2016-02-07 Notes from the Bench

“Beautiful Savior” arranged by F. Melius Christiansen

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


Fredrik Melius Christiansen (1871-1955) was an influential choral conductor, composer, and arranger, especially within the American Lutheran Church during the early to mid-twentieth century. “Beautiful Savior” is one of Christiansen’s many arrangements of well-known hymns. The original German text is from the Münster Gesangbuch of 1677 and was translated into English by Joseph Seiss in 1873. The melody, St. Elizabeth also known as “Crusader’s Hymn,” is a Silesian (Silesia is a region in central Europe located mostly in Poland) folk tune that first appeared in print in a collection of sacred and secular songs gather by Hoffmann von Fallersleben, the Schlesische Volkslieder, published in Leipzig in 1842. This pairing of text and music has emerged as one of the most-beloved hymns of the Christian tradition. Christiansen’s arrangement of “Beautiful Savior” was sung by the St. Olaf Choir (of which he was the founder) under his direction and remains the choir’s signature piece.




F. Melius Christiansen was born in Eidsvold, Norway. At the age of seventh, he immigrated to the United States. He studied at Augsburg College in Minneapolis, MN, and at the Royal Conservatory of Music in Leipzig Germany. From 1901 to 1944, Christiansen was the director of the internationally known St. Olaf Choir of St. Olaf College in Northfield, MN. St. Olaf College is a private liberal arts college founded by Norwegian-American immigrants and named after the patron saint of Norway, King Olaf II. The St. Olaf Choir was founded as an outgrowth of the church choir at St. John’s Lutheran Church in Northfield. Under Christiansen’s leadership, the St. Olaf Choir strove for perfection of intonation, blend, diction, and phrasing. Christiansen promoted the art of a cappella choral music at a time when the majority of choral music was accompanied by piano, organ, or an instrumental ensemble. Many St. Olaf graduates who sang under Christiansen spread his choral techniques throughout the United States. Christiansen also had great passion for the violin and directed the St. Olaf Band.


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