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The Hymns of Martin Luther
Februry, 1996 [Etext #417]
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Dr. Martin Luther's
Deutsche Geistliche Lieder
THE HYMNS OF
SET TO THEIR ORIGINAL MELODIES
with an English Version
Leonard Woolsey Bacon
Assisted by Nathan H. Allen
Dr. Martin Luther's Preface to All Good Hymn Books, 1543
FROM THE ``EIGHT SONGS,'' Wittenberg, 1524.
I.--Nun freut euch, lieben Christen g'mein (1523)
``A Song of Thanksgiving for the Great Blessings which God in Christ
has manifested to us.''
Dear Christians, One and All Rejoice.
Translation in part from R. Massie.
First Melody, 1524. Harmony by H. Schein, 1627.
Second Melody from Klug's Gesangbuch, 1543. Harmony by M. Praetorius, 1610.
This choral is commonly known under the title, ``Es ist gewisslich an
der Zeit,'' and, in a modified form, in England and America, as
``Luther's Judgment Hymn,'' from its association with a hymn of W. B.
Collyer, partly derived from the German, and not written by Luther.
II.--Ach Gott, vom himmel sieh' darein
Psalm XII--Salvum me fac, Domine
Look Down, O Lord, From Heaven Behold.
Translation chiefly from Frances Elizabeth Cox, in ``Hymns from the
First Melody, 1524, is the tune of the hymn of Paul Speratus, ``Es ist das
Heil uns kommen her,'' the singing of which under Luther's window at
Wittenberg is related to have made so deep an impression on the
Reformer. The anectdote is confirmed by the fact that in the ``Eight
Songs,'' Luther's three versions of Psalms are all set to this tune.
Harmony by A. Haupt, 1869.
Second Melody from Klug's Gesangbuch, 1543. Harmony by Haupt, 1869. This
is the tune in common use with this Psalm in Northern Germany.
III.--Es spricht der Unweisen Mund wohl
Psalm XIV.--Dixit insipiens in corde.
The Mouth of Fools Doth God Confess.
Translation from R. Massie
Melody from Walter's Gesangbuch, 1525. Harmony by M. Praetorius, 1610.
IV.--Aus tiefer Noth schrei' ich zu dir
Psalm CXXX.--De profundis clamavi.
Out of the Deep I Cry to Thee.
Translation by Arthur Tozer Russel.
First Melody from Walter's Gesangbuch, 1525. Harmony by John Sebastian
Bach, about 1725.
Second Melody in Wolfgang Koephl's Gesangbuch, 1537, and in George Rhau's,
1544. Harmony by A. Haupt.
FROM THE ``ENCHIRIDION,'' Erfurt, 1524.
V.--Ein neues Lied wir heben an
``A Song of the Two Christian Martyrs, burnt at Brussels by the
Sophists of Louvain. Which took place in the year 1522.'' [The real
date of the event was July 1, 1523; and the ballad gives every token og
having been inspired by the first announcement of the story. The
excellent translation of Mr. Massie has been conformed more closely to
the original in the third and fourth stanzas; also, by a felicitous
quatrain from the late Dr. C. T. Brooks, in the tenth stanza.]
By Help of God I fain would tell.
Translation principally that of R. Massie.
Melody in Walter's Gesangbuch, 1525. Harmony by M. Praetorius, 1610.
VI.--Nun komm' der heiden heiland
(From the Ambrosian Hymn, Veni, Redemptor genitum.
Saviour of the Heathen, Known.
Translation in part by R. Massie.
Melody derived from that of the Latin hymn, in Walter's Gesangbuch, 1525.
Harmony from ``The Choral Book for England,'' by Sterndale Bennett and
Otto Goldschmidt, 1865.
VII.-- Christum wir sollen loben schon
(From the Latin hymn, ``A solis ortus cardine.'')
Now Praise We Christ, the Holy One.
Translation by R. Massie.
Melody that of the Latin Hymn. Harmony by M. Praetorius, 1609.
A fit motto for the history of the Reformation would be those words out of the
history of the Day of Pentecost, "How hear we, every man in our own tongue
wherein we were born....the wonderful works of God!" The ruling thought of the
pre-reformation period was not more the maintenance of one Holy Roman Church
than of one Holy Roman Empire, each of which was to comprehend all
Christendom. The language of the Roman Church and Empire was the sacred
language in comparison with which the languages of men's common speech were
reckoned common and unclean. The coming-in of the Reformation was the
awakening of individual life, by enforcing the sense of each man's direct
responsibility to God; but it was equally the quickening of a true national
life. In the light of the new era, the realization of the promise of the
oneness of the Church was no longer to be sought in the universal dominance of
a hierarchical corporation; nor was the "mystery" proclaimed by Paul, that
"the nations were fellow-heirs and of one body," to be fulfilled in the
subjugation of all nations to a central potentate. According to the spirit of
the Reformation, the One Church was to be, not a corporation, but a
communion-the communion of saints; and the unity of mankind, in its many
nations, was to be a unity of the spirit in the bond of mutual peace.
