclasts were of this opinion. Elector John did say that he regarded the expenses involved for the upkeep of a Hofkapelle as a sheer waste of money and that he believed the money could be used to better advantage. A precedent had been established by Charles V, who had disbanded the famous Hofkapelle of Emperor Maximilian in 1519, shortly after the death of Maximilian. Many members of this internationally famous organization, including Ludwig Senfl, were thus deprived of their livelihood and only source of income. However, while in Augsburg in 1520, Senfl received a gift of fifty Gulden from Emperor Charles V.
After Elector John had disbanded the Torgauer Hofkapelle, Walther turned to Luther and Melanchthon for help. These two men, together with Georg Spalatin, appealed to the Elector on behalf of those who had so promptly been dismissed, particularly on behalf of Johann Walther. In their letter to the Elector, Luther and Melanchthon pointed out that the Church needed composers as well as music, that it was unwise to stop the noble and effective efforts of men who had trained themselves for, and were devoting their lives to the advancement of good spiritual music. By thwarting the efforts of such men, vulgar and cheap music would be permitted to hold full sway in the lives of the people. This letter was written on June 20. Two days later the Elector sent a reply to Luther which showed that he was not to be persuaded very easily. The Elector insisted not only that maintaining such a group of musicians was waste of money, but he likewise stated that these musicians wasted a great deal of time and developed the habit of loafing.
In the very midst of all these difficulties, on June 26, 1526, Johann Walther married Anna Hesse (1500–1571), the daughter of Hans Hesse (d.1517), who had been the blacksmith of Elector Frederick the Wise. Since it seemed rather hopeless to change the mind of Elector John, Walther offered his services to Duke Albrecht of Brandenburg, but the unexpected happened. Elector John, on December 8, 1527, granted Walther a subsidy of twenty-five Gulden, which he was to receive annually until the end of his life, “since this man Walther is hardly fit for any other type of work.” Other worthy members of the Hofkapelle were likewise granted a subsidy, while those who were able to do other work were assigned to appropriate positions.
In the 14th and 15th Centuries, certain guilds prospered in Germany which were known as Kalenden. This name was chosen because the members met regularly on the first day of each month for the purpose of conducting memorial services in honor of their departed members. These Kalenden were very popular among the people, for by joining them the people were assured of elaborate wedding and funeral services and ceremonies. Kalenden played a very important part in the musical developments of Germany. They cultivated and encouraged the use of good church music and helped develop high musical standards. Frederick the Wise and his brother John the Steadfast helped support Kalenden, particularly the one in Torgau. Just as he was about to make a journey to the Holy Land, Frederick organized a Kapelle for the chapel of St. Martin at Hartenfels Castle in Torgau. This Kapelle consisted of four priests, ten choristers, and an organist. While this organization was dissolved through the decision of John the Steadfast, two other similar institutions continued to exist, one under the patronage of the city of Torgau, the other under the patronage of private individuals. Both of the existing institutions served the newly built church and school of Torgau, and part of the expense was borne by the Kalenden of Torgau, into whose treasury Elector John the Steadfast put the sum of one hundred Gulden each year. The Kalenden of Torgau saved the situation for their city and prevented the dissolution of the Hofkapelle from causing them the loss of their musical heritage.
The change made in Torgau proved to be of the utmost importance in the development of Lutheran church music, and the decision made by John the Steadfast abrogated the existence of an organization which served the court (the Hofkapelle) and unwittingly brought into existence an institution which served the Church, namely the Kantorei. Torgau thus became the first city of Germany to establish a cantorate. The Kantoreien helped put an end to the existence of the Kalenden, many of which had become thoroughly corrupt and worldly. The Kantoreien soon became a power which gave real impetus to the advancement of Lutheran music, since they were invariably connected not only with a church, but also with a school. They were able to present music on a much higher scale than any other institution of the Church. The members of these choirs were available for as many rehearsals as the cantor would choose to conduct, and the artistry of such groups, such as the Thomanerchor in Leipzig and the Kreuzchor in Dresden.
The school with which the first cantorate of Germany was linked was the municipally controlled Latin School (Lateinschule) of Torgau. This school became famous largely through the influence of M. Petrus Plateanus of Zwickau, who revolutionized the entire school system of Saxony during the second quarter of the 16th Century. Plateanus was well acquainted with the fine system used in the schools of the Netherlands at that time, and he applied many same policies and practices in the schools of Saxony. The school at Zwickau shared the fame of the Torgau school, and both institutions emphasized the study of the humanities from the Evangelical point of view.
In 1524, Luther had written his famous tract To the Councilmen of All Cities in German Lands, that They Erect and Maintain Christian Schools. In this tract, Luther stressed also the importance of music and said: “I speak for myself; if I had children and found it within my power to do so, I would insist that they study not only languages and history, but also learn to sing and become acquainted with music and the entire field of mathematics.” On another occasion he said: “We must of necessity retain the study of music in our schools. A teacher must be able to sing, otherwise I will not look at him.” The tract to the councilmen exerted a great influence on the German people and on shaping certain educational policies.
