Friday, August 1, 2014

"There is . . . . no justification for the argument that Luther attempted to promote congregational singing by catering to the tastes of the masses."

     “It is almost an axiom in the popular imagination that Luther, in order to further congregational singing and make his hymns more attractive to the people, used or adapted preexisting secular melodies, even drinking songs.  The well-known question ‘Why should the devil have all the good tunes?’—attributed in Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations to English preacher Rowland Hill (1744-1833)—is frequently attributed to Luther.61  The origin of this attribution may have been Friedrich Blume’s influential 1931 book Die evangelische Kirchenmusik, in which he stated ‘Luther believed “the devil does not need to have all the lovely tunes solely for himself”’62  Unfortunately, Blume gave no citation for the quotation.  The second edition of Blume’s book, which appeared in 1965 with an English translation in 1974, continued to attribute the idea to Luther but omitted the quotation.63
     “Because Luther’s works are so voluminous, comprising not only published writings and letters but also transcriptions of dinner table conversations, it is scarcely possible to state categorically that Luther never uttered or wrote those words.  But other scholars have looked for them and failed to find them.64  Recently, a new tool has appeared, with the 127-volume Weimar edition of Luther’s works now available as a searchable online database.  A search conducted on keywords in the foregoing quotation yielded nothing.65  It therefore seems highly likely that such a statement is not to be found in Luther’s works.
     “In truth, of all Luther’s hymns, only one, Vom Himmel hoch, da komm ich her, is known to have had a secular origin.66  He altered it from the popular song (not drinking song) Ich kumm aus frembden landen her.  But he wrote it for the annual children’s Christmas pageant, not for use in a church service.  At first the original secular tune was used, but Luther apparently had second thoughts about this, as he wrote a new tune for the 1545 hymnal.  It is Luther’s new tune that appears in modern hymnals.
     “Most often, when Luther wrote a hymn using a preexisting melody, the melody was a Gregorian chant.  But over 20 percent of his hymns are based on, or written in the form of, popular religious song (what would be akin to religious Christmas carols today). . . .67  Many of the models for these hymns had already been sung in churches before Luther’s time.  In making use of the models, Luther was continuing a tradition, not breaking new ground.  There is in any case no justification for the argument that Luther attempted to promote congregational singing by catering to the tastes of the masses.”

     61. . . . Edward W. Broome, The Rev. Rowland Hill, Preacher and Wit (London, 1881), p. 93. . . .
     62. “Luther meinte, ‘der Teufel brauche nicht alle schönen Melodien für sich allein zu besitzen” (Blume 1931:12).  Occasionally another scholar will attribute this remark to Luther, but without giving a citation. . . .
     63. Blume 1965:18; Blume 1974:30.
     65. . . . The search was conducted in November of 2003 on the keywords Teufel, Teuffel, Teuffell, Teuffeel, Melodien, Melodeien, Melodeyen, Leider, Music, diabolos, diabolus, canticum, cantica, cantus, melos, and meli.
     66. This is not to say that later Lutherans did not occasionally use the melodies of secular songs.  [Two examples from 1555 and 1613 follow.]
     67. The information on the origins of Luther’s hymns is from Jenny[, Markus.  Luthers geistliche Lieder und Kirchengesänge.  Archiv zur Weimarer Ausgabe der Werke Martin Luthers, vol. 4.  Cologne:  Bölau,] 1985, passim.