The two great works of Martin Luther were those by which he gave to the common
people a vernacular Bible and vernacular worship, that through the one, God
might speak directly to the people; and in the other, the people might speak
directly to God. Luther's Bible and Luther's Hymns gave life not only to the
churches of the Reformation, but to German nationality and the German
Concerning the hymns of Luther the words of several notable writers are on
record, and are worthy to be prefixed to the volume of them.
Says Spangenberg, yet in Luther's life-time, in his Preface to the -Cithara
"One must certainly let this be true, and remain true, that among all
Mastersingers from the days of the Apostles until now, Luther is and always
will be the best and most accomplished; in whose hymns and songs one does not
find a vain or needless word. All flows and falls in the sweetest and neatest
manner, full of spirit and doctrine, so that his every word gives outright a
sermon of his own, or at least a singular reminiscence. There is nothing
forced, nothing foisted in or patched up, nothing fragmentary. The rhymes are
easy and good, the words choice and proper, the meaning clear and
intelligible, the melodies lovely and hearty, and -in summa- all is so rare
and majestic, so full of pith and power, so cheering and comforting, that, in
sooth, you will not find his equal, much less his master."1
The following words have often been quoted from Samuel Taylor Coleridge:
"Luther did as much for the Reformation by his hymns as by his translation of
the Bible. In Germany the hymns are known by heart by every peasant; they
advise, they argue from the hymns, and every soul in the church praises God
like a Christian, with words which are natural and yet sacred to his mind."
A striking passage in an article by Heine in the -Revue des Deux Mondes- for
March, 1834, is transcribed by Michelet in his Life of Luther:
"Not less remarkable, not less significant than his prose works, are Luther's
poems, those stirring songs which, as it were, escaped from him in the very
midst of his combats and his necessities like a flower making its way from
between rough stones, or a moonbeam gleaming amid dark clouds. Luther loved
music; indeed, he wrote treatises on the art. Accordingly his versification is
highly harmonious, so that he may be called the Swan of Eisleben. Not that he
is by any means gentle or swan-like in the songs which he composed for the
purpose of exciting the courage of the people. In these he is fervent, fierce.
The hymn which he composed on his way to Worms, and which he and his companion
chanted as they entered that city,2 is a regular war-song. The old cathedral
trembled when it heard these novel sounds. The very rooks flew from their
nests in the towers. That hymn, the Marseillaise of the Reformation, has
preserved to this day its potent spell over German hearts."
The words of Thomas Carlyle are not less emphatic, while they penetrate deeper
into the secret of the power of Luther's hymns:
"The great Reformer's love of music and poetry, it has often been remarked, is
one of the most significant features in his character. But indeed if every
great man is intrinsically a poet, an idealist, with more or less completeness
of utterance, which of all our great men, in these modern ages, had such an
endowment in that kind as Luther? He it was, emphatically, who stood based on
the spiritual world of man, and only by the footing and power he had obtained
there, could work such changes on the material world. As a participant and
dispenser of divine influence, he shows himself among human affairs a true
connecting medium and visible messenger between heaven and earth, a man,
therefore, not only permitted to enter the sphere of poetry, but to dwell in
the purest centre thereof, perhaps the most inspired of all teachers since the
Apostles. Unhappily or happily, Luther's poetic feeling did not so much learn
to express itself in fit words, that take captive every ear, as in fit
actions, wherein, truly under still more impressive manifestations, the spirit
of spheral melody resides and still audibly addresses us. In his written
poems, we find little save that strength of on 'whose words,' it has been
said, 'were half-battles'3- little of that still harmony and blending softness
of union which is the last perfection of strength-less of it than even his
conduct manifested. With words he had not learned to make music-it was by
deeds of love or heroic valor that he spoke freely. Nevertheless, though in
imperfect articulation, the same voice, if we listen well, is to be heard also
in his writings, in his poems. The one entitled -Ein' Feste Burg-, universally
regarded as the best, jars upon our ears; yet there is something in it like
the sound of Alpine avalanches, or the first murmur of earthquakes, in the
very vastness of which dissonance a higher unison is revealed to us. Luther
wrote this song in times of blackest threatenings, which, however, could in no
sense become a time of despair. In these tones, rugged and broken as they are,
do we hear the accents of that summoned man, who answered his friends' warning
not to enter Worms, in this wise:-'Were there as many devils in Worms as these
tile roofs, I would on'; of him who, alone in that assemblage before all
emperors and principalities and powers, spoke forth these final and forever
memorable words, -'It is neither safe nor prudent to do aught against
conscience. Till such time as either by proofs from holy Scripture, or by fair
reason or argument, I have been confuted and convicted, I cannot and will not
recant. Here I stand-I cannot do otherwise-God be my help, Amen.' It is
evident enough that to this man all popes, cardinals, emperors, devils, all
hosts and nations were but weak, weak as the forest with all its strong trees
might be to the smallest spark of electric fire."
