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The Impact of the Reformation on Music

I am currently working on a conference and a book on the broad impact of the Reformation. The conference is set for 2017 and the book is due out that year as well as we celebrate the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. The Reformation touched so many areas of life as we now know it.

Here is one example that people might not often think of. Michael Reeves, in his excellent book, The Unquenchable Flame: Discovering the Heart of the Reformation, makes this point about the impact of Luther’s doctrine of justification on music:

“This happy, heartfelt reaction to justification can be sensed in the music of the Reformation. Take, for instance, the traditional ‘Hosanna’, sung at the Mass. In 1555, Palestrina, then almost the official musician of Rome, wrote a new score for the ‘Hosanna’ in his Mass for Pope Marcellus. To hear it is to hear Rome’s Counter-Reformation spirituality: it is exquisite music, but there is something cerebral and dutiful about the choir’s intoning of the Hosannas. A hundred and ninety years later, Johann Sebastian Bach, an ardent Lutheran all the way down to his tapping toes, wrote his version of the ‘Hosanna’, and the difference is striking. The exact same piece was set to music, but in Bach’s Lutheran hands, it has an entirely different resonance: now the Hosannas are belted out with an unmistakable, unbounded enthusiasm and joy. Such was the natural effect of believing Luther’s doctrine of justification.” (178-79)

One Comment

  1. Very interesting topic, look forward to hearing your thoughts on this. I want to believe that good theology moves both the heart and the head, causing a person to want to sing with all that they are and write music that honors the deep truths of the faith, but I have not seen much written about that topic. Studying the impact of the Reformation is a good place to start.

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