Tag Archives: Johann Rudolph Ahle

9th Sunday after Pentecost – 21 Jul 13

Liebster Jesu

Opening Voluntary: Chorale Prelude on Liebster Jesu, wir sind hier (BWV 731) – J. S. Bach (1685-1750)

Today’s opening voluntary is a chorale prelude on the hymn tune, Liebster Jesu, sung today as our offertory hymn, “Blessed Jesus, at thy word” (#440, Hymnal 1982). The original version of the tune was a composition of Johann Rudolph Ahle (1625-1673) and first appeared in 1664 paired with the text of an advent hymn.  Ahle was born in Mülhausen, Thuringia and studied theology at the University of Erfurt from 1645-1649.  He became the cantor of The Church of St. Andrew in Erfurt in 1646 and was later appointed organist of the Church of St. Blasius in Mülhausen in 1654.  Ahle’s  original tune, a somewhat florid and soloistic work, was later altered to a form more appropriate for congregational singing and was paired with the present text of Tobias Clausnitzer (1619-1684), Liebster Jesu, wir sind hier. It was republished in that revised form in 1687 with Clausnitzer’s previously-published text of 1663.  It entered into English hymnody in the 19th century through the translations of Catherine Winkworth (1827-1878) and was first published in her work, Lyra Germanica of 1861. It was later included in The Chorale Book for England in 1863 along with its associated melody.

Clausnitzer’s German text was originally subtitled “before the sermon” and contains references to and quotes from other portions of the liturgy.  The Sursum Corda is eluded to in the first stanza, “dass die Herzen von der Erden/ Ganz zu dir gezogen werden,” freely translated into English as “that our hearts from the earth are wholly drawn to thee.” This is lost, however, in the poetical translation of Winkworth that we use today.  There is a more direct quote in stanza three, “Light of Light, from God proceeding” from the Nicene Creed.  The text and tune were later parodied by baroque period composer, Benjamin Schmolk (1672-1737), who retained only the first line of Clausnitzer’s hymn, and created the rest of a new text on a baptismal theme.  One stanza of this later work appeared in The Hymnal of 1940, but it was not retained in our present Hymnal 1982.

In the baroque period, composers, particularly in the Germanic Lutheran countries, began to set chorale melodies for the organ.  The original purpose of these “chorale preludes,” as they are known, is not absolutely clear.  Some of them may have been used as introductions to congregational singing, while others were more likely to have been intended to function as free-standing compositions.  Musicologists today describe at least eight different types of treatment of the chorale in these works.  Today’s version of Liebster Jesu by J. S. Bach (1685-1750) is of the “ornamented cantus firmus” type in which the chorale melody (cantus firmus), usually (and in this setting) in the top voice, is presented in a highly ornamented  form supported by a relatively simpler harmonic accompaniment.

13th Sunday after Pentecost – 26 Aug 12

Catherine Winkworth

Opening Voluntary: Liebster Jesu wir sind hier – J. S. Bach (1685-1750)

At the Communion: Liebster Jesu wir sind hier – Marcel Dupré (1886-1971)

Closing Voluntary: Liebster Jesu wir sind hier – J. G. Walther (1684-1748)

Today’s incidental organ music is entirely based on settings of the much-beloved German hymn, Liebster Jesu wir sind hier, (in English translation: Blessed Jesus, at thy word) which appears for the first time in its original form in an Episcopal Church hymnal in our current version of 1982. We sing this tune today as #440 for our entrance hymn.  Previously, in The Hymnal 1940, a similar hymn using the first line and tune had been included.  This latter hymn was what in modern speech we might term a “knock-off” or more charitably an “imitation,” as it had taken the tune and first line of its famous predecessor and then continued with an entirely different text. The German original was first published anonymously in 1663 but was subsequently known to be the work of Tobias Clausnitzer (1619-1684).  Clausnitzer was a Lutheran pastor and studied at the University of Leipzig.  He was later the chaplain of a Swedish Regiment and on the orders of the Swedish general preached the field sermon to celebrate the Peace of Westphalia which ended the 30 Years War (1618-1648), a war fought largely between Protestants and Catholics in the Holy Roman Empire. The tune for the hymn was composed by Johann Rudolph Ahle (1625-1673). Ahle studied theology and music and was born in Mülhausen, Thuringia where he was later organist, cantor and finally burgomaster.   Ahle wrote over 400 sacred arias from which a number of hymn tunes have been adapted.  The English translation which we sing today is that of Catherine Winkworth (1827-1878), who is probably better-remembered than either Clausnitzer or Ahle in her role as a translator of the German chorale tradition.  Born in London in 1827, she was the fourth daughter of Henry Winkworth, a silk merchant. Although she lived most of her life in Manchester, she spent a year in Dresden where she became interested in German hymnody. In 1854, she published Lyrica Germanica, a collection of her translations of German hymns and this was followed by several other publications on this topic.  Catherine was also a prominent 19th century promoter of women’s rights.  She died suddenly of a heart attack near Geneva in 1878 and is buried in Monnetier in the Upper Savoy.  Catherine is commemorated as a Poet in the Episcopal Church calendar of saints  along with hymn writer John Mason Neale (1818-1866) on  August 7th.

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