In a very different style of language, but in a like strain of eulogy, writes
Dr. Merle d'Aubigne, in the third volume of his History of the Reformation:
"The church was no longer composed of priests and monks; it was now the
congregation of believers. All were to take part in worship, and the chanting
of the clergy was to be succeeded by the psalmody of the people. Luther,
accordingly, in translating the psalms, thought of adapting them to be sung by
the church. Thus a taste for music was diffused throughout the nation. From
Luther's time, the people sang; the Bible inspired their songs. Poetry
received the same impulse. In celebrating the praises of God, the people could
not confine themselves to mere translations of ancient anthems. The souls of
Luther and of several of his contemporaries, elevated by their faith to
thoughts the most sublime, excited to enthusiasm by the struggles and dangers
by which the church at its birth was unceasingly threatened, inspired by the
poetic genius of the Old Testament and by the faith of the New, ere long gave
vent to their feelings in hymns, in which all that is most heavenly in poetry
and music was combined and blended. Hence the revival, in the sixteenth
century, of -hymns-, such as in the first century used to cheer the martyrs in
their sufferings. We have seen Luther, in 1523, employing it to celebrate the
martyrs at Brussels; other children of the Reformation followed his footsteps;
hymns were multiplied; they spread rapidly among the people, and powerfully
contributed to rouse it from sleep."
It is not difficult to come approximately at the order of composition of
Luther's hymns. The earliest hymn-book of the Reformation-if not the earliest
of all printed hymn-books-was published at Wittenberg in 1524, and contained
-eight- hymns, four of them from the pen of Luther himself; of the other four
not less than three were by Paul Speratus, and one of these three, the hymn
-Es ist das Heil-, which caused Luther such delight when sung beneath his
window by a wanderer from Prussia.4 Three of Luther's contributions to this
little book were versions of Psalms-the xii, xiv, and cxxx-and the fourth was
that touching utterance of personal religious experience, -Nun fruet euch,
lieben Christen g'mein-. But the critics can hardly be mistaken in assigning
as early a date to the ballad of the Martyrs of Brussels. Their martyrdom took
place July 1, 1523, and the "-New Song-" must have been inspired by the story
as it was first brought to Wittenberg, although it is not found in print until
the -Enchiridion-, which followed the -Eight Hymns-, later in the same year,
from the press of Erfurt, and contained fourteen of Luther's hymns beside the
four already published.
In the hymn-book published in 1525 by the composer Walter, Luther's friend,
were six more of the Luther hymns. And in 1526 appeared the "German Mass and
Order of Divine Service," containing "the German Sanctus," a versification of
Isaiah vi. Of the remaining eleven, six appeared first in the successive
editions of Joseph Klug's hymn-book, Wittenberg, 1535 and 1543.
It is appropriate to the commemorative character of the present edition that
in it the hymns should be disposed in chronological order.
The TUNES which are here printed with the hymns of Luther are of those which
were set to them during his lifetime. Some of them, like the hymns to which
they were set, are derived from the more ancient hymnody of the German and
Latin churches. Others, as the tunes -Vom Himmel hoch, Ach Gott vom Himmel-,
and -Christ unser Herr zum Jordan kam-, are conjectured to have been
originally secular airs. But that many of the tunes that appeared
simultaneously and in connection with Luther's hymns were original with Luther
himself, there seems no good reason to doubt. Luther's singular delight and
proficiency in music are certified by a hundred contemporary testimonies. His
enthusiasm for it overflows in his Letters and his Table Talk. He loved to
surround himself with accomplished musicians, with whom he would practise the
intricate motets of the masters of that age; and his critical remarks on their
several styles are on record. At least one autograph document proves him to
have been a composer of melodies to his own words: one may see, appended to
von Winterfeld's fine quarto edition of Luther's hymns (Leipzig, 1840) a
fac-simile of the original draft of -Vater Unser-, with a melody sketched upon
a staff of five lines, and then cancelled, evidently by hand practised in
musical notation. But perhaps the most direct testimony to his actual work as
a composer is found in a letter from the composer John Walter, capellmeister
to the Elector of Saxony, written in his old age for the express purpose of
embodying his reminiscences of his illustrious friend as a church- musician.
"It is to my certain knowledge," writes Walter, "that that holy man of God,
Luther, prophet and apostle to the German nation, took great delight in music,
both in choral and in figural composition. With whom I have passed many a
delightful hour in singing; and oftentimes have seen the dear man wax so happy
and merry in heart over the singing as that it was well-nigh impossible to
weary or content him therewithal. And his discourse concerning music was most
"Some forty years ago, when he would set up the German Mass at Wittenberg, he
wrote to the Elector of Saxony and Duke Johannsen, of illustrious memory,
begging to invite to Wittenberg the old musician Conrad Rupff and myself, to
consult with him as to the character and the proper notation of the Eight
Tones; and he finally himself decided to appropriate the Eighth Tone to the
Epistle and the Sixth Tone to the Gospel, speaking on this wise: Our Lord
Christ is a good Friend, and his words are full of love; so we will take the
Sixth Tone for the Gospel. And since Saint Paul is a very earnest apostle we
will set the Eighth Tone to the Epistle. So he himself made the notes over the
Epistles, and the Gospels, and the Words of Institution of the true Body and
Blood of Christ, and sung them over to me to get my judgment thereon. He kept
me three weeks long at Wittenberg, to write out the notes over some of the
Gospels and Epistles, until the first German Mass was sung in the parish
church. And I must needs stay to hear it, and take with me a copy of the Mass
to Torgau and present it to His Grace the Elector from Doctor Luther.
