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Notes 63.3 (2007) 503-528

Early Lutheran Hymnals and Other Musical Sources in the Kessler Reformation Collection at Emory University
Stephen A. Crist

Emory University was founded in 1836 by the Georgia Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church.1 It is therefore perhaps not the most likely location for a world-class collection of primary sources from the sixteenth-century German Reformation. During the past few decades, however, several factors have contributed to the development of the Richard C. Kessler Reformation Collection. In 1975, Pitts Theology Library purchased the holdings of the Hartford Theological Seminary—approximately 220,000 volumes, including the Beck Lutherana Collection—and instantly became the second-largest theology library in North America.2 A dozen years later, in 1987, the Kessler Collection was established when Richard and Martha Kessler donated their private collection of Reformation imprints and manuscripts to Emory. Since then, the collection has continued to grow. Thirty years after the Hartford acquisition, it now contains more than 3,200 items.3

The centerpiece of the Kessler Collection is its extensive list of early printed works by Martin Luther, unmatched by any other library in North America. Among the over 900 publications by Luther is a large number of sermons, as well as a copy of the September Testament (Wittenberg, 1522), Luther's translation of the Greek New Testament into German. The remainder of the collection includes books, pamphlets, and manuscripts by Luther's colleagues and opponents; Roman Catholic responses to Luther; and documents such as the first Latin and German editions of the Augsburg Confession. There are substantial numbers of works by Philipp Melanchthon, Desiderius Erasmus, Johann Eck, and [End Page 503] Andreas Rudolff-Bodenstein von Karlstadt. In all cases, the focus is on the pivotal years of the German Reformation, 1500–1570.

Among the holdings of the Kessler Collection are several early Lutheran hymnals and a number of other items containing or pertaining to music. Some of these publications appear not to be held by any other library in North America, and several may not even be held in major European collections. This article provides an overview of the musical materials in the Kessler Collection, with the hope of stimulating more intensive investigations in the future.

Pamphlets Containing One Or More Songs

Lutheran hymns were printed individually before they were gathered together in hymnals. As Joseph Herl points out, "The first Lutheran hymn publications were broadsheets (also called broadsides), single sheets of paper printed on one side, and pamphlets, single gatherings of leaves usually containing only one, two, or three hymns."4 The Kessler Collection currently includes no broadsheets. It does, however, hold four pamphlets, each containing seven or eight printed pages.5

(1) Drey geystliche lieder vom wort | gottes, durch Georg kern | Landtgraff Philips | zu Hessen Ge= | sangmay= | ster. | Der Juppiter verendert geystlich, | durch Hans Sachssen Schüster. | Anno.M.D.XXv — n.p., 1525 — 4 unnumbered leaves — shelf mark 1525 Kern6

The earliest of the pamphlets (1525) includes four hymns.7 The first, "O Gott Vater, du hast Gewalt," is by a well-known Reformation figure, Hans Sachs (1494–1576), the famous cobbler and Meistersinger of Nuremberg.8 The wording on the title page ("Der Juppiter verendert geystlich") indicates that this twelve-stanza dialogue between the sinner and Christ is a contrafactum of an earlier secular song.9 It dates from [End Page 504] early in Sachs's career, just two years after his famous didactic poem, "The Wittenberg Nightingale." This probably is the hymn's first appearance in print.10 It later was incorporated into many hymnals, however, including four in the Kessler Collection: numbers (6)–(8), (10) herein.

The other three songs, in contrast, appear nowhere else and were penned by an individual about whom very little is known.11 The title page indicates that Georg Kern served as "singing master" (Gesangmayster) at the court of Philipp, landgrave of Hesse (1504–1567). A remark printed beneath each song mentions that Kern was from Geisenhausen, a town in...


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