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  • Singing the Gospel: Lutheran Hymns and the Success of the Reformation
  • Dane Heuchemer
Christopher Boyd Brown . Singing the Gospel: Lutheran Hymns and the Success of the Reformation. Historical Studies 148. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2005. xiv + 298 pp. index. append. illus. tbls. map. chron. $39.95. ISBN: 0–674–01705–6.

This book is a study of one community and the enormous impact it felt via the Lutheran Reformation. Joachimsthal, a Bohemian free royal mining town, was established contemporaneously (1516) with the emergence of Lutheranism. In this study, Brown explores the methods in which music and religion helped shape its identity and culture.

Chapter 1 establishes a context for the Brown's focus on Joachimsthal. Modern scholarly opinions on Lutheranism are discussed, with Brown proposing several alternate points of view. It is his opinion, for instance, that primary sources on Lutheranism have been more frequently studied for insight on the public venues for religion, namely church and civic events. As a result, Brown asserts, the religious environment of the sixteenth-century Lutheran home has been largely overlooked. Brown also addresses what he considers to be an uneven study of extant primary sources. The reports generated from ecclesiastical visitations, for example, have been used to support an opinion that the success of the Reformation was hampered by princes and priests bent on maintaining their control and power over the people. It is Brown's opinion, however, that these reports are a dubious source of information, because the ecclesiastical leadership often scripted them in order to promote their own agendas. Further, while many scholars believe that the more personal sources (such as published sermons) are unreliable and anecdotal, Brown regards them as an important source of information regarding religion and the community.

In chapter 1 Brown also devotes a substantial portion of content toward hymns and hymn printing. While some attention is devoted to early editions, centers of printing, composers, and individual printers, Brown concludes that recent scholarship has again placed its greatest effort on studying the public use of Lutheran music. He asserts that the most important impact of music in Lutheranism came with the next step — the people taking these hymns home for use in their private worship.

The remaining seven chapters focus on particular aspects of Lutheranism and their impact on Joachimsthal. Chapter 2, "Reformation and Music in Joachimsthal," focuses on the establishment of the town, its government, and the basic musical establishments as well as the central figures, including Nicolaus Herman (who served as cantor for many years) and Johann Mathesius (who served as rector of the Latin school, then preacher, and finally senior pastor). Chapter 3, entitled "Lutheranism, Music, and Society," discusses the impact of the Protestant Reformation upon every level of Joachimsthal's citizenry. The next three chapters focus on music and its use in school, church, and home. Chapter 4, "Music and Lutheran Education," includes considerable information of the town's Latin school. Brown's discussion of the local girls' school, however, was the most interesting section of this chapter. Mining was a dangerous occupation, and sources [End Page 577] suggest that between one-third and two-fifths of Joachimsthal households were by necessity (i.e., the death of the man of the house) run by women. Hence, the education of girls so as to prepare for such contingencies became a local priority. In chapter 5, Brown concludes (principally from his analysis of Mathesius's sermons) that the separation of the clergy from the laity, often extolled in recent scholarship, did not exist in Joachimsthal. Within chapter 6, "Lutheranism and Music at Home," Brown outlines the nature of worship in the house, with the various responsibilities of all living within a household. The singing of hymns was central to these home activities; between hearing the choirs in church and their children bringing chorales home from school, all members of the household gained fluency with the repertoire.

The longterm impact of the Lutheran hymns is best illustrated in chapter 7, "Counter-Reformation in Joachimsthal." As Bohemia went through its forced conversion to Catholicism, Lutheranism continued to be practiced in the home. Brown's discussion of the long resistance of the townspeople toward the...


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