"Furthermore, he gave orders to re-establish the Vespers, which in many places
were fallen into disuse, with short plain choral hymns for the students and
boys; withal, that the charity-scholars, collecting their bread, should sing
from door to door Latin Hymns, Anthems and Responses, appropriate to the
season. It was no satisfaction to him that the scholars should sing in the
streets nothing but German songs....The most profitable songs for the common
multitude are the plain psalms and hymns, both Luther's and the earlier ones;
but the Latin songs are useful for the learned and for students. We see, and
hear, and clearly apprehend how the Holy Ghost himself wrought not only in the
authors of the Latin hymns, but also in Luther, who in our time has had the
chief part both in writing the German choral hymns, and in setting them to
tunes; as may be seen, among others in the German Sanctus (-Jesaia dem
Propheten das geschah-) how masterly and well he has fitted all the notes to
the text, according to the just accent and concent. At the time, I was moved
by His Grace to put the question how or where he had got this composition, or
this instruction; whereupon the dear man laughed at my simplicity, and said: I
learned this of the poet Virgil, who has the power so artfully to adapt his
verses and his words to the story he is telling; in like manner must Music
govern all its notes and melodies by the text."5
It seems superfluous to add to this testimony the word of Sleidan, the nearly
contemporary historian, who says expressly concerning "-Ein' feste Burg-" that
Luther made for it a tune singularly suited to the words, and adapted to stir
the heart.6 If ever there were hymn and tune that told their own story of a
common and simultaneous origin, without need of confirmation by external
evidence, it is these.
To an extent quite without parallel in the history of music, the power of
Luther's tunes, as well as of his words, is manifest after three centuries,
over the masters of the art, as well as over the common people. Peculiarly is
this true of the great song -Ein' feste Burg-, which Heine not vainly
predicted would again be heard in Europe in like manner as of old. The
composers of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries practised their elaborate
artifices upon it. The supreme genius of Sebastian Bach made it the subject of
study.7 And in our own times it has been used with conspicuous effect in
Mendelssohn's Reformation Symphony, in an overture by Raff, in the noble
-Festouverture- of Nicolai, and in Wagner's Kaisermarsch; and is introduced
with recurring emphasis in Meyerbeer's masterpiece of The Huguenots.
It is needless to say that the materials of this Birth- day Edition of
Luther's Hymns and Tunes have been prepared in profusion by the diligence of
German scholars. But very thankful acknowledgments are also due to English
translators, who have made this work possible within the very scanty time
allotted to it. Full credit is given in the table of contents for the help
derived from these various translators. But the exigencies of this volume were
peculiarly sever, inasmuch as the translation was to be printed over against
the original, and also under the music. Not even Mr. Richard Massie's careful
work would always bear this double test; so that I have found myself
compelled, in most cases, to give up the attempt to follow any translation
exactly; and in some instances have reluctantly attempted a wholly new
The whole credit of the musical editorship belongs to my accomplished
associate, Mr. Nathan H. Allen, without whose ready resource and earnest labor
the work would have been impossible within the limits of time necessarily
prescribed. In the choice of harmonies for these ancient tunes, he has wisely
preferred, in general, the arrangements of the older masters. The critical
musician will see, and will not complain, that the original modal structure of
the melodies is sometimes affected by the harmonic treatment.
And now the proper conclusion to this Introduction, which, like the rest of
the volume, is in so slight a degree the work of the editor, is to add the
successive prefaces from the pen of Luther which accompanied successive
hymn-books published during his life-time and under his supervision.
LEONARD WOOLSEY BACON
1 Quoted in the -Christian Examiner-, 1860, p. 240; transcribed Philadelphia,
2 The popular impression that the hymn "Ein' feste Burg" was produced in these
circumstances is due, doubtless, to a parallel in the third stanza, to the
famous saying imputed to Luther on the eve of the Diet of Worms: "I'll go, be
there as many devils in the city as there be tiles on the roofs." The time of
its composition was in the year 1529, just before the Diet of Augsburg. If not
written in his temporary refuge, the noble "Burg" or "Festung" of Coburg, it
must often have been sung there by him; and it was sung, says Merle d'Aubigne,
"during the Diet, not only at Augsburg, but in all the churches of Saxony."
3 This much-quoted phrase is from Richter. It is reported as an expression of
Melanchthon, looking on Luther's picture, "- Fulmina erant singula verba
4 Merle d'Aubigne, History of the Reformation, Vol. III.
5 This interesting and characteristic document was printed first in the
-Syntagma Musicum- of Michael Praetorius, many of whose harmonies are to be
found in this volume. It has been repeatedly copied since. I take it from
Rambach, "Ueber D. Martin Luthers Verdienst um den Kirchengesang, oder
Darstellung desjenigen was er als Liturg, als Liederdichter und Tonsetzer zur
Verbesserung des oeffentlichen Gottesdienstes geleistet hat. Hamburg, 1813."
6 Quoted in Rambach, p. 215.
7 In more than one of his cantatas, especially that for the Reformationsfest.
Luther's First Preface.
To the "Geystliche Gsangbuechlin, Erstlich zu Wittenberg, und
volgend durch Peter schoeffern getruckt, im jar m. d. xxv.
Autore IOANNE WALTHERO."
