Composing the Festival Settings of Luther’s Divine Service

Last week, we interviewed composers Jonathan Kohrs and Jacob Weber and asked about their work on the new Festival Settings of Luther's Divine Service. Professor Kohrs teaches music courses at Concordia University Chicago, and Weber serves as Kantor at Emmanuel Lutheran Church and School in Dearborn, MI.

Peter Reske: Today we want to talk about two new festival settings of Luther’s Divine Service. This you can find in Lutheran Service Book as Divine Service Setting Five. This is based on Luther’s own setting of the Divine Service, his Deutsche Messe, the German Mass from 1526.

For the upcoming LCMS Institute on Liturgy, Preaching and Church Music, these composers have been commissioned to write two settings of the same service. The idea is that Jake’s setting will be for smaller forces and Jonathan’s setting for larger forces.

Tell us about the hymns you chose and why you selected those:

Weber: There are some core ones that I think both of us wrote on, the "Kyrie! God, Father." I also took “All Glory Be to God Alone,” the creedal hymn, the metrical version “We All Believe in One True God,” the Sanctus which is “Isaiah, Mighty Seer in Days of Old” and the Agnus Dei, the Divine Service Three Setting "O Christ, Thou Lamb of God."

Kohrs: I did the chant version of the Creed. We both did the Sanctus, I did “Lamb of God, Pure and Holy” for the Agnus Dei, and for the post-communion, I did two hymns: “O Lord, We Praise Thee” and “In Peace and Joy I Now Depart.”

What do you do with something like the Sanctus, a hymn but it’s really only one stanza; how do you handle something like that?

Weber: That’s a good question. What do you do? “Isaiah, Mighty Seer,” the Sanctus, really has its high point at  "Holy, holy, holy is God, the Lord of Sabaoth," so I thought, "Let’s incorporate the congregation and the instrumentalists there, which is a trumpet in my setting, and let’s just build our way up to that moment." I got creative with the use of either a soloist, or the women of the congregation at first, and then incorporating the men later. Then when we get to that “Holy, holy” the whole congregation joins, and it’s just a big burst of energy and sound, like cherubim and seraphim in Heaven just singing. 

Jonathan, you said that you had two post-communion hymns. Why did you add even more for yourself?

Kohrs: The “In Peace and Joy” is kind of a personal favorite, but I thought that more congregations sing “O Lord, We Praise Thee.” My plan was to do “O Lord, We Praise Thee” and if I have time, do “In Peace and Joy.” Thankfully, I had enough time, and you were gracious to give me a little extra time that I could do both of those. I was really happy I had a chance to set both because I was torn between the two.

Can just regular musicians, like us, really do these things? This is written for a big conference. Jonathan, can we really do this?

Kohrs: My choral stanzas are all just four-part, nothing too fancy. It comes in the way the harmonies are voiced. I think a good choir that can sing four-part a cappella can handle these settings.

Weber: Absolutely. Even if it’s not written on the score, there is a lot of flexibility. For instance, many times the trumpet part will double the soprano descant. If you have a small choir, 6, 7, 8 choir members, and you can’t do both parts, there’s flexibility where you could have the trumpet play, and choir could do part two and omit part one. There is a lot of flexibility built in, which was on purpose.

One final question: When your setting premieres, what should we listen for?

Weber: I think specifically one of my prouder pieces in this collection was “All Glory Be to God Alone” because I was able to find a way, I think very musically, to incorporate in stanza four, which reads “Take away the whole world’s sin, have mercy on us Lord, we pray,” a trumpet descant of “Lamb of God, Pure and Holy.” I also incorporated some Kyrie Eleisons in that fourth stanza, so listen to that.

Kohrs: I mentioned being interested in renaissance music; I was in a way trying to channel Michael Praetorius, Heinrich Schütz, and Claudio Monteverdi. Try to listen in a way that takes you back to that time, in the early Reformation years and still be in the present. I wanted to combine the past, present, and hopefully take it to the future glory of Heaven.

We hope you learned something new by reading through this interview and are now excited to hear these new settings. 

Watch the Full Interview

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Written by

Mark Knickelbein

Mark Knickelbein is editor of music/worship at Concordia Publishing House and an active composer and church musician. His compositional focus is on choral, piano, and organ church music. He has a Bachelor of Science in education from Martin Luther College, New Ulm, MN, and a Master of Arts in music from Concordia University Chicago. He previously served Trinity Lutheran in Kaukauna, WI, as principal, teacher, organist, and choir director.

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