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Of late years however Christian men interested in the services of the Church have raised their voices, trying to revive the interest of the Protestant part of the German nation in their congregational music, and urging a complete revision of the existing hymn-books. Recent publications, the result of these efforts, clearly show, that owing to the desire to see these tunes re-introduced with their exact rhythm and harmony as originally composed, too little allowance is made either for the progress of music or for the musical feelings prevalent in our own time. Much however had to be remedied, and these praiseworthy endeavours have not only already borne fruit, but will doubtless continue to do so.
In this sketch, some brief mention of John Sebastian Bach, the great master, whose name, in the minds of all interested in the subject, is so closely associated with the Chorales of Germany, must necessarily find a place.
While during the 17th century the strictly congregational Church music xiii declined, the sacred Cantata (subsequently expanding into the Oratorio) arose; not only did the solemn festival of the Passion offer the opportunity for cultivating it, as we find from Bach's "Passionsmusik" the text of which, with slight modifications, was set to music by his predecessors and contemporaries, Keyser, Mattheson, and Handel; but the other festivals also recommended themselves to Bach for the exercise of his great powers, and Cantatas of his composition exist for nearly every Sunday in the year, many of which in all probability were performed during or after the evening service, from the Organ gallery of St Thomas's, Leipzic, by an orchestra and choir under his direction.
Bach, fully alive to the beauty of the tunes and hymns of his country, adopted the practice, in which he was followed by his successors, Mendelssohn and others, of introducing Chorales into all his numerous sacred works, either to their own words or to new ones suiting better the subject of the Cantata, thereby doubtless bringing it more readily home to the appreciation of the congregation, well acquainted with the old familiar tunes.
How Bach harmonized these Chorales is well known, and need not be dwelt upon here, but his introduction of them in the manner described has much contributed to the confusion of the titles of hymns, which has continued to the present time.
After J. S. Bach's death, his son, Ph. E. Bach, undertook to extract the Chorales from his father's work, and to publish them in a separate collection. One hundred of these, edited by him, appeared in 1765. A second volume containing another hundred was published in 1769 (though not with Ph. E. Bach's name as editor). Then followed in 1784 an edition compiled by Kirnberger, and subsequently several others, all with the title, "Joh. Seb. Bach's Vierstimmige Choralgesänge."
They are well known, and the impression generally prevails that Bach is the author of the tunes, which is not surprising, considering the manner in which these compilations, with the single exception of the most recent one by Erck, have been published. After what has been stated, this erroneous belief requires no further refutation, but it should be mentioned, that a few tunes, probably justly ascribed to Bach, and contained in the "Choralgefänge," have been inserted by the Editors in the "Chorale Book."
Under the circumstances the correctness of the version of the tunes given in the following work must not be judged of from a comparison with those in xiv Bach's works, or elsewhere in the compositions of Mendelssohn and other great masters. These masters could handle such Chorales freely for their own purposes, but the Editors were bound to go back to the sources, from which their melodies might be obtained not only most accurately, but also in the form most suitable for their object. They have therefore drawn either from the works in which the tunes originally appeared, or from those of Winterfeld, Tucher, and others of high standing into which they had been literally copied.
In determining the form in which to admit these tunes, the Editors were naturally beset with doubts, in consequence of the unsettled state of hymnology in Germany at the present moment. For while one party there insists on retaining the tunes even more than the hymns in the state of lifeless uniformity into which they have fallen, the other calls for their complete restitution to their original form.
Without going into detail, the Editors wish to state that they deemed it best to select the middle path. They have treated the tunes individually, not collectively; those written in 3/2 time (as, for example, V, LX, LXII, LXXXII, CXV, etc.) they have seen no right or reason to change, and in every case they have endeavoured to give the tune as nearly as possible according to its original version, and in a shape which might at the same time justify the hope of its being accepted by the English public. This however refers only to the rhythmical flow of the tune, not to the melody itself, which in no instance has been touched by the Editors, but is given according to the best-authenticated versions.1313A few specimens of tunes are given in the Appendix to illustrate the form in which those of an early date were originally published, and in which it is desired in some quarters to re-introduce them. They will be found divided not into the musical bars of modern music, but according to the length of the lines of the poetry, which would appear the only way to render legibly tunes containing recurring mixtures of common and triple time, in Germany now called $$"~?~Vtmif~er vecef.ll
A few words have still to be said respecting the harmonization of the tunes in this work. The Editors have in many cases retained the harmonies of the authors of the tunes, and in general have striven to preserve as far as possible the character belonging to the period of their composition; thus the melodies of the 16th and 18th century called for different styles of harmony, clearly indicated by their different flow in respect of distances. In all cases, however, the Editors have endeavoured to combine solemnity with simplicity, and to give xv harmonies, which, though offering no difficulty in execution, should yet approach the strength and purity peculiar to the best Church music of all times.
The Editors cannot bring this Preface to a close without pointing to the names of the meritorious inquirers into the interesting subject of Hymnology, who have of late years appeared in Germany, and without whose writings they believe no satisfactory hymn-book of modern times could be compiled; they mean G. von Tucher, P. Wackernagel, Layriz, and others, but particularly C. von Winterfeld, who, in his remarkable work on the "Evangelische Kirchengesange,"$$1414Der evangelische Kirchengesang, und sein berhältnik zur Kunst des Zonfates. Dargestefft von Carl v. Winterfeld. 3 vols. Leipzig, 1843-47. and other smaller writings, has vindicated the real importance of this sacred branch of music, and shown its historical basis and development in a manner at once to raise it in general estimation and to guide all who follow him in this difficult path. To his memory the grateful thanks of the Editors are due, and from his works, as well as from those previously named, they have drawn freely--as was their duty--and as seemed best for this work.
That the "Chorale Book for England" may be received into the new sphere for which it is intended, and that its sacred strains may contribute to the comfort of the troubled soul, the sanctification of home, and the glory of God's name in His Church on earth, is the earnest prayer of those who compiled it.
London, November, 1862.
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