Musical Notes ♫♬ (Archive)


Martin Luther was an extraordinarily productive writer both of books and hymns.  His works were able to connect art and all classes of people because of his ability to tie hymns together with the worship and in the native language (German).  Toward the end of his life he was overwhelmed by the scope of the revolution he had caused and regretted writing so much, save for translating the Bible into ordinary German.

This "Battle Hymn of the Reformation" was written (both text and tune) by Martin Luther sometime between 1527 and 1529.  The text is a paraphrase of Psalm 46.  It was first translated into English in 1539 with the title Oure God is a defence and towre.  An interesting bit of history as it relates to Gustavus Adolphus Church, tradition states that King Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden had the hymn played as his armies went to battle in The Thirty Years War.  

The hymn is so popular had has been used in a variety of compositions for centuries.  I wonder what Martin thinks about this?? 

Early Manuscript of Ein Feste Burg

The hymn has been used by numerous composers, including Johann Sebastian Bach as the source for his chorale cantata Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott, BWV 80.  Bach set the tune twice in his Choralgesänge (Choral Hymns), BWV 302 and BWV 303 (for four voices). Bach also wrote a version for organ, Chorale Prelude BWV 720. Two orchestrations of Bach's settings were made by conductors Leopold Stokowski and Walter Damrosch. Dieterich Buxtehude also wrote an organ chorale setting (BuxWV 184), as did Johann Pachelbel. Felix Mendelssohn used it as the theme for the fourth and final movement of his Symphony No. 5, Op. 107 (1830), which he named Reformation in honor of the Protestant Reformation started by Luther. Joachim Raff wrote an Overture (for orchestra), Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott, Op. 127. Giacomo Meyerbeer quoted it in his five-act grand opera Les Huguenots (1836), and Richard Wagner used it as a "motive" in his Kaisermarsch (Emperor's March), which was composed to commemorate the return of Kaiser Wilhelm I from the Franco-Prussian War in 1871. Two organ settings were written by Max Reger; his Choral Fantasy "Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott", Op. 27 and a much shorter Chorale, Op. 67, No. 6. Claude Debussy quoted the theme in his suite for piano duet, En blanc et noir. Ralph Vaughan Williams uses the tune in his score for the film 49th Parallel, used most obviously when the German U-boat surfaces in Hudson Bay shortly after the beginning of the film. Flor Peeters wrote an organ chorale setting "Ein feste Burg" as part of his Ten Chorale Preludes, Op. 69, published in 1949.

The hymn was sung at the National Cathedral during the funeral service for United States President Dwight David Eisenhower.  It was also used at the funerals of Thurgood Marshall and Ron Brown. It was also used at the Prayer Service held at the National Cathedral on September 14, 2001.

Part of it can also be heard in the made-for-TV movie, A Separate Peace.  "A Mighty Fortress Is Our God" is the first song that the main character of Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man encounters, chronologically within his own life.  A Caribbean-style instrumental version is included in the Van Dyke Parks album Clang of the Yankee Reaper (1976).  My personal favorite, Mystery Science Theater 3000 used the song as a running gag during the film "The Rebel Set", in which the mastermind of a bank heist disguised himself as a Lutheran minister.   A Mighty Fortress was the name of a supplement for the Dungeons & Dragons role-playing game; this supplement depicted the Renaissance and wars of religion as a campaign setting for this roleplaying game.

In the animated TV series The Simpsons the doorbell chimes of Ned Flanders, the cheerfully devout next door neighbor, sometimes ring "A Mighty Fortress Is Our God."  The WB series The Gilmore Girls features this hymn in an episode of the series' third season, when Zach, Brian and Dave are practicing for a gig at Mrs. Kim's house. The band re-writes the hymn after Zach protests the lyrics.  The prison warden ironically whistles this tune in Frank Darabont's movie Shawshank Redemption.  The instrumental is played in the background during a collage of scenes in the movie American Gangster.  The hymn is sung during Brom's funeral in the HBO series Deadwood.  A Mighty Fortress is the name of David Weber's fourth novel in the Safehold series, which deals in a world controlled by a repressive church that curtails innovation and forbids new technology.

Edge of Darkness (1943)- used as soundtrack for film about the Norwegian resistance to the German Occupation.

Peace,  Gretchen Mundinger

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Daily Bible Verse

  • Malachi 4:1-6

    5Lo, I will send you the prophet Elijah before the great and terrible day of the LORD comes. 6He will turn the hearts of parents to their children and the hearts of children to their parents, so that I will not come and strike the land with a curse.

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