Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Johann Crüger

Here's a "control specimen" to balance against my study of tackiness in hymnody. Johann Crüger (1598-1662) is one of the all-time greatest hymn tune composers. In 1640 he published his first hymnal, which introduced the genre of hymns for the home, or private devotional use. He collaborated extensively with Paul Gerhardt and Johann Heermann. His 1647 Praxis pietatis melica became the most significant hymnal of its time, going through dozens of editions.

Crüger left behind 70 chorale melodies, "distinguished by their fusion of simplicity suited to the congregation with expressive declamation and rhythmic flexibility, the latter being due largely to the incorporation of Calvinist models" (Robert L. Marshall/Robin A. Leaver in Grove Music Online). In other words, his chorales are easy enough for an average congregation and its organist to learn and perform; they speak a musical language accessible to us, firmly rooted in the modern major-minor tonal system; and each one, within the limits of its miniature form, makes a musical argument that delights the mind (beauty) and the heart (sensitivity).

The melodies of Crüger have found a significant place in Anglophone Lutheran hymnals, often linked to translations of the Gerhardt and Heermann hymns with which they were originally linked. His tunes also influenced later composers, forming the basis of works by J. S. Bach and other masters of sacred choral and instrumental music. Here are the Crüger tunes English-speaking Lutherans have sung in the past century:

Auf, auf, mein HerzThis tune is firmly wedded to Paul Gerhardt's Easter hymn "Awake, my heart, with gladness." It takes a good deal of energy to sing it, but it gives energy too: a hymn full of noble triumph, suggesting a dance of joy while, at the same time, standing in awe of the incomprehensible mystery of Christ's resurrection. With its use of the pronoun "I," Gerhardt's text may (strictly speaking) be better suited to private devotions than congregational use. But we also use the pronoun "I" in the creed. This hymn's confession is as beneficial for all as for one.

Du, o schönes WeltgebäudeTo my knowledge, the only Anglophone hymnal to use this tune is the Evangelical Lutheran Hymnary (Ev. Luth. Synod, 1996). The text given with it is "Of my life the life, O Jesus," Richard Massie's translation of the E. C. Homburg passion hymn which, in Catherine Winkworth's more familiar version, begins: "Christ, the life of all the living"; which, in turn, is usually sung to the tune Jesu, meines Lebens Leben. The ELHy actually has both versions in it. The contrast makes for an interesting study. The Winkworth version, with its major-key tune, accents the benefits we reap and the gratitude we return, while the Massie/Crüger version portrays Christ's suffering in a more somber, penitent mood. I like both versions, and I believe this tune deserves to be better known.

Fröhlich soll mein HerzeThe Gerhardt Christmas hymn "All my heart this night rejoices" goes with this tune in most Lutheran hymnals. Sometimes identified as All my heart this night and Christmas Joy, this tune is a fine example of a hymn that uses the nativity of Jesus to offer comfort to the suffering, assurance of forgiveness to fearful sinners, and a strong testimony to God's grace. J. G. Ebeling's tune Warum sollt ich mich is similar in meter, rhythm, and melodic shape. Both are lovely, affecting tunes; but this one mounts ever higher in its joyful praise, building steadily to an ecstatic climax.

Herr, ich habe missgehandeltSt. NicholasThis tune epitomizes Crüger's genius: serious enough to handle texts about sin, repentance, and sacrifice; yet objective enough to be used as a doxological hymn. Alternately known as Aaberg and Deep and Glorious, and similar enough to the tune St. Nicholas to be considered one and the same, I have found it set to the hymns "Deep and glorious, Word victorious"; "Glory be to God the Father"; "Jesus, who for my transgression"; and "Though we long, in sin-wrought blindness." Most hymnals, however, pair this hymn with Johann Franck's penitential hymn "Lord, to Thee I make confession."

Herr, wie langeAustralian Lutherans have sung this tune to the Kaspar Neumann hymn "God, from all eternity." It is a serious, handsome, strongly built melody that deserves to be revived.

Herzliebster JesuAlso known as Father, most holy and Suffering Savior, this is yet another Crüger triumph, appearing in almost every Lutheran hymnal since 1640, and probably many besides - particularly in conjunction with Heermann's long passion hymn "O dearest Jesus, what law hast Thou broken." It is one of the best-known tunes in its meter (, so it has also gained more or less currency with such hymns as "Christ, Thou the champion," "Father, most holy," "Lord of our life and God of our salvation," "O Lord, our Father, shall we be confounded," and "Turn, Lord, Thy wrath away." Although I associate some of these hymns with other tunes, the only pairing I consider unfortunate in the above is "Christ, Thou the Champion," whose meter requires a series of slurred phrase-endings, a feminizing effect that favors neither the text nor this stern, mournful tune.

