(Christian History) Luther: The Musician

Lutheran chorales were intended to be sung monophonically (in unison) by the congregation. They were also set for publication typically in four parts—soprano, alto, tenor, bass—with the melody in the tenor voice in some (more effective with trained choirs) and the soprano voice in others (more practical for congregational singing).

In any case, Luther’s passion that people understand also drove his liturgical music, so the congregation could take an active part in the service:

I would that we had plenty of German songs which the people could sing during Mass, in the place of, or as well as, the Gradual, or together with the Sanctus and Agnus Dei. But we lack German poets, or else we do not yet know of them, who could make for us devout and spiritual songs, as Paul calls them [Eph. 5:15].

In 1524, Luther produced the Deutsche Messe as an alternative to the Catholic Mass, based upon Gregorian liturgy and music, simplified with German options. Each church could design their liturgy with as much German or Latin as they wished, freely interchangeable.

This is but a brief survey of the ways Luther shaped not only Lutheran but also Protestant hymnody, not just in Germany but, in some ways, worldwide. We rightly honor Luther for his keen theological insights, but we do well to remember this other significant legacy, which reminds us that indeed, “Next to the Word of God, music deserves the highest praise.”


Posted in Church History, Liturgy, Music, Worship, Lutheran