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Published online by Cambridge University Press:  02 October 2018

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Communications: Conference Reports
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2018 

Among the many events that commemorated the five hundredth anniversary of Luther's Reformation in 2017, this conference was certainly one of the most interesting, varied and thought-provoking. Attended by more than seventy delegates from seventeen countries, it offered a full agenda of plenary lectures, parallel sessions and concerts.

In the first of four keynote lectures, Dietrich Korsch (Philipps-Universität Marburg) discussed how music and the Word of God can be theologically construed in their analogy and interaction, through a close reading of Luther's preface to Georg Rhau's Symphoniae iucundae. Inga Mai Groote (Universität Heidelberg) traced the presence and development of a specifically Melanchthonian theology of music (as distinct from, yet not in contradiction with, Luther's) in the writings of later sixteenth-century authors. A thought-provoking presentation by Bettina Varwig (King's College London) challenged traditional interpretations of the doctrine of affections and of the mostly verbal focus of early Lutheran hymnody. Through a careful reading of contemporaneous sources, she demonstrated that mind, spirit and body were considered as sympathetically resonant components of an integrated anthropological whole. In the last plenary lecture, Robin A. Leaver (Westminster Choir College, Princeton) painstakingly traced the publication history of the earliest Lutheran hymnals, showing – on the basis of study of the surviving exemplars – that a commonly held view needs to be corrected. The partbooks of Walter's Chorgesangbuch (1524), while remaining the foundational collection of the Lutheran chorale-motet repertoire, do not constitute the source through which chorale singing was taught to congregations, but rather mirror a repertoire that was already known and sung by memory. A fascinating point made by Leaver was that Walter's chorale-motets, which employed Lutheran congregational-song (Lied) melodies as cantus firmus for polyphonic works, might have been intended as Evangelical replacements for the Catholic Proper polyphonic repertoire which the new liturgical rules had eliminated from ritual practice.

Some of the topics discussed in the many interesting parallel sessions are more immediately relevant for the readers of this journal. Daniel Johansson (Församlingsfakulteten, Göteborg) focused on Bach's cantata bwv106, discussing both text and music from a theological point of view. He argued that the cantata represents a musical embodiment not only of the Lutheran ars moriendi, but also of the Evangelical understanding of salvation according to Luther's view of Law and Gospel. Eva Helenius (Klaverens hus, Lövstabruk) demonstrated that the composition and first performance of the Te Deum and Jubilate by the Swedish royal Kapellmeister Johan Helmich Roman (1694–1758) was occasioned by the proclamation of a jubilee divine service to commemorate the bicentenary of the Confessio Augustana (Augsburg Confession) in 1730, and she identified Handel's Utrecht Te Deum as a musical model.

Roman was also discussed during the session of lecture-recitals that took place in the fascinating setting of the beautifully frescoed Holy Trinity Church. The presentation by Joel Speerstra and Christina Ekström (Göteborgs Universitet) recreated the context of Hausandacht (home devotion) as it was daily experienced in countless private settings in the eighteenth century. The intimate sound of Speerstra's clavichord, an instrument whose geographical spread coincides with that of Reformation spirituality, offered an ideal partnership with Ekström's voice in highlighting the empfindsam quality behind the chosen repertoire, which was linked (more or less directly) with Moravian spirituality. Works from the Swedish psalm book Andelig Dufworöst by Olof Kolmodin (first edition in 1734), on a tune originating from Odae Sveticae (1674), together with psalm paraphrases by Roman and spiritual songs by C. P. E. Bach, as well as one excerpt from the eighteenth-century notebook of Gustaf Adolf Leijonmark (1734–1815), a scholar with a strong religious interest, formed a touching musical dialogue that was highly appreciated by the delegates. The following lecture-recital, by Theo van Wyk (Universiteit van Pretoria), included works by twentieth-century South African composers, but his presentation also discussed the beginnings of Lutheran worship in late eighteenth-century South Africa and the festive service that inaugurated it in 1780 with the singing of the German Te Deum conducted by Johannes Esler. The first day of the conference aptly concluded with a splendid concert by the St Jacob's Chamber Choir of Stockholm, conducted by Gary Graden and with organist Mattias Wager, in the majestic Cathedral Church, featuring a fascinating programme of sacred music by modern Swedish composers and uplifting congregational hymn singing in the spirit of Luther.