Jesu, meine FreudeRarely identified as Gaudeo, this magnificent melodic jewel is inextricably welded to Johann Franck's classic hymn "Jesus, priceless treasure" - a pairing found in almost every hymnal I have studied. Some books of a Scandinavian persuasion do substitute L. M. Lindeman's Gud skal alting mage, itself a lovely melody that deserves a wider audience. But I would never give up this tune or the many keyboard and choral masterpieces it has inspired.

Jesus, meine ZuversichtThis tune first came to light in the 1653 edition of Praxis pietatis melica, which is as close to being attributed to Crüger as it needs to be. Today it can be found under a variety of titles, including Brandenburg, Ratisbon, Why art thou cast down, and Jesus Christ, my sure Defense. This last title is taken from the hymn by Otto von Schwerin with which it is most closely linked; I stopped counting when I found this pairing in 11 hymnals. It has also proved most versatile, pinch-hitting for such hymns as "Go, my soul to Calvary," "Heavenward still our pathway tends," "Jesus, Master, at Thy Word," "Jesus sinners doth receive," "Light of light, enlighten me," "O how holy is this place," "Rise, O Salem, rise and shine," "Tender Shepherd, Thou hast stilled," "Why art thou cast down, my soul," and "Wilt Thou not, my Shepherd true," and in at least half a dozen hymnals, Gellert's Easter hymn "Jesus lives! the victory's won." It is from this last-named hymn that I have learned to associate the last phrase of this tune with the words "This shall be my confidence," a sentiment that sums up the character of this deservedly celebrated tune.

Lob sei dem allmächtigen GottAlso known as Ryden, this is a simple, appealing, perfectly structured tune, though it lacks somewhat of musical interest. Having found several different versions (including two different endings) of this tune, I wonder if there isn't an original, "rhythmic" version buried somewhere. Nevertheless, three American Lutheran hymnals have made use of this tune, pairing it with "Great God, a blessing from your throne," "How blessed is this place, O Lord," "Not always on the mount may we," and "O Paschal feast, what joy is thine."

Lobet den Herren, alleOne Australian book pairs this tune with the hymn "O Lord, our Father, shall we be confounded." One American book pairs it with "O God, be with us, for the night is falling." A handsome, confident tune in the same meter as Herzliebster Jesu, but with a considerably brighter profile, I believe this piece could a very useful.

MarburgIn setting the Isaac Watts hymn "When I survey the wondrous cross" to this tune, the old Ev. Luth. Hymn-Book says it was adapted from Crüger by Herman Ilse, 1910. It is a serious, energetic, prayerful tune. I don't know how much credit Ilse deserves for its effectiveness: perhaps as much as Lowell Mason deserves for Hamburg, a tune adapted from the First Gregorian Tone and more often paired with this hymn.

Nicht so traurigNot to be confused with a tune by J. G. Ebeling by the same name (which ELHB sets to "Every morning mercies new"), this seems to be the Australian tune-of-choice for "Go to dark Gethsemane." Somber, tender, movingly bittersweet, it seems closely related to Herr, ich habe missgehandelt; possibly an abbreviated version of it.

Nun danket all’ und bringet EhrImpossible to confuse with J. G. C. Störl's obscure tune by the same name (which, confusingly, is also known by two other names and appears in both a rhythmic and an isometric form), this chorale may also be found under the titles Crüger and Thanksgiving. As an energetic, cheerful melody in the Common Meter (CM), it gets shoved together with a lot of different texts: "All ye who on this earth do dwell"; "Arise, the kingdom is at hand"; "Come, let us join our cheerful songs"; "Father of glory, to Thy name"; "Let children hear the mighty deeds"; "Lord, while for all mankind we pray"; "Majestic sweetness sits enthroned"; "O Lord, I sing with mouth and heart"; "Rejoice, my heart, be glad and sing"; "Songs of immortal praise belong"; "There is a name I love to hear"; "This is the day the Lord hath made"; "To God be glory, peace on earth"; "Welcome, Thou Victor in the strife"; and "While shepherds watched their flocks by night." Bottom line: everybody sings it.

Nun danket alle Gott (rhythmic)(isometric)If you are wondering what I meant earlier when I distinguished between the "rhythmic" and the "isometric" version of a hymn tune, check this out. The original version has more rhythmic variety, and isn't afraid of phrases that don't fit into a steady 4/4 pattern. Don't be fooled by a misconception; however. Isometric versions of the old chorales were not introduced because the rhythmic versions were too hard for people to sing; nor did they come in because of Pietism and its disdain for objective beauty and elaborate ceremony. In fact, composers like Bach used isometric versions chiefly because they planned to weave them into intricate, contrapuntal textures and color them with rich, dramatic harmonies; so they needed to strip the tunes down to their musical essence.

