2015-10-04 Notes from the Bench

“Now Thank We All Our God” by Johann Crüger

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

 

“Now Thank We All Our God” (known also as “Nun danket alle Gott”) is a well-known German hymn of thanksgiving that transcends all national, language, and denominational boundaries. It is included in almost every American hymnal. “Nun danket alle Gott” is referred to as the “German Te Deum,” and is frequently sung during joyous religious ceremonies and occasions of thanksgiving, and it is considered a classic of Christian hymnody.

 Nun danket alle Gott has also been the basis of numerous organ chorale settings. For example, Johann Sebastian Bach used this melody for a number of his church cantatas and Felix Mendelssohn adapted it as the second movement of his second symphony Lobgesang or “Hymn of Praise.”

 

 

The German composer and theologian, Johann Crüger (1598-1662), composed the melody for this hymn. Crüger was a teacher at the gymnasium Zum Grauen Kloster and the cantor of the Nikolaikirche in Berlin from 1622 until his death. In 1647, Crüger edited the most important German hymnal of the seventeenth-century, Praxis Pietatis Melica. Crüger paired Martin Rinckart’s text with his melody for this hymnal. The version typically sung by Americans is an isorhythmic (from the Greek for “the same rhythm”) version of Crüger’s melody (#397)—a later adaptation of the original, more rhythmic character of his music, which appears in our hymnal, #396. Crüger’s melody is most commonly known as Nun danket alle Gott, but it is also known as the “Leuthen Chorale”, having been sung after the Battle of Leuthen (1757) by a group of victorious Prussian soldiers.

The German clergyman and hymnist Martin Rinckart (1586-1649) wrote the original German text for this hymn. Rinckart served as a deacon in Eisleben, and an archdeacon in Eilenburg, Saxony during the Thirty Years’ War (1618-1648), where he witnessed many of its horrors, including his city being overcrowded with refuges who suffered from illness and famine. Circa 1630, Rinckart conceived this text as a hymn for the family to sing during table-grace. It was first published in in 1636 in his Jesu Herz-Büchlein. Catherine Winkworth wrote the English translation we are now familiar with, which was first published in her Lyra Germanica, Second Series in 1858.

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