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Composer of the Month: Johann Crüger

Johann Crüger (1598–1662) was a seventeenth-century German Lutheran composer whose influence dwells richly in Lutheran Church music even today. He studied music across Europe as a teenager and eventually settled back in Germany, where he studied theology in Wittenberg and became cantor at St. Nicholas Church (Nikolaikirche) in Berlin. He served there for forty years until his death.

During his life as a church musician, Crüger produced dozens of Lutheran chorale tunes. Among his most famous work in today’s Church is his collaboration with German-Luther hymnwriter Paul Gerhardt in the final twenty years of Crüger’s life.

Lutheran Service Book Contributions

In Lutheran Service Book, hymns that Gerhardt wrote and Crüger composed include “O Lord, How Shall I Meet You” (WIE SOLL ICH DICH EMPFANGEN), “All My Heart Again Rejoices” (FRÖHLICH SOLL MEIN HERZE SPRINGEN), and “Awake, My Heart, with Gladness” (AUF, AUF, MEIN HERZ).

Crüger also worked with seventeenth-century German-Lutheran hymnwriter Johann Franck. Lutheran Service Book includes three hymns that Franck wrote and Crüger composed: “Lord, to You I Make Confession” (HERR, ICH HABE MISSGEHANDELT), “Soul, Adorn Yourself with Gladness” (SCHMÜCKE DICH), and “Jesus, Priceless Treasure” (JESU, MEINE FREUDE).

“All My Heart Again Rejoices”: How Crüger’s Tune Complements Gerhardt’s Text

A beloved Christmas hymn sung in many Lutheran congregations today is Gerhardt’s “All My Heart Again Rejoices,” (LSB 360) which is sung to one of Crüger’s tunes. The tune begins and ends on an E-flat, but the trajectory of the tune rises and builds until it reaches an octave above where it started—a high E-flat—in the final system of the hymn (“Till the air” in stanza 1, “And the Son” in stanza 2, etc.)

It is remarkable how each of Gerhardt’s six stanzas of this hymn all seem to build to this climactic moment in the tune. Stanza 1 begins: “All my heart again rejoices, As I hear Far and near Sweetest angel voices.”

The stanza continues to describe the choirs of angels singing the Christmas message “Christ is born!” and the stanza gains the momentum of heavenly voices singing over the Bethlehem countryside as they announce the good news of Jesus’ birth.

As the angel voices swell together, the tune reaches the high point with the words “Till the air Ev’rywhere Now with joy is ringing.” As you sing this traditional Lutheran Christmas carol with your congregation, your voices will literally rise together at this point.

Stanza 5 begins with a different tone than the joyous chorus of angels singing at the beginning of the hymn. Here is the picture of Jesus in the manger, proclaiming the purpose of His incarnation: “Softly from His lowly manger Jesus calls One and all, ‘You are safe from danger. Children, from the sins that grieve you.’”

Again, the tune rises as the newborn Jesus speaks Christmas peace and comfort to God’s children, until it once again reaches the high point with the words “You are freed; All you need I will surely give you.” When you sing this stanza with your congregation during Christmastide, your voices will join together to confess Christ’s incarnation and arrive with the news that the birth of Christ frees you from all harm and danger, and that He, though lying lowly in a manger, will give to you all you need to support your body and life; namely, Himself.

The final stanza of the hymn reflects the tune perhaps most beautifully of all six stanzas. It begins by calling all Christians to “Come, then, banish all your sadness! One and all, Great and small, Come with songs of gladness.” A final time, your voice, along with your congregation, the Church universal, and the angels of heaven, will rise an entire octave as you sing, “We shall live with Him forever There on high In that joy Which will vanish never.”

That we still use today the hymns that Gerhardt and Crüger collaborated on is a treasure for the Church. “All My Heart Again Rejoices” is just one example of how a hymn tune cannot only capture but also enhance and beautify a hymn text and give it even more transcendent meaning.

Bring this song to your congregation this Christmas by ordering the sheet music below. 

Order Kevin Hildebrand's Setting

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Written by

Nathan Grime

Nathan Grime is from Fort Wayne, Indiana. He is a 2020 graduate of Hillsdale College, where he studied rhetoric, public address, and journalism. Currently, Nathan is the organist and Kantor intern at St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in Hillsdale, Michigan.


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