Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Luther's First Hymn

I saw this video posted over at Facebook tonight.  It brought back memories of sitting in Hymnology I class with Kantor Resch and hearing him tell the story behind Luther's first hymn, "A New Song Here Shall Be Begun."  I dug up my notes from that class and here is what I had jotted down:

Luther's First Hymn - "The July 1, 1523 Brussels Tragedy"
  • Brussels was one of the places that was undergoing persecution following the Diet of Worms - a persecution that was trying to crush the "newfound religious movement" begun by Luther.  The authorities came to the Augustinian monastery there and arrested all the monks and burned the monastery down.  The monks were ordered to recant or be burned at the stake.  Out of all the monks, only three said they would rather die than recant; the rest recanted and were set free.  
  • On July 1, 1523, two of the monks, Heinrich Voes and Johannes Esch, were burned at the stake (we don't know when the third was put to death - probably later that year).  These were two teenage boys who refused to deny their new Lutheran confession of the faith.  They were heard singing the Te Deum from the Liber Usualis while being burned.  These two were the first Lutheran martyrs
  • Luther was so moved by this that he wrote a hymn about the faith of these two teenage monks, which was his first hymn - "A New Song Here Shall Be Begun" (AE 53:214 has the complete, 12-stanza hymn; TLH 259 has stanza 9).
  • The martyrdom of these two monks spread throughout Europe largely due to this hymn and it had the opposite effect of suppressing the Reformation - it fired the people up!
  • Luther's tune is beautiful, but difficult, which is typical Luther.  Many of his tunes are hard to learn at first, but, once you learn them, you can't get them out of your head and will never forget them (cf. "A Mighty Fortress").  Luther's tunes have lasting power!  
Here's the video - enjoy! 

3 comments:

Robbie F. said...

I have heard this tune, "EIN NEUES LIED," mixed in with all kinds of Presby-Metho-Bapti-Costal hymns in the program of the neighborhood church carillon system. I guess it still has some currency in non-Lutheran denominations, I don't know with what text. It has also turned up set to other hymns, such as (I believe) a metrical paraphrase of the Athanasian Creed, etc.

Rev. Thomas C. Messer, SSP said...

Thanks, Robbie. Very interesting, and rather surprising, that.

Robbie F. said...

I have more specific info for you. The old "Lutheran Hymnary" (c. 1913), the black hymnal used by the Norwegian Synod, had Luther's mission hymn "May God bestow on us His grace" set to the tune EIN NEUES LIED. The ELS's newer "Evangelical Lutheran Hymnary" pairs it with "The mystery hidden from the eyes," a Paul Gerhardt/Richard Massie hymn. Bizarrely, I have been a member of a church that used both of these hymnals, one after the other. Anyway, it's a wonderful tune!