Learn About Your Favorite Hymns and Worship Songs

Worship Arts Conservatory, with the generous support of Edibles Rex, is hosting a Faculty and Friends concert on February 28, 6:00 pm at Crosspointe Church, 21336 Mack Ave, Grosse Pointe Woods, MI 48236. The concert, titled Hymns, Ancient and Modern will feature congregational music from the 1600’s through today.

In addition to singing and listening to hymns and worship songs, you will get the chance to learn about the history of congregational church music. During the concert we will be talking about the development of congregational music during each time period. There will also be detailed program notes on each song to help you better understand the songs and their history.

As a taste, here are the program notes, as written by Dr. Nathan H. Platt, for A Mighty Fortress.

Widely known as the “Battle Hymn of the Reformation,” “A mighty fortress is our God” was written by Martin Luther (1483-1546), the man who, more than any other, was the driving force behind the Protestant movement.  The hymn is based upon the stalwart text of Psalm 46, which reads, “Our God is a refuge and strength; an ever-present help in trouble.  Therefore, we will not fear …”  Most scholars agree it was written as a rallying cry for the German princes who were called to face the dignitaries of the Holy Roman Empire and the Roman Catholic authorities in the 2nd Diet of Speyer (1529).  There they knew they would have to make a final defense for the Lutheran and Zwinglian doctrines of the Reformation.  Ultimately the religious tolerances they had been granted in the previous Diet (1526) would be retracted by Ferdinand, the regent and brother of the emperor, Charles V.  The princes were forced to protest these abuses on pains of penalty and death and earned there the historic designation as “Protestants.”

Both text and tune of Martin Luther’s historic hymn are believed to have first been published in Joseph Klug’s Geistliche Lieder (Wittenberg, 1529) . . . .  Thereafter, John Julian (A Dictionary of Hymnody, 1957) states that Luther’s text went through more than 80 translations into 53 languages prior to the turn of the 20th century. . . .  In Britain, the translation “A safe stronghold our God is still” by Thomas Carlyle gained preeminence and retains its supremacy today. The text Americans have always known is the translation of Frederick H. Hedge.  Surprisingly, however, it did not benefit from widespread appeal until the late-19th century being first published in Hymns for the Church of Christ (Boston, 1853).  The first American Baptist collection to include this hymn appears to have been Baptist Hymnal by William H. Doane and E. H. Johnson (Philadelphia, 1883).

The modern form of the tune EIN’ FESTE BURG, which was of Luther’s composition, was popularized in its slow and stately fashion as a result of J. S. Bach’s employment of it in his cantata by the same name (BMV 80).  Luther’s original version, however, was highly rhythmic and syncopated; stemming from late-Renaissance dance forms and the song-types of the Meistersinger tradition of which Luther, a skilled lutenist and singer, was exceedingly fond. Many modern hymnals have preserved and juxtaposed both forms of the tune, which with the diversity of textual translations affords invariable possibilities for celebrating the significance of this seminal hymn of Protestantism.

Posted in WAC.