- Worship Wars in Early Lutheranism: Choir, Congregation, and Three Centuries of Conflict
When discussing the Lutheran Reformation with their survey classes, teachers of music history often stress two important points — that Luther was responsible for introducing the concepts of congregational singing as well as including music in the vernacular within the liturgy. It is generally held that both initiatives were popular with Lutheran churchgoers. In Worship Wars in Early Lutheranism, Joseph Herl investigates many long-held assumptions regarding the music of the Lutheran [End Page 196] Reformation from its origins through the Enlightenment. As brought forward by Herl, recent scholarship into the Reformation and a more complete reading of the available sources contradict several concepts maintained by historians for many decades.
This book's nine numbered chapters focus on several major topics, including Luther and the Wittenberg liturgy, the early Lutheran liturgy as compared to contemporary Catholic practices, choral and congregational singing practices, primary sources addressing music regulations, sources, repertoires, and the use of the organ. Each chapter includes discussion of numerous subtopics, some of which are addressed very briefly, while others are addressed at somewhat greater length.
While Herl presents information on a fairly wide range of issues, this book focuses on several important topics. As stated by Herl, an evaluation of evidence dating from the formative years of the Reformation — for example, the writings of Martin Luther, Justas Jonas, and Philipp Melanchthon — supports the assertion that congregational singing existed in Germany prior to Lutheranism. Secondly, congregational singing as it was implemented into the Lutheran liturgy did not receive a wide and immediate acceptance by the congregations themselves. Rather, for most trained Lutheran regions, the choir remained the most important vehicle of music, although it gradually lost favor during the seventeenth century and the Enlightenment. As interest in choral music waned, congregational singing became more popular.
To support these assertions, Herl relies on recent editions of Luther's writings as well as other sources of information regarding the early Lutheran church. The more important sources include the many extant Kirchenordnungen, official reports generated from inspections of parishes — called Ecclesiastical Visitations — and additional writings such as correspondence between church officials. The Kirchenordnungen provide a wealth of information with respect to the use of choir and congregational music in a wide variety of locales, and Herl's discussion of the musical distinctions among larger cities, smaller towns, and those communities possessing schools makes for some quite interesting reading.
Each chapter is summarized in a brief concluding paragraph or two, and the nine numbered chapters are followed by a six-page summary of findings. For specialists in Lutheran music, the extensive appendices, which include information on hymn sources, translations of select writings, tabulations regarding choral performance versus congregational singing, and the liturgy as discussed in local Kirchenordnungen, should provide substantial scholarly resources. The endnotes and bibliography are extensive and helpful.
While many specialists will find this source informative and helpful, there are some weaknesses. While much of the information focuses on the "Worship Wars" — the conflict between congregational singing versus the use of choir — and the other primary topics of Herl's research, many of the other subjects which would be helpful to those less familiar with Lutheran music are discussed briefly, sometimes only within one or two paragraphs. Enough help, basically, to be very introductory in nature. There were also points in which Herl's conclusions seem [End Page 197] weakened by the lack of consistency in the sources. Such inconsistency points to the variety of liturgical organization and music philosophies supported by the Lutheran system of bishoprics and their political masters. In the focus on generalities, interesting possibilities posed by the exception are sometimes missed. For example, the discussion of alternatum practice in chapter 7 — given the very nature of the chorales, alternatum technique would seem to allow more flexibility than that described by Herl. More importantly, the enormous impact of war and political machination upon the Lutheran world are...