Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Johann Crüger’s Praxis Pietatis Melica: Its Importance and Implications

From the Nicolakirche in Berlin, where both Crüger and Paul Gerhardt worked

Johann Crüger’s Praxis Pietatis Melica is recognized today as the most central chorale book of the 1600s, as well as the most reprinted hymnal.  Why did it enjoy such popularity?  Certainly the abundance of original Crüger melodies must have helped to further its usage in home and church.  However, the group of theologicially insightful hymnwriters contributing – Johann Franck, Paul Gerhardt, Johann Heermann, and more – truly enrich this publication.  Thus, because of the legacy of the Praxis Pietatis Melica, the Lutheran church remembers the edifying work of these 17th-century men today. 
 Crüger was born on April 9, 1598 in Gross-Breesen in Lower Lusatia, and received instruction as a youth in nearby Guben until he was about 15.  Then, he primarily learned while traveling, and studied with Paul Homberger, who potentially learned from Giovanni Gabrieli, and began publishing his own music in 1619.  Additionally, he was accepted as a student of theology at the University of Wittenberg, but thereafter he is mainly known for musical accomplishments in the realm of music theory, composition, and of course hymnal-editing.  [1]
During Crüger’s lifetime, Germany observed a move towards personal, meditative worship in anticipation of Pietism, officially coined by Philip Jakob Spener with his Pia Desideria (1675).  In 1640, Crüger edited his first hymnal of the prevailing devotional-style hymns, Newes vollkömliches Gesangbuch (1640).  This was meant “for home or church use,” and was arranged with the vocal melody and figured bass so that they could be accompanied on a harpsichord in one’s living room, as well as on an organ at church.  In this collection, he also updated the modal inflections of the Reformation-era tunes with harmonic-minor accidentals and leading tones.  This is the first version of what would later come to be known as the Praxis Pietatis Melica, republished in more than 40 editions into the 1700s.[2]    
Just two years after the most authoritative Praxis appeared, Cruger updated it once more, this time with instrumental parts.   This incarnation, named Geistliche Kirchen-Melodeien, held settings of chorales for four voices, two descant lines for violins or trumpets, and a continuo as before.[3]   “[He] was a skillful composer and his tunes are sturdy, simple, and syllabic, with firm metrical rhythm.  There is a lyric quality quite unlike the early, primitive chorale melodies.” [4]  
Another notable feature about the Praxis Pietatis Melica’s 1647 edition was the inclusion of 15 new hymns by Paul Gerhardt.  Upon becoming deacon at the Nicolaikirche at which Crüger worked, Gerhardt got acquainted with him and collaborated on many well-known hymns in Lutheran hymnals today.  Crüger’s next publication was the first part of Psalmodia sacra in 1658, which simply dealt with the 150 psalms in the same fashion:  an SATB setting, three instrumental parts, and a bassline.  The second part, bearing the date of 1657, had 105 instrumental additions out of 173 psalms and songs. [5]  Finally 1736, the Praxis Pietatis Melica had been re-edited 44 times, and was known as the most authoritative hymnal in Germany.[6]
            One such hymnwriter, Johann Franck, ended up in his position unexpectedly so, for he originally intended to be a lawyer.  Born in 1618 in Güben, Germany, he studied jurisprudence at the University of Konigsberg, but returned quickly to Güben in 1640 to comfort his mother while the Swedish and Saxon troops stormed through the city.  Perhaps the famous words of the hymn began forming in his mind: 
Hence, all fear and sadness!
For the Lord of gladness,
Jesus, enters in.[7]
Later, he continued his law practice, and became a burgess, burgomaster, and finally the deputy from Güben to Lower Lusatia.  Despite his occupation, Franck still found time to write secular and sacred poetry, including 110 hymns, which he published under the title Geistliches Sion in 1674.[8]  Crüger wrote 14 melodies for him.[9]  As the Handbook to the Lutheran Hymnal states, “His leading idea is the union of the soul with its Savior.”[10] 
