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  • Johann Leisentrit’s Geistliche Lieder und Psalmen, 1567: Hymnody of the Counter-Reformation in Germany by Richard Wetzel and Erika Heitmeyer
  • Alexander Fisher
Johann Leisentrit’s Geistliche Lieder und Psalmen, 1567: Hymnody of the Counter-Reformation in Germany. By Richard Wetzel and Erika Heitmeyer. (Madison, NJ: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press; co-published with Rowman and Littlefield, Lanham, MD. 2013. Pp. xi, 353. $95.00. ISBN 978-1-61147-550-0.)

The history of Catholic hymnody in the wake of the Reformation has only occasionally been an object of serious research. Wilhelm Bäumker’s Das katholische deutsche Kirchenlied (Freiburg, 1883–1911) provided a solid basis for later work, but thorough studies of the repertory have been rare indeed, with prominent exceptions in the work of Walther Lipphardt (1963) and Dietz-Rudiger Moser (1981). Quite plausibly this is a consequence of confessionalist streaks in the tradition of German hymnology, which stressed the unique and revolutionary character of Lutheran hymnody and viewed its Catholic counterpart as a late, grudging, and spiritually impoverished reaction. There is little doubt that the Catholic production of vernacular hymnody was modest in scope compared to the Lutheran, but nevertheless it formed a significant and underestimated thread in the vibrant fabric of Catholic reform and renewal from the mid-sixteenth century onward. There is no better place to start than with the subject of Richard Wetzel and Erika Heitmeyer’s new book, the Geistliche Lieder und Psalmen (Budissin, 1567) by Johannes Leisentrit, a prominent Catholic ecclesiastic and administrator based in the confessionally contested region of Lusatia. Leisentrit’s songbook was not the first of its kind in the German-speaking lands, but it was by far the most comprehensive of its time, offering a wide range of pre- and post-Reformation songs for use in Catholic worship and devotion. The Geistliche Lieder und Psalmen had clear confessionalist aims, [End Page 614] but Leisentrit’s goal was less to demonize Lutherans than to edify his Catholic flock; to this end, he drew liberally on non-Catholic songs that he freely adapted to fit his theological aims.

In part I of Wetzel and Heitmeyer’s book, they provide an extensive introduction to Leisentrit’s tome, providing information on Leisentrit’s biography and his relation to Catholic reform (chapter 1); early-sixteenth-century hymnals, both Protestant and Catholic, that presented him with models for his own collection (chapter 2); the sources for Leisentrit’s texts and the nature of the book’s paratextual dedications, commendations, and instructional texts (chapter 3); Leisentrit’s melodies, considered from the standpoint of their sources as well as their projection of mode and style (chapter 4); and the illustrations, borders, and symbols that communicated his theological messages to audiences both literate and illiterate (chapter 5). It is Leisentrit’s process of adapting pre-Reformation, early Catholic, and even Protestant songs—anticipated in Heitmeyer’s 1987 dissertation on the same subject—that may be the most striking feature of his Geistliche Lieder und Psalmen, and forms the core of the textual analysis in Wetzel and Heitmeyer’s third chapter (pp. 47–59). Part II presents, in essence, a critical report on the contents of the Geistliche Lieder und Psalmen, presenting the contents of the songbook in order with textual incipits, melody identifications, notated melodies (when present in the original), and references to existing secondary literature for each song. A series of useful appendices allow the reader to find texts and melodies quickly, and offer comprehensive information on the tunes’ modal characteristics, the subject matter of the many woodcut illustrations, and the adaptation of medieval Latin hymns. On the whole, the information in part II is clearly and logically presented, and will be indispensable for readers wishing to understand the origins and transmission of individual songs in Leisentrit’s collection. Although there is occasional awkwardness in the English prose style in part I, and complete transcriptions and translations of Leisentrit’s dedication and paratexts are sadly lacking, Wetzel and Heitmeyer’s book will be essential reading for a thorough understanding of sixteenth-century hymnody. It should encourage further and much-needed exploration of how the Catholic Church in German-speaking lands deployed song—both Latin and...


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