Favorite Lutheran chorales are set with a fresh take on historical techniques and forms. Harmonies are modern but accessible to most worshipers, breathing new life into the chorale heritage in this five hundredth anniversary of the Ninety-five Theses.
I had always avoided writing settings of the Lutheran chorales. Does the world need another Liebster Jesu? How do you compete with Bach and Brahms when you set SCHMÜCKE DICH? That changed in October, 2005. A group of us from Historic Trinity Lutheran Church, Detroit, were making a pilgrimage to the Luther sites in Germany. I was privileged to play EIN FESTE BURG on the organ at the Castle Church in Wittenberg. With the sounds of the organ still ringing in my ears, I grabbed staff paper from my carry-on in the bus and scribbled the first draft of "Fanfare on Ein feste Burg." ERHALT UNS, HERR and VOM HIMMEL HOCH followed soon after in my hotel room. More preludes were composed after my return to Michigan.
Over the next ten years, a couple of attempts at publication came to naught. In 2012, David Johnson, then with Concordia Publishing House, challenged me to add additional variations for stanzas 2 through 4 of EIN FESTE BURG. Stanza 2 came easily, but I got hung up on stanza 3 ("Though all the world with devils filled . . ."). The possibilities of portraying devils in music seemed endless! The setting presented here is actually the fourth version. After struggling with demons for a year, the fourth stanza ("The Word they still shall let remain . . .") seemed to write itself, bringing the project to a close.
Finally, I added a dedication of the "Grand Partita on Ein feste Burg" to Dr. Martin Jean, professor of organ and director of the Yale Institute of Sacred Music in honor of our ancient friendship and common roots in Michigan Lutheranism. God bless his tireless work in advocating excellence in church music!