When the people of Torgau, having undoubtedly come under the influence of Luther’s tract, established a cantorate in their city, they immediately called upon Johann Walther to be their Kantor. Walther gladly accepted the offer, since he had lived and worked in Torgau previously, while assisting Conrad Rupsch as composer of the Hofkapelle;. He evidently had enjoyed his work there and was happy to return. The people of Torgau had likewise learned to know and appreciate Walther, and the very fact that they called on him to be their cantor demonstrates their esteem for him. When Walther took up his new work at Torgau, he was only the municipal cantor. In 1534, however, the city council, in order to find a way to increase his salary, appointed Walther also as cantor of the Lateinschule. In this capacity he taught, not only music, but also religion and Latin. The school was at that time attended by one hundred and seventy boys. Walther established himself quite well in Torgau, purchased a house at the price of 154 Gulden in the year 1532, and thus acquired the rights of citizenship. He now quite proudly referred to himself as “Citizen of Torgau and Cantor of its Kantorei.”
The enrollment of the Torgauer Lateinschule grew considerably after Walther became a member of its faculty. In 1545, it became necessary to restrict the size of the student body to four hundred. The standards in music advanced rapidly, and Walther was a highly respected musician, teacher, and administrator. He was eventually relieved of all other responsibilities at the school and devoted his full time to teaching music and to music administration. It was Walther’s duty to supply music for three churches, for the castle chapel, and for the two main churches in Torgau. Provisions were enacted that others take his place when he would be incapacitated by illness or by old age.
Shortly after Johann Walther began his activities in Torgau as cantor, John the Steadfast died (1532). His place was taken by Elector John Frederick, who served as Elector of Saxony for ten years. John the Steadfast has been called “the last knight of Saxony.” His successors did not inherit the greatness of their eminent predecessors. It was partly for this reason that the followers of Martin Luther now encountered difficulties which had been unknown to them before the death of John the Steadfast.
Luther was aware that Walther was accomplishing great things in Torgau. After he had held visitation of the churches in Torgau in 1534, he could not but express his joy over the fact “that God Almighty had blessed this city of Torgau above many others with fine music and an excellent Kantorei.” Some claim that Walther’s appointment to the cantorate at the Latin School was achieved through a suggestion made to this effect by Luther. In a letter addressed to the Elector of Saxony in 1541, Luther lamented the fact that Wittenberg presented and offered nothing worthwhile in the field of music. Luther wrote at the time: “We have at present great need for a musician in Wittenberg. For a time we were supplied from the papacy. The time has now arrived that we educate our own musicians; we are in need of such an educator (in Wittenberg).”
Although scholars today agree that Martin Luther possessed a sufficient musical talent and training to compose, not only simple hymns, but also excellent chants and other music, Luther never attempted to offer courses in church music. His letter of 1541, addressed to the Elector, shows conclusively that he was of the opinion that courses in church music should be offered by musicians who have been trained for such work. Luther was sufficiently aware of the importance of music in life to send his son Hans to the Torgauer Lateinschule in 1542 that he might learn music there among the other subject. Hans studied music under the supervision of Johann Walther, and the following words, written to Markus Crodel, superintendent of the Torgau School, in a letter dated August 26, 1542, are significant: “Farewell in the Lord, wish Johann Walther well for me and ask him to provide my son with instruction in music. I indeed must develop theologians, but I desire that also grammarians and musicians be trained among our people.” Luther’s interest in the school at Torgau was based, not only on its musical accomplishments, but above all on the fact that it was fortifying and establishing its students in their Christian faith. While academic subjects and cultural courses were offered, the primary purpose of the school was to make real Christian men of these boys. Music was regarded as a worthy and useful means for accomplishing this end. Walther had many opportunities to strengthen his pupils in their Christianity, for he was known to have taken his religion very seriously.
Walther’s duties as cantor of the municipal Kantorei of Torgau, however, were more comprehensive than those at the Latin School. The civic group stressed the social values which may be gained from the cultivation of music, as may be seen from the Sundry Articles Prepared for the City Council of Torgau of March 22, 1534. A study of the personnel of the group reveals how its musical activities brought together people of various stations of life. In the Kantorei were clergymen, teachers (including Markus Crodel, superintendent of the Lateinschule), merchants, artists, and artisans. When members of the group were in need, they were given aid. When they entered the estate of holy matrimony or when they died, music was furnished for the occasion. These customs undoubtedly reflect the influence of the Kalenden.
October 5, 1544, was a day long to be remembered by the people of Torgau. On that day the new chapel of Hartenfels Castle was dedicated. It was the first church building erected by Lutherans. For this noteworthy occasion Luther himself preached the sermon. Walther composed a seven-part motet for the occasion, which was sung by members of the Torgau Kantorei. The composition was a motet of homage, dedicated to Luther, Melanchthon, and Elector John Frederick the Magnanimous. Georg Rhau of Wittenberg published this motet, which is very much like one written by Josquin Des Préz.
