A History of Western Music

By Donald Jay Grout; Claude V. Palisca | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 8

CHURCH MUSIC OF THE LATE
RENAISSANCE AND REFORMATION

THE MUSIC OF THE REFORMATION
IN GERMANY

When Martin Luther nailed his ninety-five theses to the door of the Schlosskirche at Wittenberg in 1517, he had no intention of initiating a move ment toward a Protestant church completely separate from Rome. Even after the break, the Lutheran Church retained much of the traditional Catholic liturgy, along with a considerable use of Latin in the services. Similarly, it continued to employ a good deal of Catholic music, both plainsong and polyphony. In some cases the original Latin text was retained, in others it was translated into German, and in still others, new German texts were fitted to the old melodies.

Lutheran liturgy

The central position of music in the Lutheran Church, especially in the sixteenth century, reflected Luther's own convictions. He was a singer, a composer of some skill, and a great admirer of Franco-Flemish polyphony, especially the works of Josquin des Prez. He believed strongly in the educational and ethical power of music and wanted the entire congregation to participate in the music of the services. Although he altered the words of the liturgy to conform to his own views on certain theological points, Luther also wished to retain Latin in the service, partly because he thought it was valuable for educating the young.

Lutheran church music

In applying Luther's beliefs to their own local conditions, congregations developed a number of different usages. Large churches with trained choirs generally kept much of the Latin liturgy and its polyphonic music. Smaller congregations adopted a German Mass (Deudsche Messe), first published by Luther in 1526, that followed the main outlines of the Roman Mass but dif

German Mass

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