The Singing of the Strasbourg Protestants, 1523-1541

By Hieb, Kimberly Beck | Notes, September 2017 | Go to article overview

The Singing of the Strasbourg Protestants, 1523-1541


Hieb, Kimberly Beck, Notes


The Singing of the Strasbourg Protestants, 1523-1541. By Daniel Trocme-Latter. (St. Andrews Studies in Reformation History.) Farnham, Surrey, U.K.: Ashgate; New York: Routledge, 2015. [xvii, 385 p. ISBN 9781472432063 (hardcover), $158; ISBN 9781472432070 (e-book), varies.] Music examples, figures, tables, appendices, bibliography, index.

The Singing of the Strasbourg Protestants, 1523-1541 is one of the few musical volumes of Ashgate's St. Andrews Studies in Reformation History, a series that largely encompasses books about religious and cultural history. The book is thoroughly researched and includes substantial appendices that contain lists of repertoire as well as key documents pertaining to worship practices in Reformation Strasbourg, many accompanied by English translations, which will provide excellent resources for future explorations of the repertoire of Reformation Strasbourg.

When considering the Reformation in early sixteenth-century Germany, Martin Luther usually comes to mind--along with the areas of central and eastern Germany near Wittenberg, where Luther nailed his theses to the door of the church in 1517, or Wartburg, where Luther hid to escape his detractors. Trocme-Latter's study of the Reformation in Strasbourg clearly demonstrates that the movement was "not one, but multiple, movements sweeping across Europe," and that "each region or city approached reform in its own way, depending on its academics, politics, influence, and location" (p. 3). In fact, Strasbourg's Reformation even had its own protagonist: Martin Bucer, a former Dominican monk, who established himself as the chief Reformation officer in the city shortly after his arrival in 1523.

Sixteenth-century Strasbourg was an ideal place for Reformation ideas to take hold. It was a wealthy city with a secular government, a thriving guild culture, and a proclivity for humanistic thought already at the end of the fifteenth century. Moreover, the city was home to a printing press that was already a significant market force in the late fifteenth century, and that printed Luther's teachings as early as 1519. Perhaps most importantly, its relatively early adoption of Protestantism allowed the city to serve as a home for religious refugees from surrounding Catholic areas in France, Italy, and England. While these people initially sought religious refuge in Strasbourg, they did not often make the city a permanent home and took elements of Strasbourg's religious practices with them when they left. In fact, Trocme-Latter argues that Strasbourg's Reformation impacted the formation of Swiss, French, and even English Protestantism while informing other regional Reformations throughout central Germany (p. 1).

Throughout the book, Trocme-Latter works to provide the most comprehensive understanding of the Reformation scene in Strasbourg by studying the secular repertories of music born out of political and cultural activities, along with their liturgical and ecclesiastical counterparts. Likewise, he examines the music performed outside of official ceremonies or church-sanctioned events in addition to ecclesiastical rules and the liturgical practices of the church. A wide variety of primary sources--including songbooks and liturgical orders, personal chronicles of the Reformation, published writings of the reformers themselves, and other archival material relating to the movement in Strasbourg, such as private correspondence between reformers--paints a thorough picture of musical activities in the city.

In the opening chapter, "The Church and the 'Wonderful Art' of Music," Trocme-Latter describes the troubled relationship (already in the fifteenth century) between music and the Christian (Catholic) liturgy, and portrays Strasbourg as an early adopter of new musical trends that would take root during the Reformation. For example, in the 1480s, Strasbourg's printing press was publishing volumes of simple settings of psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs--repertory that would be central to the musical practices of the movement (p. …

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