That it is good, and pleasing to God, for us to sing
spiritual songs is, I think, a truth whereof no Christian can
be ignorant; since not only the example of the prophets and
kings of the Old Testament (who praised God with singing and
music, poesy and all kind of stringed instruments) but also
the like practice of all Christendom from the beginning,
especially in respect to psalms, is well known to every one:
yea, St. Paul doth also appoint the same (I Cor. xiv.) and
command the Colossians, in the third chapter, to sing
spiritual songs and psalms from the heart unto the Lord, that
thereby the word of God and Christian doctrine be in every way
furthered and practiced.
Accordingly, to make a good beginning and to encourage
others who can do it better, I have myself, with some others,
put together a few hymns, in order to bring into full play the
blessed Gospel, which by God's grace hath again risen: that we
may boast, as Moses doth in his song (Exodus xv.) that Christ
is become our praise and our song, and that, whether we sing
or speak, we may not know anything save Christ our Saviour, as
St. Paul saith (I Cor. ii).
These songs have been set in four parts, for no other
reason than because I wished to provide our young people (who
both will and ought to be instructed in music and other
sciences) with something whereby they might rid themselves of
amorous and carnal songs, and in their stead learn something
wholesome, and so apply themselves to what is good with
pleasure, as becometh the young.
Beside this, I am not of opinion that all sciences should
be beaten down and made to cease by the Gospel, as some
fanatics pretend; but I would fain see all the arts, and music
in particular, used in the service of Him who hath given and
Therefore I entreat every pious Christian to give a
favorable reception to these hymns, and to help forward my
undertaking, according as God hath given him more or less
ability. The world is, alas, not so mindful and diligent to
train and teach our poor youth, but that we ought to be
forward in promoting the same. God grant us his grace. Amen.
Luther's Second Preface.
To the Funeral Hymns: "Christliche Geseng, Lateinisch und
Deudsch, zum Begrebnis. Wittenberg, Anno m. d. xlii."
DR. MARTIN LUTHER TO THE CHRISTIAN READER.
St. Paul writes to the Thessalonians, that they should
not sorrow for the dead as others who have no hope, but should
comfort one another with God's word, as they who have a sure
hope of life and of the resurrection of the dead.
For that they should sorrow who have no hope is not to be
wondered at, nor indeed are they to be blamed for it, since,
being shut out from the faith of Christ, they must either
regard and love the present life only, and be loth to lose it,
or after this life look for everlasting death and the wrath of
God in hell, and be unwilling to go thither.
But we Christians who from all this have been redeemed by
the precious blood of the Son of God, should exercise and wont
ourselves in faith to despise death, to look on it as a deep,
sound, sweet sleep, the coffin no other than the bosom of our
Lord Christ, or paradise, the grave nought but a soft couch of
rest; as indeed it is in the sight of God, as he saith in St.
John, xi., "our friend Lazarus sleepeth;" Matthew ix., "the
maid is not dead but sleepeth."
In like manner also St. Paul, I Cor. xv., doth put out of
sight the unlovely aspect of death in our perishing body, and
bring forward nought but the lovely and delightsome view of
life, when he saith: "It is sown in corruption; it is raised
in incorruption; it is sown in dishonor (that is, in a
loathsome and vile form); it is raised in glory: it is sown in
weakness; it is raised in power: it is sown a natural body; it
is raised a spiritual body."
Accordingly have we, in our churches, abolished, done
away, and out-and-out made an end of the popish horrors, such
as wakes, masses for the soul, obsequies, purgatory, and all
other mummeries for the dead, and will no longer have our
churches turned into wailing-places and houses of mourning,
but, as the primitive Fathers called them, "Cemeteries," that
is, resting and sleeping places.
We sing, withal, beside our dead and over their graves,
no dirges nor lamentations, but comforting songs of the
forgiveness of sins, of rest, sleep, live and resurrection of
the departed believers, for the strengthening of our faith,
and the stirring up of the people to a true devotion.
For it is meet and right to give care and honor to the
burial of the dead, in a manner worthy of that blessed article
of our creed, the resurrection of the dead, and to the spite
of that dreadful enemy, death, who doth so shamefully and
continually prey upon us, in every horrid way and shape.
Accordingly, as we read, the holy patriarchs, Abraham,
Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, and the rest, kept their burials with
great pomp, and ordered them with much diligence; and
afterwards the kings of Judah held splendid ceremonials over
the dead, with costly incense of all manner of precious herbs,
thereby to hide the offense and shame of death, and
acknowledge and glorify the resurrection of the dead, and so
to comfort the weak in faith and the sorrowful.
In like manner, even down to this present, have
Christians ever been wont to do honorably by the bodies and
the graves of the dead, decorating them, singing beside them
and adorning them with monuments. Of all importance is that
doctrine of the resurrection, that we be firmly grounded
therein; for it is our lasting, blessed, eternal comfort and
joy, against death, hell, the devil and all sorrow of heart.
