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The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

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Before Bach

Book tells of early Lutheran composers

Today many different kinds of music play important roles in Lutheran worship. Still, there is a specific tradition of church music that can accurately be called "Lutheran." Most people would think immediately of Johann Sebastian Bach and the Baroque period. But before Bach there were others in the Northern European Reformation tradition. The Music in Early Lutheranism: Shaping the Tradition (1524-1672) by Carl Schalk offers a fascinating look at seven of those earlier leaders (Concordia Publishing House, 2001; 800-325-3040 or www.cph.org).

Probably the most familiar of the seven composers are Michael Praetorius, Johann Hermann Schein, Samuel Scheidt and Heinrich Schuetz.

Schalk, himself a renowned Lutheran composer and musician, demonstrates how these creative figures and other colleagues first adapted the predominant Flemish school style of the Renaissance. He also tells us how they later began to incorporate new influences from Italy. Along with a well-written narrative, the author provides helpful charts, time lines, musical texts and photos to illustrate his points. The book also has helpful appendices and an index.

The author explains Martin Luther's crucial role in establishing the importance of music in the Lutheran service. And he describes how the Reformation composers followed Luther's ideas, both musical and theological. This is especially true regarding what he calls "the two basic sources of Lutheran musical identity" — the liturgy and the chorale.

For each musician, there is a biographical sketch and a chronological listing of all works, as well as sources for further reading. But the primary emphasis is definitely on the music. And while it helps to have some musical knowledge in reading the book, it's not essential. One can understand the points without being able to read the examples of music.


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