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The Myth That Martin Luther Set Hymns To Tunes Sung In Bars (via Jonathan Aigner)

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In which the popular and pervasive fallacy that Martin Luther brought tunes sung in drinking establishments to church and set them to hymn words is taken out behind the woodshed and given a paddling.
(Again. This story won’t die.)
From Aigner’s article:

Here’s what we do know about the Martin Luther situation. Luther was obviously quite interested in empowering common people to participate in the liturgy. When it came to music, he wrote his own tunes based on existing chants and religious tunes, and folk melodies. They were chosen, not necessarily because they were already well-known tunes, but because they were accessible. That was the key. They were singable. In practical terms, they were not melodically or rhythmically difficult, didn’t stretch the average vocal range, and set the text with dignity, beauty, and artistry.
It wasn’t that he was trying to engage secular culture, it was that he wanted people to be able to participate. And though it’s well-documented that Luther had a particular affinity for the suds, as any good German, the issue isn’t really about “drinking songs” specifically, but music of low aesthetic and artistic quality (American pop music, anyone?!?). While he may have, like many after him, drawn from beautiful and artistic folk or classical sources, he would not have borrowed trite, disposable texts for congregational singing. Check out this quote from the preface to one of Luther’s hymnals:
These songs were arranged in four parts to give the young – who should at any rate be trained in music and other fine arts – something to wean them away from love ballads and carnal songs and to teach them something of value in their place, thus combining the good with the pleasing, as is proper for youth.

Read the whole post at Ponder Anew.

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