Without Martin Luther, Western musical history would have been very different. Even during his school years in Eisenach, the later reformer was taught music theory and sang in the choir of the Georgenkirche. And at Erfurt University, too, Luther studied the technique of counterpoint. He gained practical experience as a lute player and as a singer. The fact that he must have had a melodious and beautiful voice can be inferred from the testimony of the master of the Nuremberg master-singer, Hans Sachs, who in later years called Luther the Wittenberg nightingale. Above all, however, Luther believed in the pedagogical power of music, after all, it was a “glorious and divine gift” which “made men happy”. Luther was convinced that music-making should play an important role not only in a person’s upbringing and education but also in worship.
In 1523, Luther criticised the then customary practice that “only the choir of clerics sings”, and from then on, he set about reforming church music. In his work Deutsche Messe und Ordnung des Gottesdienstes of 1526, Luther demanded that parts of the Latin Mass be replaced by musically appealing songs in German in order to involve the community more strongly. But even outside the church, music played a central role in spreading Luther’s teachings: singing together became the hallmark of Protestantism. Heinrich Heine recalled this when he described Luther’s chorale “A mighty fortress is our God” as the “Marseillaise of the Reformation”.
In line with the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, the Vocalconsort Berlin under the direction of Marcus Creed presents Protestant church music of the 16th and 17th centuries; excerpts from the works of the Franco-Flemish composer Josquin des Prez, who was revered by Luther, form a counterpoint to selected compositions by Heinrich Schütz, Hans Leo Hassler, Johann Hermann Schein, Samuel Scheidt and Johann Walter.