Just watch this…
My son John pointed me to this group, via his Facebook page and…..wow….well, just watch.
Beethoven, Symphony 7, Allegretto, mvt 2
I have heard of this before, but I do not recall ever seeing it this well demonstrated, the ancient practice of Mongolian Throat Singing. Fascinating. HT: Tim Challies
Our local public radio station is now broadcasting classical music 24/7/365 in HD radio, on KWMU-3. You can access the live MP3 stream here.
Many of you have responded enthusiastically to the news that Concordia Publishing House has released a recording of the daily orders of prayer that Lutherans have used historically, and many have already commented on how marvelous the singing is, wondering just who this “Kantorei” group is. I’ve heard from quite a few of you who all are asking, “Who are those guys?”
Here’s a great article from the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette about the Kantorei. In my opinion, the Kantorei has remained, consistently, the finest men’s Lutheran choir in the USA, and holds its own against any group internationally. This is due in very large measure to the excellent work of its founder and conductor, Rev. Kantor Richard Resch, who would be quick to give all glory to God and praise the seminary students who each year volunteer their time to this wonderful group. If you are interested in purchasing recordings by the Kantorei you can find them in our Concordia Publishing House bookstore on the campus of Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne, or purchase them directly from our CPH web site.
Kantorei, the all-male choir of Concordia Theological Seminary, performs during a worship service in Kramer Chapel on campus in Fort Wayne.
Quick – can you name an all-male choir from Fort Wayne that sings sacred music, mostly a cappella?
Well, the question might not flummox elite choral music aficionados in these parts. But it might well furrow brows from many familiar with northeast Indiana’s music scene, says Richard Resch, director of Concordia Theological Seminary’s 16-member Kantorei.
Kantorei is a choral group made up of pastors-to-be studying at the Fort Wayne seminary of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod. But the ensemble remains one of the area’s better-kept musical secrets, Resch acknowledges.
That’s even though the group is more than 30 years old, has six recordings and has developed a national reputation.
Kantorei’s local profile is low, Resch says, partly because the group sings locally at only a few public events each year – notably at Easter and Epiphany vespers services in Kramer Chapel on the seminary campus at 6600 N. Clinton St.
And the group doesn’t give concerts even when it sings, Resch says. Instead, it performs only at worship services.
“Because we’re a seminary, we do things a little differently,” says Resch, who founded Kantorei in 1978. Its audition-only membership rotates as students complete seminary residency requirements.
The reputation the group has gained, Resch adds, comes largely from its role in promoting the seminary.
Twice a year, Kantorei goes on tours that take the singers to Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod churches both in the Michiana-Ohio region and throughout the United States and Canada. This week, for example, members are singing in nine churches mostly in central Florida.
Kantorei’s Fort Wayne performance will be at an Epiphany Lessons and Carols service in Kramer Chapel at 4 p.m. Jan. 17.
Resch says Kantorei started “with my desire to take a bit of the seminary to the church at large,” with the aim of drawing candidates and financial and spiritual support. He estimates hundreds of congregations have heard the group, and listeners have become avid consumers of the group’s CDs. Kantorei has become self-supporting and occasionally income-producing, even though there is no admission charge for services at which it performs, he says.
The choir also has given Resch, a seminary associate professor of pastoral theology, a chance to work intensively with committed singers to develop what he calls “refinement” of their sound. Singers rehearse three times a week – at 7 a.m. – and there’s no being late, missing practice or dropping out, Resch says.
By the time the men sing locally at the end of their tours, the pieces “are in really good shape, musically” he says, “and they’re not likely to be done (anywhere) very much better.”
Kantorei performances highlight the rich tradition of choral music in Lutheran worship, Resch says.
“Lutherans really care about choral music,” he explains, noting that the faith’s 16th-century founder, Martin Luther, was not only a theologian but also a musician who wrote many hymns, played the flute and was known to have been a good enough singer to be paid occasionally.
“We actually believe choral music is part of preaching. It’s proclamation (of the word of God). It’s not an add-on. It’s not fluff on the way to important stuff. It is important stuff,” Resch says, noting the group also performed secular music for secular audiences for a time but stopped because it was difficult to maintain focus on both.
Services at which Kantorei performs include Scripture, a brief homily and congregational singing. Music by the singers serves as prayer and reflections on the meaning of the season in which the music is performed, Resch says.
Music, however, is selected in much the same way as for a traditional classical music concert. Resch says he selects pieces to illustrate various periods and styles. When Kantorei performs Jan. 17, the repertoire includes works from Baroque, Romantic and modern.