The musical repertoire of the municipal Kantorei at Torgau naturally freatured Walther’s Geistliches Gesangbuechlein quite prominently. Four editions of this famous collection appeared before Walther left Torgau for Dresden. The first edition contained thirty-eight German and Latin compositions. As new editions came out, the proportion of Latin compositions grew; the fifth edition contained seventy-eight German and forty-seven Latin compositions. The repertoire included also Walther’s Passion According to St. Matthew, the first German Passion ever written. Walther’s Luther-Codex of 1545, a collection (copied by hand) of twenty-four German and one hundred fifteen Latin compositions, was also used. This interesting collection included compositions by Josquin Des Préz, Adam Rener, Johannes Prioris, Pierre de la Rue, Antoine de Fevin, Ludwig Senfl, and many others. The well-known Gothaer Cantional of 1545, a collection of forty-two German and sixty-nine Latin compositions, a Magnificat collection of 1557, and a printed edition of Christlich Kinderlied D. Martini Lutheri: Erhalt uns, Herr, of 1566 with eighteen German and three Latin compositions were likewise used by the Torgauer Kantorei. In 1540 Georg Rhau dedicated a collection of ten four-part masses to the Torgau Kantorei. It is not surprising that this collection was in the library. Rhau’s large collection, bearing the title Neue geistliche Gesaenge … fuer die gemeinen Schulen (Wittenberg, 1544), was also used at Torgau. The repertoire, therefore, consisted not only of compositions written in Walther’s conservative style, but also of compositions of a freer type as, for example, those written by Des Préz, Senfl, and others of the Netherlander School.
The records of the Kantorei of the Lateinschule reveal that some outstanding men studied there under the tutelage of Walther. Among these we find the fathers of Leonhard Schroerer and Michael Praetorius, Martin Luther’s son Hans, and Georg Otto, the teacher of Heinrich Schütz. Some years later, as Landgrave Maurice of Hesse tried to persuade Heinrich Schütz to come to his court to serve as Kapellmeister, he stated that a musician, in order to have a good rating, almost had to be a product of the Torgau School. Although Schütz himself had not lived and studied in Torgau, the very fact that his teacher had been one of its products was regarded as sufficient evidence of the adequacy of Schütz’s training. The school at Torgau and also the municipal Kantorei of this city were famous throughout Germany, and its students were recruited from many parts of the nation.
After Walther had spent years of hard work and dedication establishing high standards in Torgau, difficulties set in which made life and work very difficult for him there. They arose particularly after 1546, the year of Luther’s death. Walther and Luther had been very good friends, and Walther had learned to lean quite heavily on Luther. Furthermore, strife came into the Lutheran Church when the liberal element within the Church, under the leadership of Melanchthon, gained control of the University of Wittenberg, and the conservative element chose to retreat to the University of Jena. The Council of Trent, which began to assemble in 1545, refused to admit that the Roman Catholic Church had erred and thus made reconciliation with the Lutherans impossible. Had not the spirit of Lutheran faith and strong conviction already entered into the lives of the common people, the Reformation might have been lost at this time.
Political conditions also developed which proved to be harmful to the Lutheran cause. In 1547, Emperor Charles V carried out the wish of the Pope to put down “the Lutheran heretics” in Germany. Wars broke out between the Roman Catholics and the Lutherans, who were united in the Smalcald League. Maurice, the Duke of Saxony, betrayed the Lutherans politically. He declared himself for Charles V, against the Evangelicals, and he took possession of Electoral Saxony, which rightfully belonged to his cousin John Frederick. In the spring of 1547, Emperor Charles V defeated John Frederick at Muehlberg and took him prisoner. Charles demonstrated his hatred for Lutheranism by appointing the vicious Duke of Alba as president of the court which tried John Frederick and condemned him to death. The princes of Germany protested so violently against this sentence that it was never carried out, but John Frederick was compelled to give his treacherous cousin Maurice the title of Elector and all his territory. John Frederick steadfastly refused to subscribe to the decrees of the Council of Trent and remained firm in his Lutheran faith during his five years of imprisonment which followed.
Walther had followed these developments closely and had also, together with other citizens of Torgau, lent money to Elector John Frederick in order to help the Lutheran cause. However, now that the whole matter had taken such an unfortunate turn, Walther became very much discouraged and was anxious to leave Torgau. Nevertheless, he remained and conducted himself as a dutiful and obedient citizen.
Largely through the influence of Charles V, much Dutch music was brought into Saxony following these events. Dutch musicians were likewise imported. This made it difficult for Walther to perpetuate some of the standards he had worked so hard to establish. Many of these Dutch musicians did not fit into Walther’s surroundings and caused much dissension in the circles into which they entered.