Johann Heermann (1585-1647) is thought by some to be the second greatest hymnwriter next to Paul Gerhardt, and endured a nearly equal amount of hardship in his 61 years.  Of his four older siblings, he was the only one that survived to adulthood, and after the Lord upheld him through a serious sickness, his mother promised to give him a seminary education, though she and his father, a furrier, had little spare money.  Nonetheless, he continued on to study at several area schools, tutored for the Fraustadt pastor’s and later the Baron von Rothkirch’s sons, but severe eye and throat infections, losing his job and possessions, nearly getting stabbed and shot, and his son becoming Catholic and poisoned thereafter weighed heavily on his mind.  Out of those trials came these words:
            Whate’er of earthly good this life may grant me,
            I’ll risk for Thee; no shame, no cross, shall daunt me;
            I shall not fear what man can do to harm me
            Nor death alarm me.[11]
            Probably the best-known and most significant of the poets featured in the Praxis editions was Paul Gerhardt.  After his father, the mayor of Gräfenhaynichen, died while Gerhardt was young, a good deal of the great pastor’s life was spent amidst the turmoil of the Thirty Years’ War.  Because of it, he did not leave Wittenberg for schooling until he was about 35 years old, and in 1642 became tutor to a family in Berlin, where he met Crüger and began writing hymns.[12]  Shortly after many of them were published in the first Praxis, Gerhardt received a call to his first clerical position in Mittenwalde in 1651, and then to be third assistant pastor at the Nicolaikirche in Berlin.  Yet, this did not ensure a trouble-free career. Gerhardt’s poetry is seasoned with the sadness of a man who lost his father very young, his wife, and all but one son; on top of that, the Calvinist rulers deposed him of his pastorate for holding to the use of the baptismal exorcism.[13]  Strengthened in faith through these hardships, he confidently expresses his joy through hymnody:
My heart from care is free,
No trouble troubles me.
Misfortune now is play,
And night is bright as day.[14]
Most of his hymns attained recognition by their first publication in his friend’s hymnals, and the pairing of a Gerhardt text and Crüger tune predominates most of the author and composer pairs of hymn collections today. 
            In the end, why could and should Johann Crüger’s work, as specifically seen in the Praxis Pietatis Melica, be venerated and applied in the Lutheran church today?  First of all, his hymn tunes carry some of the jewels of Lutheran poetry (see Appendix A).  Living at a timely place in church history, he received the privilege of composing music for some of the best hymnwriters of the Lutheran faith.  During and following the Thirty Years’ War, a host of German Lutherans were inspired to assemble devotional poetry based on their dire worldly situation; when hard-pressed with instability in earthly life, one is increasingly drawn to meditate on Scriptural promises and be reminded that the Christian’s real treasure lies in heaven. 
            What is more, the fact that Crüger felt the supplementation of instrumental parts was important in a congregational hymnal manifests the Lutheran participatory philosophy of worship.  In the 17th century, it was common for people to own a viol or harpsichord, and in the absence of an organ - especially in domestic devotions – parishioners were encouraged to beautify the hymn singing with what they already possessed and made use of for enjoyment. 
            Along with the above, the chorale’s transcription into four-part cantionale style points out that Crüger and his contemporaries thought that hearing the melody remained central, but around that supporting harmonies could also help enhance it.  In Martin Luther’s day, the practice still continued to give the tenor the cantus firmus, but placing the melody in the soprano rendered it more easily heard due to its penetrative high register, rather than hidden under two or three other voices.  This technique of cantionale setting built the bridge from modal medieval harmony to chordal harmony of the common practice period. 
            To ignore the influence of Johann Crüger’s work, particularly in editing the Praxis Pietatis Melica and its various incarnations, would be to discount a landmark in the progress of Lutheran church music.  Both its venerable list of contributors and its accessible musical arrangements worked together to render it successful as a hymnal and musical document, and the further editions helped to preserve some of the riches of hymnody.  May it inspire Christian authors, composers, and hymnologists to do the same in years to come.
Nicolaikirche, Berlin

