Music of the Month: Praetorius Chorales for SAB Choir

This three-volume set edited by William Braun includes the SAB chorale settings of Michael Praetorius, making this collection accessible to most choirs. The settings may be used as a complete selection by the choir, as an anthem, or in alteration with the congregation for the Hymn of the Day.

Michael Praetorius

Michael Praetorius (1571-1621) was a German Lutheran musician whose impact on the Lutheran chorale cannot be overstated. He succeeded Johann Walter in the lineage of Lutheran composers, and his chorale settings of hymns endure to this day. His best-known compilation of chorales is his Musae Sioniae, which contains more than one thousand settings.

Praetorius is known both for perpetuating the tradition of the Lutheran chorale that preceded him while also including the contemporary musical ideas of his time to make his unique mark on music in the Lutheran tradition.

In Lutheran Service Book, the setting of the Christmas hymn, “Lo, How a Rose E’er Blooming” (LSB 359) uses Praetorius’s setting, and the hymn tune ACH GOTT VOM HIMMELREICHE (LSB 514 and 642) is a Praetorius original.

Praetorius Chorales for SAB Choir, Volume 1

Dr. William Braun, professor emeritus of music at Wisconsin Lutheran College and choir director and organist at St. John’s Lutheran Church in Wauwatosa, Wisconsin, has edited fifteen Praetorius chorales that are used as the Hymn of the Day throughout the Church Year.

These settings take Praetorius’s original four-part chorales and pair them down to three voices: soprano, alto, and baritone. This makes Praetorius’s classic settings accessible to most parish choirs whose numbers by section are often not as balanced as one may wish.

The first of three volumes features chorales from the seasons of Advent through Easter: “Savior of the Nations, Come (Advent), “From Heaven Above to Earth I Come” (Christmas), “O Morning Star, How Fair and Bright” (Epiphany), “A Lamb Goes Uncomplaining Forth” (Lent/Holy Week), and “Christ Jesus Lay in Death’s Strong Bands”(Easter).

Each chorale setting includes selected stanzas from Lutheran Service Book so that a choir may sing those stanzas in alternation with the congregation for the Hymn of the Day, or independently as a choral piece.

I was fortunate to be part of the group that recorded the choral samples of new music published by CPH in 2021. We recorded samples of the Praetorius collection, in addition to the rest of the new choral music, at Kramer Chapel on the campus of Concordia Theological Seminary—Fort Wayne in March.

The sample included from Volume 1 is the setting of “Savior of the Nations, Come.” The cantus firmus is sung in long-note values by the baritone voices, while the soprano and alto voices sing the text with unique rhythmic patterns over the top of the melody.

I recommend that when using these chorale settings, an organist should lightly accompany the voices to reinforce the rhythms and harmonies, as we did in the sample recording. A score for accompaniment is included underneath the choral score.

Praetorius Chorales for SAB Choir, Volume 2

The second volume of the collection features chorales on hymns from Ascension through the End Times in the Church Year: “On Christ’s Ascension I Now Build” (Ascension), “Come, Holy Ghost, God and Lord” (Pentecost), “Wake, Awake, for Night Is Flying” (End Times), “Salvation unto Us Has Come” (Reformation), and “When in the Hour of Deepest Need” (Common Time).

The recorded sample from Volume 2 is, “Salvation unto Us Has Come.” In this more traditional setting, the cantus firmus is in the soprano voices, while the alto and baritone voices provide harmonic support.

The setting deviates at times from the traditional chorale melody and rhythm, but never too far to become unrecognizable. This provides the opportunity to reinforce the text and makes for quite a delightful choral alternation to congregational singing.

Praetorius Chorales for SAB Choir, Volume 3

The third volume of the collection features chorales on hymns for Reformation and general use: “Lord, Keep Us Steadfast in Your Word,” “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God,” “Our Father, Who from Heaven Above,” “To God the Holy Spirit Let Us Pray,” and “All Glory Be to God on High.”

The first four of these five hymns are texts written by Martin Luther. Although Luther’s hymns are often rightly associated with the festival of Reformation Day, these and his other hymns should find regular use throughout the Church Year.

The recorded sample from Volume 3 is “Lord, Keep Us Steadfast in Your Word.” This setting is in the style of a fughetta between the three voices, where the baritone voices begin with the first melodic line of the chorale, followed by the alto voices, and then the soprano voices.

Each phrase is then parsed out harmonically with rhythmic variety while staying true to the chorale’s spirit and identity. Although this hymn is in the key of E minor, the setting ends in E major, which is a common feature of chorales from before, during, and after Praetorius’s time.


Bring these new Praetorius Chorales to your congregation by ordering all three volumes below. 

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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. Nathan is the fifth and sixth grade teacher at Our Savior Lutheran School in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

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