Another serious difficulty presented itself. A highly talented musician by the name of Adrian Petit Coclicus, a former pupil of Josquin Des Préz, sought the position as professor of music at the University of Wittenberg. His occupying this chair would naturally have robbed Walther of much hard-earned prestige in Saxony. Coclicus, who had become a Protestant, wrote a Song of Homage, which he dedicated to the treacherous Elector Maurice, hoping thereby to gain his good will. Coclicus, however, had a bad reputation, and the Elector was not able to grant him his wish despite the many recommendations Coclicus had brought with him.
Walther’s successor in Torgau, Michael Vogt, who had been a pupil of Coclicus, went to Walther for further instruction in music after discontinuing his work with Coclicus. This must have afforded Walther some satisfaction. It was Michael Vogt who published a collection of five and six-part Masses written by such masters as Lupus Hellingk and Matthaeus Le Maistre, which was used extensively in Torgau after the departure of Walther. The influence exerted by such musicians as Le Maistre, Des Prez, and Hellingk was wholesome for the music of Saxony, for it infused into Saxon music a vitality which was sadly lacking in the conservative music of Walther. Had the Netherlander composers not introduced these refreshing elements, it is doubtful whether Saxon music written in the first half of the Sixteenth Century would have survived. As it was, it became the foundation for the music of Michael Praetorius, Hans Leo Hassler, Johann Sebastian Bach, and others.
Shortly after Maurice had taken over the position of Elector of Saxony, he decided to establish his residence in Dresden. He likewise decided to have a Hofkapelle for his court. While at the court in Torgau from 1537 to 1539, he had become well acquainted with the activities and abilities of Walther. Having perhaps heard that a change of residence, activity, and environment would do Walther much good, Elector Maurice in 1548 decided to ask Walther to organize a Hofkapelle for him in Dresden. Melanchthon had encouraged Maurice to offer this office to Walther, who later accepted and again became a court musician.
A call soon went out to various parts of Germany, urging capable men and boys to become candidates for membership in the Dresden Hofkapelle. The invitation was sent also to the students at the Universities of Leipzig and Wittenberg. It is known that the appeal was read in the Latin language to the students at the University of Wittenberg on the 19th of August by Caspar Cruciger, Rector of the University. A large number of candidates applied; nineteen were finally chosen as probationers for a period of six months. Ten of these nineteen singers were adults; nine were boys (sopranos, descanters). One of the adult members of the Kapelle, who possessed the necessary training and education, was given the office of preceptor for the nine boys in order that their education might not be neglected. The members of the Hofkapelle were required to pledge obedience, reverence, Christian decorum, and attendance at all regular and special rehearsals. Two boys were appointed periodically to read portions from the German and Latin editions of the Bible in the chapel exercises conducted especially for the young boys.
Rehearsals lasting an hour were held each day, and Walther was granted the privilege of having as many rehearsals as he chose. The members of the Hofkapelle were garbed in black vestments and received one new court garment each year. On the right sleeve of each vestment, near the shoulder, the motto of Saxony was stitched with golden threads. This consisted in the words Verbum Dei Manet in Aeternum (The Word of the Lord endureth forever). On the vestments the motto was abbreviated: VDMIA. The Kapellmeister as well as the organist received two garments each year. The boys lived in the home of the Kapellmeister, who was responsible for their welfare, fed them, and, among other things, gave each of the boys a container filled with beer each night. This was the Schlaftrunk, which was to help the boys fall asleep. The Kapellmeister and the instructor of the boys each received an annual salary of forty Gulden. The salary of the organist was thirty Gulden, and each of the adult singers received twenty-four Gulden. They, too, were granted a portion of beer each night. The Kapellmeister and the instructor, besides receiving daily a jug filled with beer, also received daily a container filled with wine from the cellar of the Elector. Stipulated amounts were granted the Kapellmeister for the sustenance of the boys he housed and fed in his home, and the Kapellmeister rendered a detailed account of the needs of the boys with regard to clothing, textbooks, paper, ink, soap, and the like. Having such close contact with their superiors naturally left its impression on these boys and also advanced them musically. According to all indications, conditions at Dresden were almost ideal for Walther during his service under Elector Maurice. The work was well regulated and obviously the Elector had great confidence in his chief musician.
Elector Maurice died in the year 1553, and his brother August became his successor. Since the new Elector wanted to enlarge his Hofkapelle, Walther, who was now growing old, believed it would be better to transfer the office of cantor to someone younger than himself, though he had been an incumbent of this office for only six years. Asking at the same time for a pension, Walther resigned on August 7, 1554. His successor was Matthaeus Le Maistre, a famous and very capable Flemish musician of that period, whose services the Elector procured through an agent at the rather high salary of 240 Gulden per year. Walther was granted a pension of sixty Gulden per year, an increase of fifty per cent over the salary he had received.