“We’re going back to some carols by Michael Praetorius, and he was a Lutheran church musician writing around 1600, so that’s the oldest music we’ll do,” Resch says.
“The most beautiful thing we’re doing is by a new composer, Morten Lauridsen, ‘Oh Magnum Mysterium.’ We’re doing it in Latin, and it might be the piece most treasured by choral directors written in the last 20 years.”
In between come works by J.S. Bach and Camille Saint-Saens and some works commissioned by Kantorei.
Those pieces are “O Light Whose Splendor” by Henry V. Gerike, Resch’s counterpart at the Missouri Synod’s seminary in St. Louis, and “Guard Us Waking” by Kantorei’s Associate Cantor Kevin Hildebrand.
Over the years, Kantorei has commissioned about 60 pieces from composers including Robert Hobby, music director at Trinity English Lutheran Church in Fort Wayne; Fort Wayne native David Schack, a retired composer who now lives in Omaha, Neb.; and the late John Bender, an internationally known choral composer from Germany who taught at Wittenberg University in Ohio.
Resch started commissioning because he was frustrated that few pieces were being written for men’s choirs, which, while not rare, are not common either. Most available pieces were for mixed voices, and the few for men tended to be formulaic.
“Schmaltzy,” Resch says.
“There’s more (music for men’s choirs) out there now, and there’s more quality stuff, but there could be a whole lot more,” he says.
The group promotes the cause by publishing its commissioned works as the Kantorei Series. The publisher is the Missouri Synod’s Concordia Publishing House in St. Louis.
The ensemble’s CDs are available at the seminary’s bookstore on campus.
Doug Peters, a 40-year-old baritone, says he was a fan before he became a member as a second-career pastoral candidate.
His pastor had a CD, and when Peters listened to it, he says, “I thought they sounded wonderful.” Even though he hadn’t sung since high school, “I thought I’d try out, and I made it, and this is my second year.”
He calls being part of the group “a real blessing.”
“Obviously, the hymns we sing only enrich our theology and our knowledge of what we believe and can bring to the church,” he says, calling “anything by Bach” his favorite thing to sing.
“I really enjoy this group because I am surrounded by such wonderfully gifted men. … They are the true sound. I’m just filler,” he says.
Resch says he feels blessed by the acoustics of Kramer, which, with its angular, hard-surfaced modern design, “allows the sound to bounce around and kind of come together.”
The chapel “is a joy to make music in,” he says. “Everybody who comes into the room and plays there for the first time likes how their instruments sound or how they sound as a singer.”
And with an all-male choir group, there is a unique sound to enjoy, Resch adds.
“There is a richness, a kind of a depth to it that no other (kind of) choir has,” he says. “It’s a rich sound, and a smooth sound, and when they’re all out, it’s kind of like velvet. Liquid velvet.”
Here is a beautiful rendition of a beloved Advent hymn, O Come, O Come, Emmanuel, from a small men’s choir in Riga, Latvia.
“Heirs of the Reformation: Treasures of the Singing Church” (4 CD set) (Concordia Publishing House)
A few years ago, I shared with you “Martin Luther: Hymns, Ballads, Chants and Truth” a four-CD set with pamphlet from CPH. It featured the music authored by or attributed to the great Reformation theologian. Now this new boxed set follows-up with more of the wonderful contributions of Lutheran composer and authors from the 16th and 17th centuries.
Luther taught that the chief function of music in worship was the proclamation of the Word of God, making these musicians into teachers as well. This is part of our heritage as Christians, not matter what our denomination. They are the treasures of the Church, singing faith into our lives and hearts. “The music of salvation is God’s music, for His harmonies of peace replace the discord of our sin. That peace was conceived in God’s heart, not ours, and was premiered on the cross of crucifixion and at the tome of resurrection.”
This varied collection of 4 CDs with accompanying booklet features 45 Lutheran treasures of the 17th century and contributions by more modern composers from Bach to the current day. For example:
Out of the gloom and sadness of his life, Pastor Paul Gerhardt wrote such hymns as “Awake my heart with gladness”, “If God Himself be for me”, “O Lord how shall I meet You”, “Now rest beneath night’s shadow”, the Christmas carol “All my heart this night rejoices”, “Why should cross and trial grieve me”,” Evening and Morning”, “Jesus Thy boundless love to me”,“ Lamb goes uncomplaining forth”, and “O Sacred Head now wounded”. You can hear Christmas hymns from theologian Valentin Thilo , composers Christian Keimann, Andreas Hammerschmidt, and Michael Praetorius. And there are other hymns for Easter and other seasons of the Christian year.