Rhythmic or otherwise, this tune is most closely associated with Martin Rinckart's hymn "Now thank we all our God," as at least a dozen Lutheran hymnals of my acquaintance can attest. Besides that, it has also been set to "Lord God, we worship Thee" (by Johann Franck); "O Lord, we welcome Thee" (Caspar Ziegler's Christmas hymn); "O seek the Lord today"; "The Lord, my God, be praised" (by Johann Olearius); "To Thee, eternal God"; and "To Thee, O God, we raise."

O Jesu Christ, dein KrippleinEnglish-speaking Lutherans may associate this tune with either, or both, of two Christmas hymns: Caspar Füger's "We Christians may rejoice today," and more generally Paul Gerhardt's "O Jesus Christ, Thy manger is." Also known as Manger, this tune is warm, gentle, sweet, and lyrical. It catches both the ear and the heart, unforgettably. Nevertheless, I don't think these hymns are widely used these days. This can and should change.

O wie seligBoth Crüger and J. G. Stötzel composed a tune by this name for the hymn "O how blest are ye whose toils are ended." Stötzel's wonderful tune seems to have the advantage over this one, which I have found in only two Anglophone hymnals. Nevertheless, Crüger's version is a gorgeous, graceful, gentle, consoling melody that ought, at least, to be offered as an alternate tune. 8 out of 10 congregations may choose to sing the other tune, but the remaining 2 know what they are missing.

Schmücke dichThe fact that there are so few good Communion hymns perhaps accounts for the fact that, in all likelihood, this is Johann Crüger's most widely known tune. Everybody sings it to Johann Franck's "Soul, adorn thyself with gladness" (a.k.a. "Deck thyself, my soul, with gladness"), a personal, devotional meditation on the Lord's Supper. This haunting tune has done much to make it a favorite hymn: reverent, tender, full of intense feeling and a touch of pathos, yet without falling prey to sentimentality. The chorale has also inspired many musical tributes, including a magnificent prelude by no less a composer than Brahms. It has also made friends with several other hymn texts: "By Thy cross, O Christ, and passion"; "Feed Thy Children, God most holy"; "God be with you now and ever"; and "Now we join in celebration."

Von Gott will ich nicht lassenThis is probably less well-known than the tune by the same name (also known as Gerhardt), which most of us associate with Ludwig Helmbold's hymn "From God shall naught divide me." Both tunes, confusingly, have been sung to the hymn "O enter, Lord, Thy temple," on which see Zeuch ein below. Crüger's tune has also been paired with "Lo, God to heaven ascendeth." Out of some 20 hymnals published on two continents, I found this tune in only two books, used one time each, with different texts and with such noteworthy differences in the melodic shape that I am compelled to show it here in both versions. I consider version A (from the Australian Lutheran Hymnal) a more credible representation of Crüger's work than B (from ELHB). It is a charming, assertive, tragically overlooked tune with a slight, superficial resemblance to So nimm denn meine Hände. As a tune for "Lo, God to heaven ascendeth" I think it holds much promise, particularly as the tune more often used (Aus meines Herzens Grunde) is somewhat overused.

Wach auf, mein GeistThe 1930 American Lutheran Hymnal divides its attribution of this tune between Crüger (1653) and Johann Schop (1642). I'm not sure what this means: perhaps that it was first published in the 1653 edition of Crüger's hymnal; or perhaps Crüger's version was a significant improvement on a previously published tune by Schop. ALH paired this tune with the hymn "Behold, by grace and grace alone." Its structural weaknesses (e.g. the tonic cadence at the repeat sign) may explain why this tune doesn't get out more often, though something about it sticks in one's head. Note the similarity of this tune to the 17th century Czech melody Judah's Lion:The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) set the Czech Easter hymn "Lo, Judah's Lion wins the strife" to this tune. You may have to hum through it to spot the (possible) relationship. Or have I spent so much time humming hymn tunes that I'm hearing things?

Wie soll ich dich empfangenThis beautiful tune, full of unstrained, natural, deep emotion, is chiefly linked to Paul Gerhardt's Advent hymn "O Lord, how shall I meet Thee," also translated as "O how shall I receive Thee." Many of us are more accustomed to singing this hymn to Valet will ich dir geben, an atrociously overused tune that TLH offers as an alternate. I think Crüger's original, with its touchingly ardent spirit, is a better match for this hymn. The editors of at least 7 Anglophone hymnals thought it was a good match. Plus, "Light of the Gentile nations" and "Today Thy mercy calls us" have also been set to this tune. Which is better: version A or B? Alas, I can't decide; they both have their fine points!