Le Maistre abandoned his Catholic faith shortly after his arrival in Dresden and became a Lutheran. He did not throw overboard the customs and traditions which Walther had established at the court of Maurice. Neither did Le Maistre do violence to the type of music Walther had sought to foster; on the contrary, he was very conservative and evidently respected Walther highly. He even fostered the style Walther had used and applied many of its characteristics to his own compositions. Thus we find that he usually used a cantus firmus in his compositions. He often doubled this cantus firmus by having two voices sing it canonically. But Le Maistre was not a mere imitator; he often went several steps farther than Johann Walther had gone. He was a typical Flemish master and quite naturally applied much of what he had learned from other Netherlander composers. There is, consequently, more complexity in his compositions than in the music of Walther. Le Maistre had studied with the famouse composer Claude Goudimel, and from this training he often assigned his cantus firmus to the soprano voice. This practice was later adopted by Lukas Osiander and practically all later Lutheran composers. Le Maistre may well be called the “transition composer” between Johann Walther and Sixt Dietrich on the one hand, and Hans Leo Hassler and Michael Praetorius on the other.
Although Le Maistre earnestly endeavored to perpetuate the ideals that Walther had sought to establish at Dresden, developments took a turn which disappointed Walther. Much foreign music was introduced at Dresden, foreign musicians were imported (notably from Italy and the Netherlands), and Le Maistre was soon forced to realize that a Hofkapellmeister could not work with the independence which a cantor enjoyed. In much to same way, several generations later, J.S. Bach was obliged to cater to the tastes of the Weimar court and prepare for performance much of the music of Vivaldi and other Italian composers. Elector August encountered heavy expenses by importing foreign musicians for the Dresden court. Many remained but a short time, notably among the boys, who often became homesick and yearned to return to their homes in Italy and the Netherlands. In addition, Le Maistre frequently experienced that the voices of some would change shortly after their arrival in Dresden.
There were also other unexpected difficulties. Some of the Dutch members of the Hofkapelle were not at all willing to learn the German language, and it became necessary to exert pressure to remedy this. Also, a large percentage of the Italians and Netherlanders were Roman Catholics, and forcing Lutherans and Catholics to live and work together was bound to cause, not only heated discussions and dissension, but even serious outbreaks and trouble, especially in the 16th Century. Under Walther’s regime, there had been tranquillity and peace, but Le Maistre had a much more difficult task to perform than did Walther. Arrangements were made which obligated Le Maistre to house only those boys who had come from the Netherlands. The others (12) lived with the preceptor. Arrangements were also made that boys connected with the Hofkapelle could attend the schools at Schulpforta, Meissen, or Grimma while their voices were changing, naturally with the provision that they return to the Hofkapelle at Dresden. Others, whose class records warranted the privilege, were permitted to attend either the University of Wittenberg or the University of Leipzig for a period of two or three years. They were granted a subsidy of twenty-five Gulden per year, but were obligated to return to their work at Dresden after they had completed their studies.
In 1556, forty-seven musicians furnished the music for the Saxon court. Ten of these were instrumentalists, and the others formed the choral group. All the instrumentalists were Italians, and the choral group included also three organists. Among the names of Italians we find those of Antonio and Angelo Scandello. Antonio Scandello succeeded Le Maistre as Kapellmeister in 1568. He, too, became a Lutheran. His compositions show German as well as Italian leanings. He and Le Maistre are today regarded as Lutheran composers. Both treated the chorale quite successfully. However, Scandello’s idiom is more fluent and polyphonic than that of Le Maistre, many of whose compositions are homophonic in character.
As soon as Elector August began to make radical changes to expand the work of his Kapelle, Johann Walther felt quite out of place in Dresden. He was not the type of person who could adapt himself readily to radical change. His age may have been responsible for this. He had harbored the hope of putting music into the hands of the common people, as he had done while municipal cantor in Torgau. However, Elector August thought only of his court and the Hofkapelle. Instead of taking German people into the Hofkapelle, he imported musicians from Italy and the Netherlands. Instead of giving music to his people, he reserved it for himself and his courtiers. This was hardly in keeping with the aims of Martin Luther and Johann Walther.
Furthermore, the tactics of the Elector brought secular instrumental music not only into Saxony, but also into the churches. In itself this was not to be deplored but, unfortunately, it brought secular music into the Mass as well. Another outcome of the practices of Elector August was that musicians were no longer interested in serving the Church; their ambition was to serve at court, where the remuneration was more gratifying than in the Church. The foreign musicians who had been imported by the Elector often had no appreciation for what was appropriate in a church service, and when called upon to perform in a church, they would often render music which was unworthy and unsuitable. These unfortunate developments ran counter to the devout principles of Walther, whose greatest aim in life had been to serve the Church and to educate the people. His heart was simply not in the cultivation of music at the court, though he realized fully what a fine influence it could and should wield there. Walther clearly did not fit into the Dresden surroundings any longer.