As a good example of what should be used for this end, we
have taken the sweet music or melodies which under popish rule
are in use at wakes, funerals and masses for the dead, some of
which we have printed in this little book; and it is in our
thought, as time shall serve, to add others to them, or have
this done by more competent hands. But we have set other words
thereto, such as shall adorn our doctrine of the resurrection,
not that of purgatory with its pains and expiations, whereby
the dead may neither sleep nor rest. The notes and melodies
are of great price; it were pity to let them perish; but the
words to them were unchristian and uncouth, so let these
It is just as in other matters they do greatly excel us,
having splendid rites of worship, magnificent convents and
abbeys; but the preachings and doctrines heard therein do for
the most part serve the devil and dishonor God; who
nevertheless is Lord and God over all the earth, and should
have of everything the fairest, best and noblest.
Likewise have they costly shrines of gold and silver, and
images set with gems and jewels; but within are dead men's
bones, as foul and corrupt as in any charnel-house. So also
have they costly vestments, chasubles, palliums, copes, hoods,
mitres, but what are they that be clothed therewithal? slow-
bellies, evil wolves, godless swine, persecuting and
dishonoring the word of God.
Just in the same way have they much noble music,
especially in the abbeys and parish churches, used to adorn
most vile, idolatrous words. Wherefore we have undressed these
idolatrous, lifeless, crazy words, stripping off the noble
music, and putting it upon the living and holy word of God,
wherewith to sing, praise and honor the same, that so the
beautiful ornament of music, brought back to its right use,
may serve its blessed Maker and his Christian people; so that
he shall be praised and glorified, and that we by his holy
word impressed upon the heart with sweet songs, be builded up
and confirmed in the faith. Hereunto help us God the Father,
Son and Holy Ghost. Amen.
Yet is it not our purpose that these precise notes be
sung in all the churches. Let each church keep its own notes
according to its book and use. For I myself do not listen with
pleasure in cases where the notes to a hymn or a -respon-
sorium- have been changed, and it is sung amongst us in
a different way from what I have been used to from my youth.
The main point is the correcting of the words, not of the
[Then follow selections of Scripture recommended as suitable
Luther's Third Preface.
To the Hymn-book printed at Wittenberg by Joseph Klug, 1543.
There are certain who, by their additions to our hymns,
have clearly shown that they far excel me in this matter, and
may well be called my masters. But some, on the other hand,
have added little of value. And inasmuch as I see that there
is no limit to this perpetual amending by every one
indiscriminately according to his own liking, so that the
earliest of our hymns are more perverted the more they are
printed, I am fearful that it will fare with this little book
as it has ever fared with good books, that through tampering
by incompetent hands it may get to be so overlaid and spoiled
that the good will be lost out of it, and nothing be kept in
use but the worthless.
We see in the first chapter of St. Luke that in the
beginning every one wanted to write a gospel, until among the
multitude of gospels the true Gospel was well-nigh lost. So
has it been with the works of St. Jerome and St. Augustine,
and with many other books. In short, there will always be
tares sown among the wheat.
In order as far as may be to avoid this evil, I have once
more revised this book, and put our own hymns in order by
themselves with name attached, which formerly I would not do
for reputation's sake, but am now constrained to do by
necessity, lest strange and unsuitable songs come to be sold
under our name. After these, are arranged the others, such as
we deem good and useful.
I beg and beseech all who prize God's pure word that
henceforth without our knowledge and consent no further
additions or alterations be made in this book of ours; and
that when it is amended without our knowledge, it be fully
understood to be not our book published at Wittenberg. Every
man can for himself make his own hymn-book, and leave this of
ours alone without additions; as we here beg, beseech and
testify. For we like to keep our coin up to our own standard,
debarring no man from making better for himself. Now let God's
name alone be praised, and our name not sought. Amen.
Luther's Fourth Preface
To Valentine Bapst's Hymn-book, Leipzig, 1545.
The xcvi Psalm saith: "Sing to the Lord a new song; sing
to the Lord, all the earth." The service of God in the old
dispensation, under the law of Moses, was hard and wearisome.
Many and divers sacrifices had men to offer, of all that they
possessed, both in house and in field, which the people, being
idle and covetous, did grudgingly or for some temporal
advantage; as the prophet Malachi saith, chap. i., "who is
there even among you that would shut the doors for naught?
neither do ye kindle fires on my altars for naught." But where
there is such an idle and grudging heart there can be no
singing, or at least no singing of any good. Cheerful and
merry must we be in heart and mind, when we would sing.
Therefore hath God suffered such idle and grudging service to
perish, as he saith further: "I have no pleasure in you, saith
the Lord of Hosts, neither will I accept an offering at your
hand: for from the rising of the sun even to the going down of
the same, my name shall be great among the Gentiles; and in
every place incense shall be offered in my name and a pure
offering; for my name shall be great among the heathen, saith
the Lord of Hosts."
So that now in the New Testament there is a better
service, whereof the psalm speaketh: "Sing to the Lord a new
song; sing to the Lord all the earth." For God hath made our
heart and mind joyful through his dear Son whom he hath given
for us to redeem us from sin, death and the devil. Who
earnestly believes this cannot but sing and speak thereof with
joy and delight, that others also may hear and come. But whoso
will not speak and sing thereof, it is a sign that he doth not
believe it, and doth not belong to the cheerful New Testament
but to the dull and joyless Old Testament.