During the second day, Joyce Irwin (Princeton Research Forum) compared the concept of Christian joy as found in the writings of Luther and Mattheson, arguing that they are in substantial accord with each other. For Mattheson, the expression of joy through praise and music is as essential to the Christian life as it was for ancient Hebrews – whose exuberant worship serves as a model for Christians – and as it will be in heaven, where music will be all the more glorious.

One of the afternoon sessions took place in the medieval church of Bälinge, in the surrounds of Uppsala. In a lecture-recital, Matthias Schneider (Universität Greifswald) discussed early Lutheran organ repertoire and practice as transmitted in the Visby tablature collection. Works on the Magnificat by five generations of composers were brilliantly performed on the Bälinge church organ. In fact, this is only the Rückpositiv of a large organ originally built for Storkyrkan (Stockholm Cathedral) in 1632 by Georg Hermann and Philip Eisenmenger, rebuilt by Georg Woytzig in the 1690s, and moved in 1788 to Bälinge church by Olof Schwan. Its history thus mirrors the changes of liturgical function of the organ after the Reformation – from polyphonic instruments for figural music to accompanying instruments for congregational song. This was the perfect framework for the presentation of Hanna Drakengren (Göteborgs Universitet), who examined the actual practice of congregational hymn-singing in Överselö (Sweden) around 1754, at the time a new organ was built there by Jonas Gren and Peter Stråhle. Participants were invited to join in singing two hymns while the organist performed them with interludes; feedback was invited as part of her ongoing field research. The specification of the Bälinge organ, including its original façade Principale, was then illustrated and discussed by Hans Davidsson (Royal Academy of Music). The evening concert in the same church offered an overview of the vocal and instrumental repertory of the northern European Reformations. The Serikon Ensemble, with Davidsson, performed works by sixteenth-century composers such as Senfl, Walter, Eccard, Petri, Othmayr and Luther himself.

During the last conference day, Ruth Tatlow (Stockholm), building on information from her prize-winning book, Bach's Numbers: Compositional Proportion and Significance (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2015), explained the theology of proportions that Bach would have read, how he and his contemporaries would have understood these, and how Bach responded in his compositions, using numerical proportions to achieve simple ratios and compositional unity. Analysing Bach's harmonization of Heermann's chorale Herzliebster Jesu in his two surviving Passions, Roman Nassonov (Moscow Conservatory) suggested that Bach's theological understanding of Christ's cross may resonate with the Orthodox Christian concept of ‘divinization’, encouraging the imitatio Christi as a means to that end. Independent scholar Pieter Dirksen discussed the chronology of Bach's use of the fuga contraria, identifying three stages in his output: a first period when he employed this compositional technique to convey an idea of antiquity in his sacred vocal works; a second moment when he associated it with ideas of repentance and conversion, found in both his sacred vocal music and his organ chorales; and the eventual widespread use of counterfugues in his late ‘secular’ harpsichord works, which may even have conditioned the very structure of the subject of the Art of Fugue.

The crucial importance of the ‘Freylinghausen Hymnbook’ in the history both of Pietism and of hymnbooks in general was the focus for Christiane Hausmann (Bach-Archiv Leipzig), who argued that this publication marked a milestone in Protestant hymnody, both in Germany and outside it, with influences reaching areas as far from its original milieu as Siberia, North America and southern India. Finally, Szymon Paczkowski (Uniwersytet Warszawski), who is meticulously researching archival sources pertaining to musical activities at the court of Dresden, related some of his findings, paying particular attention to the coexistence of Catholic and Lutheran worship in the early eighteenth century and to how Lutheran services were moved from the court to the church of St Sophia in 1737, in the time of W. F. Bach's employment as an organist there.

While this report mentions only the presentations that focused more closely on eighteenth-century music, the conference in its entirety offered many more fascinating stimuli, with an interdisciplinary atmosphere that encouraged fruitful exchanges among theologians, music historians, performing musicians, analysts and composers. Further, the prevailing attention given to Lutheran music did not prevent reference to the music of other Christian denominations and ecumenical perspectives. As noted at the outset, it would have been difficult to find a better way to celebrate in music and scholarship the artistic and spiritual legacy of Luther's Reformation.