Bibliography “Johann Crüger (Hymn-Writer, Composer).”  Bach Cantatas Website,      web accessed 10 June 2013, 
Buelow, George J. "Crüger, Johannes." Grove Music Online. Oxford Music Online. Oxford         University Press, accessed June 16, 2013, http://             grove/music/06901.
Commission on Worship of the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod.  Lutheran Service Book.            St. Louis:  Concordia Publishing House, 2006. 
Marshall, Robert L and Robin A. Leaver. "Chorale." Grove Music OnlineOxford Music            Online. Oxford University Press, accessed June 16, 2013,
Polack, W. G.  The Handbook to the Lutheran Hymnal, 3rd ed.  St Louis:  Concordia Publishing          House, 1958. 
Reynolds, William Jensen.  A Survey of Christian Hymnody.  New York:  Holt, Rinehart and    Winston, Inc., 1963. 
Stulken, Marilyn Kay.  Hymnal Companion to the Lutheran Book of Worship.  Philadelphia:    Fortress Press, 1981. 
The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, 5th ed.  London:  Macmillan Publishers Ltd., 1980. 

Appendix A: Johann Crüger Melodies in Lutheran Service Book (by order of appearance)

O Lord, How Shall I Meet You? Wie soll ich dich empfangen     1653              334
            Praxis Pietatis Melica, 1653

All My Heart This Night Rejoices Frohlich soll mein Herze springen 1653     360
            Praxis Pietatis Melica, 1653

O Dearest Jesus Herzliebster Jesu                                                                          439
Newes vollkömliches Gesangbuch, 1640

Awake, My Heart, With Gladness Auf, Auf, Mein Herz                                      467
            Praxis Pietatis Melica, 1648

Jesus Lives!  The Victory’s Won Jesus, Meine Zuversicht                                               490
Geistliche Oden und Lieder, 1757

Lord, To You I Make Confession Herr, ich habe missgehandelt                        608
            Geistliche Kirchen-Melodier, 1649

Soul, Adorn Yourself With Gladness Schmücke dich, O liebe Seele                  636
             Geistliche Kirchen-Melodier, 1649

Jesus Christ, My Sure Defense Jesus, meine Zuversicht  1653                           741
            Geistliche Lieder und Psalmen, 1653

Jesus, Priceless Treasure Jesu, meine Freude      1653                                       743
            Praxis Pietatis Melica, 1653

Feed Thy Children, God Most Holy Schmücke dich, O liebe Seele                    774
Praxis Pietatis Melica, 1656

The Lord, My God, Be Praised Nun danket alle Gott                                         794
            Praxis Pietatis Melica, 1647

Come, Let Us Join Our Cheerful Songs Nun danket all  1647                           812
            Praxis Pietatis Melica, 1647

Let Children Hear The Mighty Deeds Nun danket all                                      867
            Praxis Pietatis Melica, 1653

Now Thank We All Our God Nun danket alle Gott                                              895
            Praxis Pietatis Melica, 1647

This Is The Day The Lord Has Made Nun danket all                                        903
            Praxis Pietatis Melica, 1653

[1] George J. Buelow. "Crüger, Johannes." Grove Music Online. Oxford Music Online. Oxford University Press, accessed June 17, 2013,
 [2] Robert L. Marshall and Robin A. Leaver. "Chorale." Grove Music Online. Oxford Music Online.Oxford University Press, accessed June 17, 2013,
[3] Buelow, "Crüger, Johannes." 
[4] William Jensen Reynolds, A Survey of Christian Hymnody, (New York:  Holt, Rinehart and Winston, Inc., 1963), 23
[5] The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, 5th ed.  (London:  Macmillan Publishers Ltd., 1980), 70. 
 [6] Reynolds, A Survey, 23.
[7] Commission on Worship of the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod,  Lutheran Service Book,  (St. Louis:  Concordia Publishing House, 2006), 743:4
[8]W.G. Polack, “Gerhardt, Paul,” Handbook to the Lutheran Hymnal, 507.
[9], “Johann Crüger (Hymn-Writer, Composer).”  Bach Cantatas Website, web accessed 10 June 2013, 
[10] Polack, “Gerhardt, Paul,” Handbook,  507.
[11] Commission on Worship, Lutheran Service Book, 439:13
[12] Marilyn Kay Stulken, “O Lord, How Shall I Meet You?,” Hymnal Companion to the Lutheran Book of Worship,  (Philadelphia:  Fortress Press, 1981), 121-122.
[13]  Polack, “Gerhardt, Paul,” Handbook, 510-511.
[14] Commission on Worship,  Lutheran Service Book, 467:5 

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