Therefore it is well done on the part of the printers
that they are diligent to print good hymns, and make them
agreeable to the people with all sorts of embellishments, that
they may be won to this joy in believing and gladly sing of
it. And inasmuch as this edition of Valtin Bapst [Pope] is
prepared in fine style, God grant that it may bring great hurt
and damage to that Roman -Bapst- who by his accursed,
intolerable and abominable ordinances has brought nothing into
the world but wailing, mourning and misery. Amen.
I must give notice that the song which is sung at
"Nun lasst uns den Leib begraben,"
which bears my name is not mine, and my name is henceforth not
to stand with it. Not that I reject it, for I like it very
much, and it was made by a good poet, Johannes Weis* by name,
only a little visionary about the Sacrament; but I will not
appropriate to myself another man's work.
Also in the -De Profundis-, read thus:
Des muss -dich- fuerchten jedermann.
Either by mistake or of purpose this is printed in most books
Des muss -sich- fuerchten jedermann.
-Ut timearis-. The Hebrew reading is as in Matthew xv.: "In
vain do they fear me teaching doctrines of men." See also
Psalms xiv. and liii.: "They call not on the Lord; there
feared they where no fear was." That is, they may have much
show of humiliation and bowing and bending in worship where I
will have no worship. Accordingly this is the meaning in the
place: Since forgiveness of sins is nowhere else to be found
but only with thee, so must they let go all idolatry, and
come with a willing heart bowing and bending before thee,
creeping up to the cross, and have thee alone in honor, and
take refuge in thee, and serve thee, as living by thy grace
and not by their own righteousness, etc.
*Luther's mistake for -Michael Weysse- , author of a Moravian
hymn-book of 1531.
A Preface to All Good Hymn-Books.
by Dr. Martin Luther.
From Joseph Klug's Hymn-Book, Wittenberg, 1543.
-Lady Musick Speaketh.-
Of all the joys that are on earth
Is none more dear nor higher worth,
Than what in my sweet songs is found
And instruments of various sound.
Where friends and comrades sing in tune,
All evil passions vanish soon;
Hate, anger, envy, cannot stay,
All gloom and heartache melt away;
The lust of wealth, the cares that cling,
Are all forgotten while we sing.
Freely we take our joy herein,
For this sweet pleasure is no sin,
But pleaseth God far more, we know,
Than any joys the world can show;
The Devil's work it doth impede,
And hinders many a deadly deed.
Se fared it with King Saul of old;
When David struck his harp of gold,
So sweet and clear its tones rang out,
Saul's murderous thoughts were put to rout.
The heart grows still when I am heard,
And opens to God's Truth and Word;
So are we by Elisha taught,
Who on the harp the Spirit sought.
The best time of the year is mine,
When all the little birds combine
To sing until the earth and air
Are filled with sweet sounds everywhere;
And most the tender nightingale
Makes joyful every wood and dale,
Singing her love-song o'er and o'er,
For which we thank her evermore.
But yet more thanks are due from us
To the dear Lord who made her thus,
A singer apt to touch the heart,
Mistress of all my dearest art.
To God she sings by night and day,
Unwearied, praising Him alway;
Him I, too, laud in every song,
To whom all thanks and praise belong.
Dear Christians, One and All rejoice
1. Dear Christians, one and all rejoice,
With exultation springing,
And with united heart and voice
And holy rapture singing,
Proclaim the wonders God hath done,
How his right arm the victory won;
Right dearly it hath cost him.
2. Fast bound in Satan's chains I lay,
Death brooded darkly o'er me;
Sin was my torment night and day,
Therein my mother bore me.
Deeper and deeper still I fell,
Life was become a living hell,
So firmly sin possessed me.
3. My good works could avail me naught,
For they with sin were stained;
Free-will against God's judgment fought,
And dead to good remained.
Grief drove me to despair, and I
Had nothing left me but to die,
To hell I fast was sinking.
4. God saw, in his eternal grace,
My sorrow out of measure;
He thought upon his tenderness-
To save was his good pleasure.
He turn'd to me a Father's heart-
Not small the cost-to heal my smart
He have his best and dearest.
5. He spake to his beloved Son:
'Tis time to take compassion;
Then go, bright jewel of my crown,
And bring to man salvation;
From sin and sorrow set him free,
Slay bitter death for him, that he
May live with thee forever.
6. The Son delighted to obey,
And born of Virgin mother,
Awhile on this low earth did stay
That he might be my brother.
His mighty power he hidden bore,
A servant's form like mine he wore,
To bind the devil captive.
7. To me he spake: cling fast to me,
Thou'lt win a triumph worthy;
I wholly give myself for thee;
I strive and wrestle for thee;
For I am thine, thou mine also;
And where I am thou art. The foe
Shall never more divide us.
8. For he shall shed my precious blood,
Me of my life bereaving;
All this I suffer for thy good;
Be steadfast and believing.
My life from death the day shall win,
My righteousness shall bear thy sin,
So art thou blest forever.
9. Now to my Father I depart,
From earth to heaven ascending;
Thence heavenly wisdom to impart,
The Holy Spirit sending.
He shall in trouble comfort thee,
Teach thee to know and follow me,
And to the truth conduct thee.
10. What I have done and taught, do thou
To do and teach endeavor;
So shall my kingdom flourish now,
And God be praised forever.
Take heed lest men with base alloy
The heavenly treasure should destroy.
