Opening Voluntary: Chorale Prelude on Wer nur den lieben Gott – Anton Wilhelm Leupold (1868-1940)
Both the text and the tune of our final hymn (#635, Hymnal 1982), Wer nur den lieben Gott, were written and composed by the same individual, Georg Neumark (1621-1681). Created during the period in Europe of The Thirty Years War, it comes from a time, not unlike our own, when social and economic upheavals had produced deplorable conditions in many places. Neumark was traveling from Magdeburg to Konigsberg to study at the university there in 1641 when he was attacked and robbed of nearly all his possessions except his prayerbook and a small amount of money sewn into his clothing. He spent much of the next two years looking unsuccessfully for employment until he found a position as a tutor in Kiel where he was eventually able to save enough money to attend university. He studied in Konigsberg for 5 years before once again losing all that he had in a fire. It was just after finding work as a tutor in Kiel that he composed this hymn. Neumark later wrote, “This good fortune, which came so suddenly and, as it were, from heaven, so rejoiced my heart that I wrote my hymn, Wer nur den lieben Gott, to the glory of my God on that first day.” He gave this hymn a special subtitle reading, “a hymn of consolation, that God will preserve his own in his own time; after the saying, ‘Cast thy burden upon the Lord and he shall sustain thee.’ Psalm 55:24” In spite of a life filled with many tragedies, Neumark went on to write many more hymns expressing his absolute trust in God.
Wer nur den lieben Gott became especially popular through the Baroque era, and J. S. Bach (1685-1750) included it in no fewer than eight cantatas and also wrote several chorale preludes based on it. Catherine Winkworth (1827-1878) published an initial English translation of the hymn in her Lyra Germanica in 1855. This first attempt, however, was in a different meter than the original and was, thus, unsingable with Neumark’s melody. She later radically revised her work in a new translation and published it a second time in The Chorale Book for England (1863) where it was reunited with Neumark’s original tune. This version has had extensive use, especially in American Lutheranism, from the last quarter of the 19th century. The Hymnal 1982 employs, slightly revised, the first and last stanzas of the original, seven-stanza hymn.
The chorale prelude played today as our opening voluntary is the work of Anton Wilhelm Leupold (1868-1940). A native of Austria, Leupold became the organist of St. Peter’s Church, Berlin in 1899, a position he would hold for the next forty years. Although he composed many types of church music, the bulk of his works were in the genre of the chorale prelude, of which he left some 200 examples.