In 1554 Walther returned to Torgau, where he still owned a home. Here he hoped to live a calm and peaceful life. But conditions had changed considerably during the time of his residence in Dresden. While serving as cantor in Torgau he had won the friendship and esteem of many people. After John Frederick had lost Saxony and had been cast into prison, practically all the people who had been at his court left Torgau and took up residence in Weimar. The Augsburg Interim and its successor, the Leipzig Interim, had made life unbearable particularly for Lutheran clergymen in Saxony. Gabriel Zwilling (Didymus), a pastor in Torgau, and Michael Schulteis, the father of Michael Praetorius, both intimate friends of Walther, were removed from office. Here and there individuals remained true to their Lutheran principles and lived as exules Christi, exiles of Christ, as they called themselves. Walther associated with them after his return to Torgau, but nevertheless felt quite lost. He was asked to write an epitaphical mass in honor of Elector Maurice, but shirked this duty, perhaps because he had developed feelings of strong prejudice against Maurice, whom the Lutherans called “Judas,” because he had betrayed them, and whom the Catholics, too, despised, because he later had been unfaithful to Charles V in order to regain the favor of the Lutherans. Walther asked Antonio Scandello to write the Mass. He did, however, write an epitaph in honor of John Frederick, who had died in 1554, which he turned over to the sons of “the born prince” together with a collection of eight Magnificats, one for each of the eight psalm tones. This collection was published in 1557.
Influences were at work in Torgau to suppress the use of figural art music altogether. Certain people, particularly a certain Caspar Heydenreich, did not approve of four and five-part music, claiming that it was “Roman Catholic” in its very makeup. They maintained at the same time that only unison music is characteristically Lutheran. The city council was rather worried about this development, but Walther fought it openly, quoting Luther as much as possible, for he knew that he could thus squelch these fanatics most effectively.
In the year 1566 Walther published his last collection of music. It contained eighteen German and two Latin compositions. The title was: Doctor Martin Luther’s Christian Hymn for Children, “Lord, Keep Us Steadfast in Thy Word,” Augmented by Several Beautiful Christian Texts, Latin and German Songs. The collection was dedicated to Duke Johann Wilhelm of Saxony.
Walther was now 70 years old (an incredible age for the times). After his return to Torgau, because of his age and the fact that his compositions, as well as many of his principles with regard to church music no longer fit into the existing scene, Walther’s activities were restricted to the presentation of music in the chapel of the castle. The Elector took a kindly attitude towards Walther, knowing that he had contributed much to the development of music in Saxony. There were many people in Saxony, including many of his former students, who took a sympathetic attitude toward him. But Walther’s day was at its end. Michael Praetorius’ Verba des alten Johann Walthers (Words of the Old Johann Walther) give us reason to believe that Walther must have written memoirs of his career during his last days. It is believed that he died in Torgau on March 25, 1570. His grave has not been preserved, but his gravestone has been found with the following simple inscription: “Natus 1496, denatus 1570.” His wife died a year later, May 23, 1571. No portrait of Walther is known to be in existence today. It is thought that Cranach made several of him and that one of these still existed in the 18th century.
Johann Walther was a pioneer in the real sense of the word. Luther put music on the lips of all worshipers, and Lutheran composers, convinced that the text was the main thing, wrote simply and intelligibly, very often using a well-known chorale as a cantus firmus in order that the people might hear a familiar strain in the choral music of the Church. When Johann Walther began his career as a composer of church music, he approached his work soberly and wisely. The mere fact that the compositions which he wrote later in life were not radically different from the compositions which he wrote when less than thirty years of age, indicates an early stage of development and maturity which were well worth preserving and maintaining throughout his life.
Walther adopted the prevailing custom of his day and assigned the cantus firmus to the tenors (name derived from “teneo”— to hold). In his Geistliche Lieder of 1524, we find only two instances in which Walther assigned the cantus firmus not to the tenors, but to the sopranos. In the edition published in 1551, however, the cantus firmus is transferred to the upper voice no less than fifteen times. This proves that Walther did not hesitate to change his compositional technique when he realized that the change would effect an improvement. Yet, as a rule, composers of that period assigned the cantus firmus to the tenor. While the tenors sang the cantus firmus (chorale), the other voices may have sung a vowel sound, and not the text. Musicologists today believe it likely that only the cantus firmus of these compositions was sung, while the other parts were played by various instrumentalists.
Walther’s chorale compositions may be divided into two distinct groups. As an example of the first group, in Walther’s setting of “Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland,” there is from the outset a distinct independence of the outer voices. These open the composition with imitation, which is not carried out far and consistently enough to establish any definite form. Walther often uses imitation in this manner at the beginning of his works. The cantus firmus, of course, is the pivot of the entire composition, and everything is built around it. However, it is assigned to the altos and the tenors in the form of a two-voice canon. The purpose of this is to give to the cantus firmus more prominence and greater strength. After the cantus firmus has once made its entry, the outer voices progress with perfect freedom, making no attempt to lend support to the cantus firmus. In the twenty-second measure a new procedure sets in: the cantus firmus becomes melismatic and the outer voices begin to imitate the cantus firmus. The contrast between the outer voices and the descant is lifted, and the voices begin to coordinate. This was not often done by Walther, but we see here the influence of such composers as Finck, Isaac, and Hofhaimer, all members of the Renaissance school. We notice likewise the influence of the Netherland school, which insisted on such coordination and which also made frequent use of imitation in its compositions for the purpose of establishing unity.