This counsel I bequeath thee.
II. Ach Gott, vom Himmel sieh' darein
1. Ach Gott, vom Himmel sieh' darein
Und lass' dich des erbarmen,
Wie wenig sind der Heil'gen dein,
Verlassen sind wir Armen:
Dein Wort man laesst nicht haben wahr,
Der Glaub' ist auch verloschen gar
Bei allen Menschenkindern.
2. Sie lehren eitel falsche List,
Was eigen Witz erfindet,
Ihr Herz nicht eines Sinnes ist
In Gottes Wort gegruendet;
Der waehlet dies, der Ander das,
Sie trennen uns ohn' alle Maas
Und gleissen schoen von aussen.
3. Gott woll' ausrotten alle Lahr,
Die falschen Schein uns lehren;
Dazu ihr' Zung' stolz offenbar
Spricht: Trotz, wer will's uns wehren?
Wir haben Recht und Macht allein,
Was wir setzen das gilt gemein,
Wer ist der uns soll meistern?
4. Darum spricht Gott, Ich muss auf sein,
Die Armen sind verstoeret,
Ihr Seufzen dringt zu mir herein,
Ich hab' ihr' Klag' erhoeret.
Mein heilsam Wort soll auf dem Plan,
Getrost und frisch sie greifen an
Und sein die Kraft der Armen.
5. Das Silber durch's Feuer siebenmal
Bewaehrt, wird lauter funden:
Am Gottes Wort man warten soll
Desgleichen alle Stunden:
Es will durch's Kreuz bewaehret sein,
Da wird sein' Kraft erkannt und Schein
Und leucht't stark in die Lande.
6. Das wollst du, Gott, bewahren rein
Fuer deisem argen G'schlechte,
Und lass uns dir befohlen sein,
Das sich's in uns nicht flechte,
Der gottlos' Hauf' sich umher findt,
Wo diese lose Leute sind
In deinem Volk erhaben.
Look down, O Lord, from heaven behold
1. Look down, O Lord, from heaven behold,
And let thy pity waken!
How few the flock within thy fold,
Neglected and forsaken!
Almost thou'lt seek for faith in vain,
And those who should thy truth maintain
Thy Word from us have taken.
2. With frauds which they themselves invent
Thy truth they have confounded;
Their hearts are not with one consent
On thy pure doctrine grounded;
And, whilst they gleam with outward show,
They lead thy people to and fro,
In error's maze astounded.
3. God surely will uproot all those
With vain deceits who store us,
With haughty tongue who God oppose,
And say, "Who'll stand before us?
By right or might we will prevail;
What we determine cannot fail,
For who can lord it o'er us?"
4. For this, saith God, I will arise,
These wolves my flock are rending;
I've heard my people's bitter sighs
To heaven my throne ascending:
Now will I up, and set at rest
Each weary soul by fraud opprest,
The poor with might defending.
5. The silver seven times tried is pure
From all adulteration;
So, through God's word, shall men endure
Each trial and temptation:
Its worth gleams brighter through the cross,
And, purified from human dross,
It shines through every nation.
6. Thy truth thou wilt preserve, O Lord,
From this vile generation;
Make us to lean upon thy word,
With calm anticipation.
The wicked walk on every side
When, 'mid thy flock, the vile abide
In power and exaltation.
III. Es spricht der Unweisen Mund wohl
1. Es spricht der Unweisen Mund wohl:
Den rechten Gott wir meinen;
Doch ist ihr Herz Unglaubens voll,
Mit That sie ihn verneinen.
Ihr Wesen ist verderbet zwar,
Fuer Gott ist es ein Graeuel gar,
Es thut ihr'r Keiner kein gut.
2. Gott selbst vom Himmel sah herab
Auf aller Menschen Kinder,
Zu schauen sie er fich begab,
Ob er Jemand wird finden,
Der sein'n Verstand gerichtet haett
Mit Ernst, nach Gottes Worten thaet
Und fragt nach seinem Willen.
3. Da war Niemand auf rechter Bahn,
Sie war'n all' ausgeschritten;
Ein Jeder ging nach seinem Wahn
Und hielt verlor'ne Sitten.
Es that ihm Keiner doch kein gut,
Wie wohl gar viel betrog der Muth,
Ihr Thun sollt' Gott gefallen.
4. Wie lang wollen unwissend sein
Die solche Mueh aufladen,
Und fressen dafuer das Volk mein
Und naehr'n sich mit sei'm Schaden?
Es steht ihr Trauen nicht auf Gott,
Sie rufen ihm nicht in der Noth,
Sie woll'n sich selbst versorgen.
5. Darum ist ihr Herz nimmer still
Und steht allzeit in Forchten;
Gott bei den Frommen bleiben will,
Dem sie mit Glauben g'horchen.
Ihr aber schmaeht des Armen Rath,
Und hoehnet alles, was er sagt,
Dass Gott sein Trost ist worden.
6. Wer soll Israel dem Armen
Zu Zion Heil erlangen?
Gott wird sich sein's Volk's erbarmen
Und loesen, sie gefangen.
Das wird er thun durch seinen Sohn,
Davon wird Jakob Wonne ha'n
Und Israel sich freuen.
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