Martin Luther on Renaissance Choral Polyphony

“Outstanding in this art is this, that while one voice continues to sing its cantus firmus [main melodic motif], other voices at the same time cavort about the principal voice in a most wonderful manner with praise and jubilation, adorning the cantus firmus with most lovely movements; they seem to present a kind of divine dance so that even those of our day who have only a most limited amount of sentiment and emotion gain the impression that there exists nothing more wonderful and beautiful. Those who are not moved by this, are, indeed, unmusical and deserve to hear some dunghill poet or the music of swine.”

(Walter Buszin, “Luther on Music,” Musical Quarterly 32 ([946], 82. Sound track: Kyrie from “Missa Pange Lingua” by Josquin des Prez [d. 1521]. Des Prez was a favorite Renaissance composer of Luther.)


    1. It certainly does. This is one of THE most sublime settings of the Ordinary of the Mass. Used in the celebration of Mass (not a concert setting) it transports the worshipper.

      1. I read this post yesterday from my smart phone, and for whatever reason, the sound file didn’t launch – I didn’t realize until this morning that there is a soundtrack to this post. My comment about not sustaining sublimity was not regarding the music (which I’ve now just heard) but rather on Luther’s movement in the quoted passage from divine dance to swine and dunghills in the course of a single paragraph. He seems to have been filled with various passions.

  1. Luther was earthy, often to the point of embarrassment….but then again we Evangelical Catholics don’t hold him up to being our patron Saint either….

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