A Review of Reformation Resources: Some Music

by Doug Smith

490 years ago this month, Martin Luther posted his 95 theses on the castle church door in Wittenburg, Germany (October 31, 1517). The purpose of this series of posts is to point you to resources about the Protestant Reformation.

When it comes to learning about the Reformation and enjoying its history and influence, there are many tools available for a variety of ages. This is a review of some of the more helpful items I have found or have had recommended to me by trusted sources. If you want to build your personal library, or that of your church, school, or college, this list of resources would be a good place to start.

Yesterday, we considered some books. Today, we will look at music. Future posts will cover websites and movies.

“Music is a gift and largesse of God, not a gift of men. It drives away the devil and makes people happy; it induces one to forget all wrath, unchastity, arrogance, and all other vices. After theology, I accord to music the highest place and the greatest honor.”

“How strange and wonderful it is that one voice sings a simple unpretentious tune while three, four, or five other voices are also sung; these voices play and sway in joyful exuberance around the tune…He must be a course clod and not worthy of hearing such charming music, who does not delight in this, and is not moved by such a marvel. He should rather listen to the donkey braying of the [Gregorian] chorale, or the barking of dogs and pigs, than to such music.”

– Martin Luther

“Luther has done more harm by his songs than by his sermons.”

– Luther’s enemies

  • Martin Luther: Hymns, Ballads, Chants, Truth (4 CD set – 39 tracks, 3 hours of music) from Concordia Publishing House <www.cph.org> contains beautiful vocal and instrumental music reflecting the style of Luther’s time. The collection has 39 tracks and is about 3 hours long. Two recordings of “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God” form bookends to this recording. Both renditions maintain the original syncopated rhythm of Luther’s most famous hymn. The first version is a solo in German, and the second has a choir singing in English. (The other 37 tracks are in English as well.) Other highlights include “From Heaven Above to Earth I Come,” a Christmas carol by Luther; “A New Song Now Shall Be Begun,” Luther’s first hymn which is also a ballad about the first martyrs of the Reformation; “In the Very Midst of Life”; and “Christ Jesus Lay in Death’s Strong Bands.”

These recordings inspired this Baptist to get out his old Lutheran Hymnal (the most likely source if you want to find the music for most of Luther’s hymns) and penny whistle and enjoy these tunes and the meaty doctrine to which they are wed.

  • Felix Mendelssohn includes the tune for “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God” in his 1830 Reformation Symphony (No. 5 in D Minor, op. 107) to commemorate the tercentenary of the Augsburg Confession. (Also, Johann Sebastian Bach used many of Luther’s hymns and other Reformation hymns in his church music.)

Some books about Reformation music:

  • Douglas Bond, Mr. Pipes and Psalms and Hymns of the Reformation (Arlington Heights, IL: Christian Liberty Press, 2000), 240pp. This book provides a tour of Reformation sites and song via historical fiction. I read excerpts to 4th-6th graders one year. It is an encouraging read and gives some good insight into the hymns and their writers. When I visited Capitol Hill Baptist last year, they had just finished going through this with the children on Sunday nights (with related activities).
  • Paul S. Jones, “Luther and Bar Song: the Truth, Please!”, pages 171-178 in Singing and Making Music: Issues in Church Music Today (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 2006), 315pp. Jones dispelled the tired, oft-repeated myth that Luther simply baptized tune from the pub for worship music.
  • Paul S. Jones, “Hymnody in a Post-Hymnody World,” pages 222-256 in Ryken, Thomas, & Duncan, ed., Give Praise to God (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 2003), 516pp. This chapter has good thoughts about the need for utilizing and crafting hymns in our day.

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One thought on “A Review of Reformation Resources: Some Music

  1. Paul T. McCain October 10, 2007 / 5:19 pm

    Greetings, thanks for your comment about our collection of the hymns of Martin Luther.Your readers might also be interested in a newer edition of the Lutheran Confessions intended specifically for lay readers to help them understand the meaning and context of these core explanations of the Lutheran Faith.http://www.cph.org/concordiaCordially in Christ,Pastor Paul T. McCain

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