Magazine article The Tracker

Moravian Music and the Organ

Magazine article The Tracker

Moravian Music and the Organ

Article excerpt


The Moravian musical tradition in America began with the earliest Moravian settlers in the first half of the eighteenth century.

These Moravians were members of a well-established church-officially called Unitas Fratum or Unity of Brethren-that by the mid-eighteenth century had already seen almost three centuries of rich experience of religious life. They were spiritual descendants of the Czech priest)an Hus, who tor his attempts at reform was martyred in 1415. Forty-two years later, in 1457, some of his followers founded a church body consecrated to following Christ in simplicity and dedicated living.

This newly constituted church developed a rich and orderly ecclesiastical life in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, but in the Thirty Years' War of 1618-48 it was virtually wiped out. In the 1720s a few exiles of this religious heritage, along with various other seekers after truth, found refuge on an estate of a Saxon nobleman named Nicholas Ludwig von Zinzendorf. There in their village of Herrnhut the ancient church experienced a rebirth culminating in a spiritual blessing on 13 August 1727, in which their former diversity of purpose was welded into one.

In a brief five years, by 1732, that first little village of the Renewed Moravian Church began sending missionaries to all corners of me world. After establishing work in England, the Moravians sent colonists to America in 1735, but this initial settlement in Georgia proved unsuccessful, partly because of war between Protestant England and Catholic Spain to the south in Florida. More permanent work was established in Pennsylvania in 1741, with the town of Bethlehem as their chief center.'

Other settlements in Pennsylvania followed, and the Moravians purchased 100,000 acres in North Carolina and settled at Bethabara in 1753, with the central town of Salem being founded in 1766.

From its very beginning the Unitas Fratrum, or Moravian Church, kept and preserved careful and meticulous records of church, community, and commercial life. Along with this emphasis on record-keeping, the Moravians maintained active communication with other Moravian centers in Europe and throughout the world. This dedication to sharing and receiving information continues today throughout the worldwide Moravian Unity, including Africa and the Caribbean.

Along with their rich devotional life and their missionary fervor, the Moravians maintained their high regard for education and their love of music as an essential part of life. Moravian composers-also serving as teachers, pastors, and church administrators-were well versed in the European Classical tradition, and wrote thousands of anthems, solo arias, ducts, and the like for their worship services, for voices accompanied not only by organ but also by string orchestras supplemented by woodwinds and brasses. In addition, these musicians copied thousands of works by the best-known and loved European composers of their day-the, Haydn, Abel, Gyrowetz, Moxart, the Bach family, and many whose names have descended into relative obscurity. This rich collection of music manuscripts and early imprints comprises nearly 10,000 manuscripts and printed works, with some works appearing in several individual collections. The collections originating in North Carolina are housed in the Moravian Music Foundation headquarters in Winston-Salem, North Carolina; those originating in Moravian centers in Pennsylvania and Ohio are housed in the Moravian Archives, Northern Province, in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.

The musical life in the Moravian settlements was rich and became respected by many in the young country. This musical life included sacred vocal music for worship services, including, of course, hymns; brass ensembles, especially trombones, serving specific sociological and liturgical functions; and instrumental ensemble music for recreation, ranging from works for unaccompanied solo instrument to symphonies and large oratorios. …

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