Academic journal article The Hymn

Luther's Liturgical Music: Principles and Implications

Academic journal article The Hymn

Luther's Liturgical Music: Principles and Implications

Article excerpt

Luther's Liturgical Music: Principles and Implications by Robin A. Leaver. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm B. Eerdmans, 2007. 485+xiv pp. ISBN 13: 978-0-8028-3221-4. U.K. £17.99; U.S. $32.00.

This book is the result of a lifetime of labors exploring the musical aspects of the Lutheran Reformation, and in its depth and precision it goes far beyond anything heretofore written on the subject. Fourteen of its 18 chapters have previously appeared in whole or in part as articles in the journal Lutheran Quarterly and three in other publications, with only the introductory chapter entirely new. Although in many books such disparate origins might result in a choppy progression of thought, here the author's subsequent revisions have molded the independent articles into a reasonably coherent whole.

Previous studies in English of Luther and music have relied almost entirely on German-language sources even though many of the reformer's own writings are in Latin. Leaver's book remedies this, and the result is a picture of Luther informed by a plethora of largely unfamiliar documents. Especially in the chapter on Luther as musician, the documents are welded together into a compelling narrative. In contrast to the popular image of Luther as a musical dilettante, Leaver demonstrates convincingly that Luther was, in fact, quite an accomplished musician surrounded throughout his life by music of high quality, an image that is confirmed by Luther's contemporaries.

In the area of liturgy, Leaver takes issue with the notion, not uncommon among liturgical scholars, that Luther lacked the historical and liturgical sensibilities needed to produce a mass order that adequately reflected Christian tradition. In particular, questions have been raised as to whether it was necessary for Luther in his Deutsche Messe to remove completely the traditional canon, or eucharistie prayer. Leaver here takes the minority position (shared by Bryan Spinks and Oliver Olson, among others) that any sort of eucharistie prayer would compromise the doctrine of justification by grace alone. Whether one agrees with his conclusion or not, the evidence Leaver presents must at least be considered.

Much of what Leaver presents will be familiar to scholars, but here it is made accessible to a less erudite audience. A theme running throughout the book is the idea that Luther intended church music, especially his hymns, to be catechetical; that is, it serves to teach the faith. …

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