Compositions of this type were written by Johann Walther already before 1524. About half of the compositions in his Geistliches Gesangbuechlein of 1524 are of this type, though in no more than four the cantus firmus is doubled and sung canonically, and in only two compositions do we find the cantus firmus in the upper voice. In eighteen compositions the chorale is presented in its simple original form, while in the remaining twenty-two chorale motets of the collection the chorale melody appears in a melismatically altered form.
The second type of chorale composition written by Walter is quite different from the first. This type is exemplified in his arrangement of the chorale “Aus tiefer Not schrei ich zu dir.” Here, too, Walther adopted a style which had been developed already by others, notably by Isaac, Stoltzer, Finck, and Hofhaimer. The cantus firmus is very plain and to the point, totally devoid of melismatic figuration or other ornamental effects. The tenors carry the cantus firmus and in the entire composition the cantus firmus is the pivot. In fact, in this type of composition the cantus firmus draws the other voice parts to itself with “centripetal force.” The outer voices are not free and do not move about with perfect abandon; the entire composition is not only homophonic, but also homorhythmical. The compositions belonging to this group or type are much more simple and hence also more popular than the compositions belonging to the first group. Since the outer voices are directly under the influence of the cantus firmus, they naturally help support it. Cadences occur regularly at the end of each phrase. The part sung as descant at times manifests melodic features which show the influence of the Renaissance composers, but on the whole one feels that all voices help support the tenors. This type of composition was developed also by Josquin Des Préz and others.
Walther’s custom of assigning the cantus firmus to the tenors was followed quite generally until Lukas Osiander (1534–1604), a theologian, induced the Lutheran composers to assign the cantus firmus to the sopranos, as had been done by Goudimel and Bourgeois of the Reformed school. In 1586 Osiander published his 50 geistliche Lieder und Psalmen in Nuremburg. These were written in four-part harmony and arranged homorhythmically. Osiander said in the preface to his collection: “I know very well that composers usually assign the chorale to the tenors. However, when one does that, the chorale is not recognizable among the other voices; for the common man does not understand or know which hymn or psalm it is which is being sung and hence cannot sing along. For that reason I have assigned the chorale to the descanters, that it may be recognized, and that every layman may be able to sing along.”
During the Reformation period, two Passions were written which enjoyed great popularity in Germany for a period of over two hundred years. Both were written by Johann Walther; one was based on the account of Christ’s passion as recorded by the Evangelist St. Matthew, the other on that by St. John. Walter composed his “dramatic” or “responsorial” Passions in German. In earlier musical versions of the Passion story the entire narrative was a succession of polyphonic motets, but Walter used a monophonic reciting tone for the Evangelist and dramatis personae, reserving for the people and the disciples simple fauxbourdon (chordal) polyphony. Both Passions are believed to have been written between 1525 and 1530, and some are of the opinion that Luther assisted Walther in writing them. Walther’s St. Matthew Passion was used in the Thomaskirche in Leipzig until J.S. Bach replaced it with his own Passion According to St. Matthew in 1729. The change made by Bach almost caused a furor in Leipzig, not only because Bach’s Passion was radically different from Walther’s, which was a chant Passion, but also because the people were disinclined to change established customs.
Walther’s Passions served as models for many Passions written after his day by Lutheran composers. Luther had always insisted that music and text must go hand in hand. He insisted that one should not use a German text with music that had been written specifically for a Latin text, even if the German text was a translation of the Latin. Walther bore this in mind when he wrote his Passions. He first considered his German texts, studied their structure, then set them to music. Walther used the Passion tone which had already been used by the Church long before his day, but modified it so that it could be adapted to his settings. He did not use the Gospel tone, which had likewise been used before his day. When composing the music for the Passion account of a certain Evangelist, Walther retained the exact words of Scripture just as he found them in Luther’s German translation of the Bible. Walther upheld tradition and wrote his St. Matthew Passion for Palm Sunday and his St. John Passion for Good Friday. When used in the main service of the day, the presentation of the Passion would take the place of the reading of the Gospel.
Walther seems to have written no secular music. When he composed, he composed for his church, and since the organ was not as yet a fully recognized and widely used church instrument, he did not write music for it. His primary aim was to establish a singing tradition within the Evangelical Church. As has already been stated, it is doubtful whether Walther wrote any hymn tunes. However, Walther is credited with the authorship of about ten hymn texts, of which several are definitely known to be his. The best known of these are the two chorales Der Braeut’gam wird bald rufen (Soon will the Bridegroom Summon) and Herzlich tut mich erfreuen (My Inmost Heart Rejoiceth). The latter was really a parody on the folk song, Herzlich tut mich erfreuen die Liebe Sommerzeit.
