2021 is a special year for those who love music in the Lutheran tradition. It is the 450th anniversary of the birth of Michael Praetorius and the 400th anniversary of his death. He was born on February 15, 1571, and died on February 15, 1621—on his 50th birthday. Most people recognize him for his harmonization of “Lo How a Rose E’er Blooming,” which is the standard harmonization used in most hymnals. Michael Praetorius is perhaps the quintessential Lutheran composer. Praetorius was the son and grandson on his mother’s side of Lutheran pastors. He intended to become a pastor himself but was heavily involved in music at an early age. He became the organist at St. Mary’s Church in Frankfurt at the ripe old age of 16 or 17. He remained in music his entire life, but his theological studies greatly influenced his thinking and composition.
His compositions fill around twenty large volumes of music which are almost exclusively based on Lutheran chorales and Lutheran liturgical music. His compositions range from two voices to as many as sixteen voices, the latter designed to be sung with groups located in various parts of the church, an early form of surround sound. He also wrote extensively about music in three volumes known as Syntagma Musicum (The Constitution of Music or Making Music Understandable). The first volume is a treatise on music history from a biblical and liturgical standpoint. Volume 2 explains the musical instruments that were common during his lifetime and includes dozens of detailed pictures of all kinds of Renaissance instruments. The third volume gives musicians instruction on how to perform music in the correct style, a treatise on performance practice of the 16th and 17th centuries. He was planning on writing a fourth volume explaining how composers composed. Unfortunately, nothing of it survives.
We will be celebrating the Michael Praetorius anniversaries throughout the year with various compositions by him. We will also be providing more information on his life, musical style, and theological and music influence this year when we use his music in worship. This morning Kim will be playing To Jordan Came the Christ, Our Lord by Praetorius, based on the Hymn of the Day, LSB 406. A wonderful Sunday afternoon activity could include listening to his choral version of To Jordan Came the Christ, Our Lord for 2–16 voices and instruments on YouTube at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rRuZ1wmf2FY