Beautifully performed and faithfully sung, these 45 selections ( almost four hours worth) represent over two centuries of Lutheran musical theology, and the 64 page booklet gives important information and lyrics. You don’t have to be a Lutheran to appreciate the contribution of these magnificent hymns of the Christian faith. Martin Luther was responsible for reintroducing congregational singing, replacing the professional choirs of the 16th century Catholic Church with joyful amateurs.
“Heirs of the Reformation is nothing if not ambitious. Over forty chorales (dating from the time of Luther to German high Orthodoxy) are set by an encyclopedic list of cantors spanning the centuries, from Praetorius and Scheidt to Robert Buckley Farlee and Kevin Hildebrand. The dedicated vocal performances are backed by a kaleidoscopic variety of instrumentation, ranging from organ, brass and woodwinds to the period ensemble Musik Ekklesia. Kudos go to recording consultants Henry Gerike, Peter Reske, and Philip Spray; they and all the performers involved have produced not only a fine reference work, but a richly devotional listening experience.”
—GraceNotes (June/July 2009)
Dave Brubeck‘s music, particularly his album, “On Time,” was also standard fare in my house growing up. My mom would leave the house and Dad would put Brubeck on the stereo and crank it up. He would sit with my brother and me and have us clap out the rhythms to Brubeck’s music, which is some of the most unique in all of Jazz [go ahead, try it]. Here is one of Brubeck’s famous pieces: Blue Rondo a la Turk.
I grew up to the sounds of Jazz in my house. My dad loved Jazz, of all kinds. I’ve grown very fond of Big Band music. It helps that my wife and I learned to swing dance. It is a LOT more fun to listen to this music while Swing Dancing. I found this great old clip of the man himself, Benny Goodman, and his orchestra. Enjoy. Oh, by the way, if you do not at least find yourself tapping your foot, or fingers, while listening to this, seek medical attention immediately for you might be dead. I love this scene from Hollywood Hotel, for this is the actual Goodman orchestra, featuring the men themselves: Benny Goodman, Harry James and of course, Gene Krupa on the drums.
Is it possible to think of anything sad or depressing while listening to this? I don’t think so. I sure can’t. I’ll post two versions, the first is the “reel” version that became famous as a result of being used at the end of the movie Napoleon Dynamite, the second is the original version, which has a more ethereal quality
If you are familiar with the movie Master and Commander you might recall that the soundtrack is particularly spectacular. It is a mixture of original score work, with a wonderful mixture of pieces of classical music. I was familiar with most of the pieces, but the one that I found particularly haunting was a piece by a composer of whom I had never heard before: Arcangelo Corelli. The golden-locked gent you see here is he. OK, so "big hair" was popular in his day, among men. His work was foundational for later Baroque composers, including our own J.S. Bach, as well as Handel, Vivaldi and others.
The piece that I find so hauntingly beautiful is this part of his Concerto Grosso Op. 6, No. 8 in G Minor, "Fatto per la notte di na tale."
There are not many of his works extant, or even known. But I enjoy the ones that are. You might too.
Many thanks to Norman Teigen for pointing out this great review by William F. Buckley of the new book on Bach by Martin Geck, Johann Sebastian Bach Life and Work. Be sure to read to the end for an amusing anecdote from a lecture Buckley gave at Concordia Seminary. Buckley writes:
I was 12, and the weekly ordeal
began in our playroom/study at 4 p.m., when I and two sisters were
assembled for an hour of “music appreciation.” The sound came by means
of my father’s Capehart phonograph-radio, the technological wonder of
1932 that played one side of a 78 r.p.m. record and then turned the
record over to play the second side. The process was continuous through
up to 14 discs.
Our tutor, Penelope Oyen, did not permit conversation during that
hour. She drew the shades, though not so completely as absolutely to
forestall legerdemain [. Using my toes I could reach my sister’s for a
little footsie, sometimes even in time with the music, which was
generally rousing — Rimsky-Korsakov or Tchaikovsky or the martial symphonies of Beethoven.
But we knew that the hour would not end without at least 10 minutes of
J. S. Bach. This was high extramusical drama for us because the tall,
Scandinavian austerity that was Miss Oyen would shed tears, visible
even in the reduced light, expressing her wonder and gratitude.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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