     Joseph Herl, Worship wars in early Lutheranism:  choir, congregation, and three centuries of conflict (Oxford:  Oxford University Press, 2004), 21-22, 251nn61-67.
     I was put onto this by Daniel Zager, reviewing Rebecca Wagner Oettinger’s Music as propaganda in the German Reformation (Aldershot:  Ashgate, 2001), in the Journal of the American Musicological Society 58, no. 1 (Spring 2005):  213-214.
     Saunder (for whom see my interpolation into footnote 64, above) cites the "one sentence of Luther's that appears to be quite similar to the devil's tunes quotation":
[Saunder:]  Why is it that for the secular phases of life [(in carnalibus)] we have so many fine poems and such fine songs while for spiritual matters [(in spiritualibus)] we have such poor and cold stuff? 
[Plass, What Luther says, no. 3097:]  How is it that in matters concerning the flesh we have so many fine poems and hymns but that in those concerning the spirit we have such sluggish, cold affairs?
Wie geht es zu, das wir in carnalibus so manch fein poema und so manch schön carmen haben, und in spiritualibus haben wir so faul, kalt ding?
Wie gehets doch zu, daß wir in Carnalibus so manch fein Poema, und so manch schön Carmen haben, und in Spiritualibus da haben wir so faul kalt Ding; . . .
Table talk as recorded by Anton Lauterbach in 1538 () and Caspar Heydenreich in the Spring of 1543 (WA Tischreden 5, 274, ll. 9-11 (no. 5603)).  But “Further perusal of Luther’s writings on music provides the necessary context.  Luther’s point is not that we need to borrow from the secular phases of life but that we ought to concentrate instead on writing fine poems and suitable music for the church.”
     Stapert agrees:  Luther's stress was on "the wonder of artistically refined music":
     But when [musical] learning is added to all this and artistic music which corrects, develops, and refines the natural music, then at last it is possible to taste with wonder (yet not to comprehend) God's absolute and perfect wisdom in his wondrous work of music[, in which sort [of thing] this] is most remarkable[,] that one single voice continues to sing the tenor, while at the same time many other voices play around it, exulting and adorning it in exuberant strains and, as it were, leading it forth in a divine roundelay, so that those who are the least bit moved know nothing more amazing in this world.  But any who remain unaffected are unmusical indeed and deserve to hear a certain filth poet or the music of the pigs.
     Vbi autem tandem accesserit stadium et Musica artificialis, quae naturalem corrigat, excolat et explicet, Hic tandem gustare cum stupore licet (sed non comprehendere) absolutam et perfectam sapientiam Dei in opere suo mirabili Musicae, in quo genere hoc excellit, quod vna et eadem voce canitur suo tenore pergente, pluribus interim vocibus circum circa mirabiliter ludentibus, [etc.] . . .

. . . in his wondrous work of music, in which sort [of thing (genere)] this surpasses [all (excellit)], that with one and the same voice [(fem)] it is sung in his ongoing tenor [(masc)], with, in the meantime, many voices playing gloriously all around,  exulting and with the most pleasing [of musical] gestures ornamenting it [(fem)], and conducting alongside of it [(fem)], as it were, a certain divine dance, so that to those who are at least modestly affected, nothing in this world more glorious is seen to overtop [it]. 
. . . in seinem wunderbarlichen werck der Musica, in welcher vor allem das seltzam und wol zu verwundern ist, das [etc.] . . . 
. . . in his wonderful work of music, in which this above all is with astonishment and justification to be wondered at, that [etc.] . . . 
(Obviously I am no expert at 16th-century German!)  So
Take special care to shun perverted minds [(deprauatos animos . . . ceu impudici poetae)] who prostitute this lovely gift of nature and of art with their erotic rantings [(ad suos insanos amores)]; and be quite assured that none but the devil goads them on to defy their very nature which would and should praise God its Maker with this gift, so that these bastards purloin the gift of God and use it to worship the foe of God, the enemy of nature and of this lovely art
("Preface to Georg Rhau's Symphoniae iucundae" (1538), as trans. Ulrich S. Leupold in LW 53, 324 (321-324), boldface mine; WA 50, 372 (368-374), boldface mine); Calvin Stapert, "Beyond cheap thrills," Perspectives:  a journal of Reformed thought 8, no. 9 (November 1993):  4 (3-4)).
     I have modified the Leupold translation at the points in brackets to make it clear that Luther rushes right on to specify the sort (cf. genere?) of music he considers God's "wondrous work of music" to be.  Cf. this to the translation by Leupold, who inserts a full stop:
in his wondrous work of music.  Here it is most remarkable that [etc.] . . .
     Stapert again, echoing Archiv zur Weimarer Ausgabe 4 (above), apparently:
although Luther evidently sanctioned the use of tunes borrowed from some secular sources, he did not use them for the chorales he wrote.  He either wrote his own tunes or borrowed from the plainsong of the Roman Catholic Church. . . . The only exception is the Christmas chorale 'From heaven above.'  For this miniature musical drama for children, Luther appropriated the tune of a children's game song, a tune, however, that did not stick but was very soon replaced by the tune still in use today
 (Ibid., 3).

     For a refutation of this same claim for John and Charles Wesley and the Wesleyan Methodists, see Richard P. Heitzenrater, "The Wesleyan tradition and the myths we love," chap. 2 in A living tradition:  critical recovery and reconstruction of Wesleyan heritage, ed. Mary Elizabeth Mullino Moore (Nashville, TN:  Kingswood Books, Abingdon Press, 2013), 25 (13-44), 233nn58-59.

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