Luther and Walther combated bad music with good music. They took secular music and made it sacred, thereby creating a type of religious verse which the Germans call Kontrafakturen, i.e., contrafacted or parodied hymns. To us this seems like a rather strange procedure, especially when a secular song is converted into chorale for the season of Lent, but in the days of the Reformation very little distinction was made between sacred and secular music, between church life and folk life. The distinction did not really develop until the Council of Trent passed its momentous decisions with regard to music, insisting that sharp distinctions be made between sacred and secular music. The Bohemian Brethren had followed the same practice which was later adopted by Luther and Walther. In a letter to Elector Frederick III, they explain their actions as follows: “Among our hymn tunes are some which were originally associated with secular texts. Strangers and outsiders are often offended at this. But our musicians have adopted these after much deliberation, believing that the common people would grasp the truth much more quickly when it is associated with familiar tunes; for this reason we ought not to find fault with their good intentions.”
Luther and Walther were actually almost forced to convert secular texts into sacred verse. There existed at that time a scarcity of hymns for the people and for the Church. The Roman Catholic Church had not concerned itself about giving the people an opportunity to sing hymns in the celebration of Mass, and the hymns which were available were few in number. Practically all of these hymns were written in Latin, and a large percentage was saturated with distinctively Roman Catholic doctrines. Although Luther translated and purged many such hymns, their number was relatively small when one takes into consideration the large number of hymns which must be at the disposal of a singing Church. Luther and Walther were thus forced to recast folk songs and convert them into hymns. Luther insisted that the hymns of the Church be popular (volkstuemlich) and folk-song-like in character, so he did not hesitate to convert folk songs into church hymns. It is to be noted, however, that not only Luther and Walther, but also others who were interested in providing the Church with hymns, were very careful in selecting only such texts and tunes as would fit well into a religious service. Luther thus popularized the singing of hymns among his followers to such an extent that the Lutheran Church became known as the “Singing Church.”
By using folk-song melodies with sacred texts, some of which were parodies, Luther and Walther sought not only to put wholesome music into the hands of the people, but aimed thereby also to combat vulgar and undesirable music. Had they attempted to do this with a more artistic type of music, of which they themselves were very fond, they would, likely, have failed. By giving the common people simple music which was good, they hoped not only to lead them away from what was cheap, offensive, and vulgar, but also to lead them to that higher and more artistic type of music which the common people were as yet not able to enjoy or comprehend. Consequently, when Walther wrote his motets, he kept in mind that the common people were to hear them. He therefore often made them as simple as possible, using a chorale as cantus firmus; he knew that such use of familiar tunes would catch the ears of the laity and thus teach them to appreciate and follow music which was more involved than a simple folk song. One must not disregard the fact that Luther and Walther had pedagogical minds. They sought to teach and thus reform. When one considers the abundant use Bach made of the chorale in his cantatas, Passions, and organ music, one cannot help but realize that he had the same purpose in mind. In this respect, as well as in others, Bach trod the path of Johann Walther, the father of Lutheran Church music. Walther laid the foundation; Bach completed the structure.
When we examine Walther’s music, we cannot help perceiving that to him religious music was important because it had a great message to proclaim and a sacred duty to perform. Luther at one time remarked that music is second in importance only because theology ranks first. Walther went even further and stated that music is a part of theology. In the preface to his Lobgedicht, Walther said: “Music, because of its character, and because of its own rich inheritance, belongs to sacred theology; yes, it is so entwined and so sealed up with theology that anyone who desires, studies, and learns theology, must also take up music with it, though he may not see, feel, or understand it. For that reason music is not an art which, as some believe, may be used only to entice carnal desires, pleasures, and frivolity, just as some people use all gifts of God for carnal and foolish purposes, but it is an art which has been given us for the purpose of praising and glorifying God’s grace and mercy, that through it the spirit may be made cheerful in God and also that through it man’s lazy and indolent flesh may be made happy and alert, ready and willing to praise and serve God.”
Walther built a foundation which still stands, and upon which much of the greatest music of the world stands. To have built such a foundation means to have built substantially and well, and though time may have obscured the builder and the very foundation itself, the foundation still serves its great purpose and retains its significance. Michael Praetorius expressed this fact when he referred to Johann Walther as “the most important and most interesting founder of Lutheran music in the churches of Germany.” Source.
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Motets by Johann Walther ~ PDF Scores Allein auf Gottes Wort * * Christ ist erstanden MIDI Christ lag in Todesbanden MIDI Christum wir sollen loben schon * * Ein’ feste Burg ist unser Gott MIDI Gelobet seist du Jesu Christ * * Komm, Gott Schöpfer – (open score) MIDI Komm, Gott Schöpfer, heiliger Geist MP3 Komm, heiliger Geist MIDI Nun bitten wir / Komm, heiliger Geist MIDI Vater unser im Himmelreich MIDI Verbum caro factum est! * * Wir glauben all an einen Gott MIDI Wo Gott, der Herr, nicht bei uns hält MIDI