« Prev Church Music Next »

Church Music

It has been said that Nicolai's hymns owed some of their popularity to the noble chorales he composed for them; and it may be observed in general that the rapid growth of sacred poetry in Germany at the era of the Reformation was partly due to an equally striking advance in church-music. The song-loving 163 German people seized with avidity on this new opening for their art, and a very remarkable number of fine tunes were composed in this century, so that an old writer says, "Whensoever the Holy Ghost inspireth a new hymn, it is His wont to inspire some one with a good tune to fit it." Nearly all the collections of hymns also contained tunes, which were inseparably associated with certain hymns; and it became the custom in most towns, for the city musicians to ascend the tower of the church or town-hall at certain hours of the day, and blow these sacred melodies from their horns, so that the people learnt them by heart from childhood. A great improvement took place in the organ about the same time, and Eccard, who lived at Mulhausen, and composed melodies for many of Helmboldt's hymns, introduced the practice of giving the air to the soprano instead of the tenor voice. Thus by the close of this century the chorale had assumed essentially its modern form, and the organ was universally used in Lutheran churches. The tune to Helmboldt's hymn above quoted has always been a peculiar favourite in Germany, and though harmonized by Eccard, was based on a secular air, as Helmboldt tells us--

"Because so sweet in every part,

So tuneful is this air,

That hearing it, a godly heart

Swims in delight most rare

Therefore have I set words to it,

That every one may sing;

Whate'er his case, this song will fit,

And never harm can bring."


The chorales are distinguished by breadth and simplicity, and are peculiarly adapted for large masses of voices or for organ accompaniment; while compared with the Gregorian music which had preceded them, they formed a congregational rhythmical song. Great skill may be shown in the arrangement of the inner voices, and in such skill Luther took the keenest delight: he speaks of the wonderful wisdom of God as shown in music, "when the other parts play around the air, leading as it were a heavenly dance with it; meeting with pleasure, parting in pain, embracing and kissing each other again." "Whoever is not moved by such art as this, must of a truth be a coarse clod, not worthy to hear such lovely music, but only the waste wild bray of the old chanting, and the songs and music of the dogs and pigs."

« Prev Church Music Next »
VIEWNAME is workSection