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date: 19 October 2020

Abstract and Keywords

From the beginning of the Reformation, Martin Luther had a significant impact on church and society through his contributions to sacred music. His intention to spread the gospel among the people through song achieved its manifold purpose. This remains true not only for his own time but for the following centuries up to the present day, all over the world. Other poets, contemporaries and descendants alike, were inspired by Luther’s songs and composed their own hymns. Among these the most significant ones in German literature, poetically and theologically, are Paul Gerhardt (1607–1676) and Jochen Klepper (1903–1942).

Luther’s lifelong love of music was accompanied by an in-depth musical education. He knew secular and sacred songs from an early age, played the lute well, and sang in the convent when he was a monk, as a husband and father with his family, and as a professor with his students. Music was an indispensable part of his life. He first began writing sacred songs in 1523, sometimes composing the melody as well. He also crafted a four-part motet.

Luther was able to assess the composers of his time well. He considered Josquin des Prez (d. 1521) the greatest master, and among his living contemporaries he appreciated in particular Ludwig Senfl (c. 1490–1543). He was also acquainted with other composers and their works.

The incorporation and promotion of music in the schoolroom resulted in a close relationship between church and school, as well as between classrooms and religious services. Pupils took part through chanting at services, and the evangelical hymns in the chantry were spread through the choir’s chanting books. Numerous musical prints originated in Georg Rhau’s printing shop in Wittenberg that carried the Protestant repertoire into the world.

From central Germany, starting in Saxony and Thuringia, the Protestant musical culture covered all of evangelical Germany and later shaped Protestant musical culture. In addition to choir-related music, it cultivated the musical rendering of biblical texts.

Heinrich Schütz and Johann Sebastian Bach are the finest representatives of this specific Protestant musical culture. In addition, the culture of the organ, first cultivated in northern Germany, became widespread. One of several masters of the organ was Dieterich Buxtehude (c. 1637–1707), who established evening concerts in Lübeck, which in turn served as precursors to the bourgeois musical culture.

Luther’s approach to music is formed through the conviction that music is a particularly beautiful and unique offering of the divine creation. Music moves human hearts and allows them to anticipate the heavens. To bring people joy and to praise the Lord is music’s true task and, indeed, its service.

Keywords: Martin Luther, Luther’s hymns, Luther as musician, music theory, Johann Sebastian Bach, Hugo Distler, Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy, Heinrich Schütz, Protestantism and music

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