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Johann Walter, Kantor

Today’s devotion details how Johann Walter’s work influenced the involvement of the congregation in the worship service. The poem below also was written by Walter. These excerpts are from Music in Early Lutheranism.

Devotional Reading

Walter, in 1526, assumed the position of cantor at the Municipal Latin School in Torgau—a school attended at that time by more than 170 boys. . . . He also assumed the job as director of the Stadtkantorei, a group of the citizens of Torgau—musical amateurs—who met together to sing and study music under Walter’s direction. This example of a voluntary choral organization interested in maintaining a high level of music in the church was soon followed elsewhere. From 1534 on, Walter was also responsible for teaching Latin and religion at the Torgau school.

It is difficult to overestimate the importance of the school and the Schulkantorei in the development of music during the Reformation period. Typical of many of the schools was the division into three groups: elementarien, secunda, and summa. The smaller boys received basic instruction in music because they would become choirboys upon entering the next division. Boys from the second and third groups comprised the church choir and devoted considerable time to learning the hymns and the liturgy. . . . They helped cultivate an interest in music throughout the community and inspired congregations to more active participation in the service. School choirs were often the focal point of many communities, and the townspeople took pride in them. It was for groups such as these, particularly the school and civic singing groups at Torgau, that Walter devoted his greatest attention.

Walter, like many musicians of his day, was not only a composer but a poet as well. In 1538, while at Torgau, he published a rhymed homage to music, Lob und Preis der loeblichen Kunst Musica (In Praise of the Noble Art of Music), a didactic poem of 324 lines, in which he developed an entire theology of music, following the ideas of Luther’s scattered remarks on the subject. . . .

Luther himself provided a rhymed introduction to this poem entitled “Vorrhede auff all gute Gesangbuecher” (“A Preface for All Good Hymnals”). Luther put his preface on the lips of Frau Musica (Lady Music) and had her extol her own gifts. Luther’s introduction, together with Walter’s more elaborately conceived poem, provide remarkable insights into the early Reformation’s view of music.


That such unmerited free grace
   (Which God from love for all our race)
Had promised in His Word) might be
   Kept fresh in human memory
And move the heart to high delight
   In praising God both day and night—

This is the weightiest reason why
   God music did at once supply.
Then too, since sin acquired at birth
   Would bring to Adam’s seed on earth
Much woe and—earth itself now spoiled—
   Small joy in all for which they toiled,
As antidote against that blight,
   To keep man’s life from wilting quite,
And also to rejoice the heart,
   God soon supplied sweet music’s art.

Devotional reading and poem are from Music in Early Lutheranism, pages 38–40 © 2001 Carl Schalk. Published by Concordia Academic Press, a division of Concordia Publishing House.


Written by

Anna Johnson

Deaconess Anna Johnson is a marketing manager at Concordia Publishing House. After graduating from the deaconess program at Concordia University Chicago, she continued her studies at the University of Colorado—Denver in education and human development. She has worked as a church youth director and served a variety of other nonprofit organizations, such as the Lutheran Mission Society of Maryland. Anna loves playing video games and drinking a hot cup of tea almost as much as she loves her cat and her husband.


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