2015-09-20 Notes from the Bench

“Praise to the Lord, the Almighty, the King of Creation”

A commentary on this week’s music by Dr. James T. Gerber, Music Associate

The German chorale Lobe den Herren, den mächtigen König der Ehren (Praise to the Lord, the Almighty, the King of Creation) is regarded as one of the greatest hymns of Christian praise. This magnificent hymn is among the best-known hymns–a melody and text that is loved by most Christian denominations and included in almost every American hymnal.

 

 

The author of the original German text is Joachim Neander (1650-1680), a German pastor and theologian from the Reformed-Calvinist tradition, teacher, and hymn writer. He was born in Bremen, Germany, worked as a tutor and teacher in Heidelberg and Düsseldorf, and returned to his hometown as a pastor. Neander wrote approximately 60 hymns and provided melodies for many of his texts. Lobe den Herren was first published in 1680 in a collection of hymns by Neander titled Glaub- und Liebesübung: Aufgemuntert durch Einfältige Bundes-Lieder und Danck-Psalmen. This hymn rapidly became popular throughout the German-speaking world and was the favorite hymn of King Frederick William III of Prussia.

Catherine Winkworth (1827-1878) wrote the English translation of the German text, Lobe den Herren, which was published in 1863 in the collection, The Chorale Book for England. During the mid-nineteenth century, Winkworth spent a year in Dresden where she took an interest in German chorales. She returned to England and translated numerous German texts, bringing the German chorale tradition to English speakers. Other published collections of German hymns translated into English by Winkworth include Lyra Germanica I (1854), Lyra Germanica II (1868), and Christian Singers of Germany (1869).

The tune associated with the text, Lobe den Herren, appeared in a variety of forms through the seventeenth century, including a manuscript collection of secular songs, which suggests that this melody has folk-song origins. Early published versions of this melody appeared in Ander Theil des Erneuerten Gesangbuch (1665) and Praxis Pietatis Melica (1667) with different texts. After this melody became associated with Neander’s hymn text, it became known as Lobe den Herren — variants of the melody appeared through the 1690s until the generally accepted form known today was established around 1700. The harmonization of Lobe den Herren was composed by William Sterndale Bennett and Otto Goldschmidt and published in the Chorale Book for England.

This hymn has been used as the basis for Johann Sebastian Bach’s chorale cantata by the same name, # 137 and for numerous organ chorale prelude settings, including the settings by Johann Gottfried Walther and Jan Bender included as voluntaries during this weekend’s services.

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