Zeuch einI find it sadly curious that only two American hymnals - TLH and its predecessor ELHB - offer this tune along with Gerhardt's Pentecost hymn "O enter, Lord, Thy temple." It is such an underrated masterpiece, one of Lutheranism's strongest Pentecost hymns! Joyful, beautiful, well-written, touching, its only drawback seems to be that it isn't by either Luther or Rhabanus Maurus, whose hymns own Pentecost and most other occasions when red vestments are used. My heart aches to think how many Lutherans have never felt the kind touch of this melody and the spiritual poem it accompanies. What can be done about it? Teach it to the choir, the children, the youth, and have them sing it to the congregation. Perhaps its value will be more widely seen.

MISCELLANEOUS: Here are a handful of additional tunes by that I found in non-English Lutheran hymnals. This is only scratching the surface; I haven't really done much looking. But if you know where I live, and you are in funds, I would be delighted to receive a facsimile (a microfilm printout would do) of the 1647 edition of Praxis pietatis melica.

Ach, wie flüchtigAgain, this tune's attribution is split between Michael Franck (1652) and Johann Crüger (1661). I consider it a sister to Ach, was soll ich Sünder machen, the tune to which one may have sung "O how great is Thy compassion."

Dank sei Gott in der HöheAgain, the attribution of this tune is splite between J. H. Schein (1627) and Crüger (1640, the year he published his first hymnal). It has a deeply serious tone, and sounds archaic compared to Crüger's most characteristic work. Knowing him, and considering that Schein specialized in polyphony, I imagine Crüger's contribution was to bring this melody down to a hymnal level of simplicity.

Lobet den Herren und dankt ihmHere is yet another sister to Herzliebster Jesu. For once, Crüger gets sole credit for it.

Schwing dich aufThis is quite different from J. G. Ebeling's tune by the same name, a bright major-key number which TLH sets to "Come, ye faithful, raise the strain," and an Australian hymnal to "With the Lord begin thy task." Crüger's version, in contrast, is in a minor mode and filled with rhythmic surprises. Perhaps this accounts for why it hasn't crossed the Atlantic.

Sei Lob und EhrCrüger (1653) shares credit for this tune with Guillame Franc (1543) in what is certainly a case of adaptation: for it is readily apparent that this tune is a simplified cousin of the one known to us as Rendez à Dieu, or sometimes as Navarre (see TLH 100, "Christians, sing out with exultation"; LSB 792, "New songs of celebration render"). Compare for yourselves:


Powell said...

Hey. I was wondering where you found the tune for "Sei Lob und Ehr". I've looked all over for it in every from the Reformation until now, and can't find it. I've found the text in several hymnals, but the tune seems to be untraceable. Could you let me know where you got it?


Powell said...

every **hymnal

RobbieFish said...

I found it in the SELK Hymnal of 1976. Full citation: Evangelisches Kirchengesangbuch, Ausgabe fuer die Selbststaendige Evangelisch-Lutherische Kirche (Goettingen, Vandenhoek & Ruprecht, 1976), hymns 88 and 233. [The copy I ransacked belongs to the library at Concordia Theological Seminary in Fort Wayne, Indiana. Maybe you can get it by Interlibrary Loan.]

On the other hand, the tune "Es ist das Heil" is also sometimes called "Sei Lob und Ehr," as evidenced by two preludes by Max Reger (one each in op. 135a and op. 67 book 1), so evidently that tune was also used with this hymn. However, Helmut Walcha has a prelude on the REAL "Sei Lob und Ehr" tune, in vol. 3 of the 4-volume Peters Edition of his chorale preludes.

Thanks for passing by. Lutheran chorales have been much on my mind lately. What cultural and spiritual treasure! Here's to digging deeper into it and being good stewards of it!

debaumann said...

Any info on a Cruger tune "Als Jesus Christus in der Nacht"?? All I've found is a JSB arrangement with text by Heermann. I'd like to find a GOOD English hymn translation of all seven verses.

RobbieFish said...

Sorry, the only thing I can find out about this hymn is that there is a (possibly spurious) J. S. Bach chorale prelude on it.

Bill said...

Many thanks for this post. I was trying to find alternate tune names for St. Nicholas by Cruger and none of the major sites (like were of any use. Your site linked this tune to Herr, Ich Habe Misgehandelt and from there I could find that on and from there could see the various texts used with this tune. I'm building a database from my personal collection of hymn-based music (harmonizations, descants, piano or organ solos, piano duets, piano/organ duets, etc.). I have 30,000+ entries thus far and can typically find dozens if not hundreds of pieces of church music based on a well-known hymn tune. Usually I can find a tune with the melody search function of Hymnary ( but this entry was from Organ Descants for Selected Hymn Tunes by G. Winston Cassler and the melody was not part of the harmonization. Many thanks again, Bill

RobbieFish said...

Bill, I'm glad this was helpful for you. And if debaumann is still out there, have you looked up the Hymnoglypt blog? The guy behind that may have an answer for you.

David S. said...

Thank you for this post! There are so many great chorale tunes I was not aware of! If only we hadn't forsaken them...