Martin Luther: Composer and Musician


Martin Luther and Katharina von Bora

Luther: Composer and Musician

Martin Luther was recognized as a gifted singer and accomplished lutist. He was even referred to as the The Wittenberg Nightingale (see NOTES).

He sang with several choral groups as a boy, including the Chorus Musicus of the church of St. George in Eisenach, Germany. In addition to studying theology at the University of Erfurt, Luther studied music and counterpoint (the technique of writing a melody in conjunction with another).

According to an official German site for celebrating the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, Martin Luther complained that “only the choir of clerics sings and responds when the bishop blesses the bread or holds Mass… [And] foresaw the need for “German songs for the people to sing during Mass.” (see NOTES about this source)

Martin Luther brought the congregation back into worship. Instead of watching all the ceremony at the front of the church and listening to music in Latin, Luther wrote music in German for his people to participate in celebrating God and His salvation. The first Lutheran hymnal was published in 1524; the second edition contained 18 hymns penned by Luther.

Luther also recognized the importance of incorporating scriptural truth into his hymns and songs. Many might argue that Luther’s legacy through music may be one of his most influential as the Reformation spread partly through song and, today, his hymns are sung by Christians around the world. (I’ll cover this topic more in next week’s post.)

Martin Luther wrote:

Experience testifies that, after the Word of God, music alone deserves to be celebrated as mistress and queen of the emotions of the human heart…. And by these emotions men are controlled and often swept away as by their lords. A greater praise of music than this we cannot conceive. For if you want to revive the sad, startle the jovial, encourage the despairing, humble the conceited, pacify the raving, mollify the hate-filled—and who is able to enumerate all the lords of the human heart, I mean the emotions of the heart and the urges which incite a man to all virtues and vices?—what can you find that is more efficacious than music?

Martin Luther and Katharina von Bora

In looking for a music video for today’s post, I found a re-enactment of Martin Luther playing the lute and his wife, Katie, singing. I liked this particular video because it takes you back in time, seeing (and hearing) what people, places and instruments were like. Katharina von Bora, a former nun, was 26 years old, Luther 41, when they married on June 13, 1525, before witnesses.

The video is a mini history lesson, too:

  • 0:00 Pope Leo X issued a papal bull (an edict warning of excommunication) against Luther
  • 0:46 Prince Frederick III protected Luther, hiding him in Wartburg Castle
  • 1:15 While in hiding, Martin Luther translated the entire New Testament into German
  • 1:35 Katharina is a nun in a cloister who hears of Luther’s teachings
  • 3:25 Responding to their appeal, Luther arranged for twelve nuns to be smuggled out
  • 8:10 Martin and Katie’s public celebration of their marriage was held June 27th, 1525
  • 8:28 The rest of the video gives various examples of music of their time

The posts in this series, celebrating Martin Luther’s Musical Legacy

On October 31, 1517, Dr. Martin Luther nailed 95 theses to the church door in Wittenberg, Germany, the beginning of the Protestant Reformation.  I’m using the five Sundays of October 2017 to celebrate Luther’s five centuries of influence through music.

NOTES:

Learn more about theologian Dr. Martin Luther, a gifted singer and accomplished lutist. Also, watch a music video reenacting Luther and his wife.
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2 responses to “Martin Luther: Composer and Musician

    • Thank you, Lee! I was a bit unprepared for how much effort it is to get my Luther series out this month, but after I got over the shock and prayed, I realized I wanted to do these. Thank you for letting me know it blessed you.

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