“Lord, Keep Us Steadfast in Your Word” (LSB 655) is one of Martin Luther’s most well-known hymns. It was also one of the last hymns Luther wrote. The text originates from Luther’s Admonition to Pray against the Turks which was written in 1541. Translations of the hymn into English rebrand it as a general plea to the triune God to defend His Church from all her enemies, both physical and spiritual. At its genesis, however, the hymn was described in a 1544 Wittenberg hymnal as “a children’s hymn to sing against the two archenemies of Christ and His holy Church: the pope and the Turks.”
Even so, the hymn is widely known and sung in Lutheran churches today.
The SATB and SA Settings
David von Kampen delivers a modern setting of the familiar chorale for SATB or SA and piano. The choral writing is approachable and easy to learn, while the piano accompaniment adds support and harmonic interest. Both SATB and piano and SA and piano settings are available.
As would be expected from such a well-known hymn, countless musical settings from the sixteenth century through today have been produced for the text “Lord, Keep Us Steadfast in Your Word” and its tune, Erhalt Uns, Herr. This choral setting from von Kampen offers a fresh and modern harmonic perspective on the hymn while holding fast to the original chorale.
Both the SATB and SA versions follow the same structural pattern. The piano accompaniment introduces a serene and prayerful mood appropriate for the text. The treble voices sing stanza one in unison:
Lord, keep us steadfast in Your Word;
Curb those who by deceit or sword
Would wrest the kingdom from Your Son
And bring to naught all He has done.
The second stanza also begins in unison. In the SATB score, the male voices sing the first two phrases in unison before breaking into four-part harmony with the female voices. In the SA score, all voices sing the first two phrases in unison before splitting into two-part harmony:
Lord Jesus Christ, Your pow’r make known,
For You are Lord of lords alone;
Defend Your holy Church that we
May sing Your praise eternally.
The third stanza begins in harmony with a melodic deviation from the chorale. The same lovely motif von Kampen uses in the piano accompaniment before and after the stanzas makes its way into the vocal arrangement as well.
Eventually, the familiar chorale melody returns to the third stanza. The piece ends with a repetition of the final line: “And lead us out of death to life.” Although the second time the words are sung, they’re sung to the first melodic phrase from the chorale:
O Comforter of priceless worth,
Send peace and unity on earth;
Support us in our final strife
And lead us out of death to life.
Using von Kampen’s Settings
The two versions of von Kampen’s setting will allow church choirs to select what best fits their needs and capabilities. A choir with strong numbers in the soprano and alto sections that lack tenors and basses could use the SA version of the setting. Similarly, children’s choirs composed mainly of treble voices could use the SA version as an introduction to two-part harmony.
While not different harmonically or in difficulty, the SATB version would obviously require tenors and basses. But the balanced approach of unison singing and harmonic singing should make the four-part version manageable for SATB choruses.
Because it is so dynamic, the hymn “Lord, Keep Us Steadfast in Your Word” is appropriate throughout the Church Year. It’s the Hymn of the Day for Proper 15C and Proper 21A in the three-year lectionary and is fitting for a variety of occasions and Sundays that mark and highlight the work of the Church.
Order “Lord, Keep Us Steadfast in Your Word” by David von Kampen by clicking the button below.