Lutheran Music and Politics in Saxony during the Thirty Years’ War

Dissertation in musicology from Indiana University, Bloomington, Daniel R. Melamed, advisor. Submitted in December 2014.

Focusing on composers working in Electoral Saxony, especially Leipzig, during the late 1620s and early 1630s, my dissertation shows how Lutheran musical settings of biblical texts could evoke the major political issues brought on by the war. During the Thirty Years’ War, composers often performed this type of repertoire at politically meaningful events, and they set texts with political meaning for Protestant partisans. Just as Lutherans quoted the Bible for political reasons in sermons, official prayers, pamphlets, and broadsheets, so too they set scriptural texts to music to interpret contemporary events, justify their policies, attack political or confessional opponents, and honor heads of state. The dissertation divides into two broad sections: under Part I, the first three chapters focus on strife between Protestants and Catholics, including fears of persecution brought on by the Edict of Restitution in 1629. Chapter 1 concentrates on Johann Hermann Schein’s concerto for the 1629 Leipzig city council elections (Ratswahl). The piece, I argue, expresses the fears that Leipzig residents felt over the potential suppression of Lutheranism in the Empire, especially after Emperor Ferdinand II’s Edict of Restitution. Schein, who took his text from Isaiah 49:14-16, “Zion spricht: Der Herr hat mich verlassen,” situated the music within contemporary religious politics: he printed the piece under the title Lamentatio ecclesiae & Consolatio Jehovae, framing it as a lament in which an allegorical Church bemoans her abandonment only to receive assurance of her safety from God. Musically, Schein enhances this interpretation through simple dialogue, contrasting the upper voices, allegorically representing the lamenting Church, with the bass representing the voice of God. Printed and performed just weeks after Ferdinand issued the Edict of Restitution, the music would have raised the alarm at the deteriorating position of Lutheranism in central Europe. Yet like so many consolatory pamphlets and political broadsheets of the late 1620s, the concerto ultimately comforts the distraught in the face of persecution.

Chapter 2 reinterprets the confessional significance of certain passages of scripture interpreted ecclesiologically as referring to the Church. Early-modern Lutheran commentators applied ecclesiologic interpretations to many biblical passages including Isaiah 49, Isaiah 63, and Jeremiah 31. These texts have confessional potential because Lutherans believed them to be voiced by an allegorical Church lamenting her trouble or by God comforting his people undergoing persecution. Musical settings of these texts by composers such as Schein, Tobias Michael, Heinrich Schütz, Stephan Otto, and Andreas Hammerschmidt may thus owe their existence not merely to requirements of the liturgy or to changing musical taste but also to the confessional anxieties then plaguing central Europe.

Chapter 3 explores a handful of settings of the 83rd Psalm. “Gott schweige doch nicht also” (Keep not thou silence, O God), is a text rarely set by seventeenth-century Lutheran composers. Apart from metrical paraphrases in Psalters, there are only a handful of settings, mostly of central German provenance, and all probably from the time of the Thirty Years’ War. Their close historical and geographic proximity owes much to the confessional tensions in central Europe starting in the 1620s, because Lutherans usually interpreted Psalm 83 as a prayer of the persecuted Church. More specifically, at least three pieces—a concerto by the Leipzig Thomaskantor Tobias Michael, an eight voice motet possibly by the Leipzig organist Georg Engelmann, and a lost concerto by Samuel Scheidt—date securely from the 1630s and might connect with the Leipzig Convention, a major political event in early 1631. In February 1631, the Elector of Saxony convened a meeting of Protestant princes and estates in Leipzig to devise a strategy among Lutherans and Calvinists to counter Emperor Ferdinand II’s increasingly hostile confessional policies. The gathering opened with a service at the St. Thomas Church where the Saxon Senior court preacher, Matthias Hoë von Hoënegg, delivered a well-publicized sermon on Psalm 83. Taking up earlier Lutheran interpretations of the psalm, he engaged his audience with pressing confessional and political issues, including the emperor’s controversial Edict of Restitution. Although only circumstantial evidence places the musical settings of Psalm 83 at the convention itself, Hoë’s sermon and its political context most likely encouraged the choice of text for these works, which all date from the same period. After years of Protestant defeats, the psalm became an expression of their fear, frustration, and continuing resolve. Whether performed at the convention or in its aftermath, the music gave voice to the political and confessional struggles that would shortly lead to Saxony’s direct entry into the war.

Part II considers pro- and anti-Swedish sentiment, primarily in the music of Samuel and Tobias Michael, instigated by King Gustav Adolf’s campaign in Germany, 1630-1632. Chapter 4 examines two pieces of music by Samuel Michael and Marcus Dietrich performed in Leipzig in the immediate wake of the battle of Breitenfeld. Both pieces play up the victory’s confessional significance and honor Sweden’s King Gustav Adolf through text and music. Like much propaganda, both pieces work to unite the Protestant alliance and cover over some of the more serious divisions between Sweden and Saxony. Samuel Michael’s motet also reveals the extent to which biblical texts could be chosen and combined to generate local political significance.

Chapter 5 considers the political context of Samuel Michael’s Psalmodia Regia (Leipzig, 1632), a collection of texts from the first twenty-five psalms. Michael’s preface acknowledges the contemporary significance of his psalms, given the turbulent events in and around Leipzig during the previous year. He issued his publication as Leipzig residents were recovering from both the siege and capture of their city by Tilly and the subsequent defeat of the imperial army at Breitenfeld. Published when Protestant exhilaration over the Breitenfeld victory had not yet subsided and when Gustav Adolf enjoyed waxing popularity, the Psalmodia Regia can be interpreted as a subtle tribute to Sweden’s king.

Chapter 6 reinterprets one of the most famous sacred concertos of the seventeenth century, Heinrich Schütz’s Saul, Saul, was verfolgst du mich? For early-modern Lutherans, the sacred concerto would have evoked fears of religious persecution. His text, from the narrative of Paul’s conversion in Acts 9, appears in seventeenth-century devotional writings and confessional polemics about persecution. Recently uncovered archival evidence also shows that Schütz performed his concerto in 1632 at a state-sponsored political festival marking the first anniversary of the battle of Breitenfeld. The political context in 1632 might also explain some of the piece’s most notable features. Its unusually brief text and vivid music do not illustrate the whole story of Saul’s conversion but solely the moment when Christ intervened to stop persecution. Schütz’s listeners would have heard in Saul’s example a parallel to the victory they celebrated in 1632 and the persecution they feared from their Catholic and imperial adversaries. Official Saxon attitudes toward Sweden had never been sanguine, and as the cost of the war grew increasingly burdensome, many in Saxony grew ambivalent toward their ally from the north. Ambivalence turned into hostility after the Peace of Prague in 1635 when the Swedish-Saxon alliance officially fell apart.

Chapter 7 suggests one way this ambivalent attitude toward Sweden filtered its way into a piece of sacred music. Tobias Michael’s concerto O Du Schwerdt des Herren, published in 1637, sets Jeremiah 47:6-7. Listeners familiar with the larger context of Jeremiah 47 would recognize that immediately before these verses, the prophet had spoken of a “flood from the north” (Wasser von Mitternacht) bringing divinely-ordained punishment (i.e. the sword of the Lord). The reference to Sweden as Mitternacht was common in propaganda. At the time of publication, 1637, listeners in Leipzig certainly would have heard allusion to Sweden, since the Swedes had recently but unsuccessfully besieged the city. For those who could recognize this concealed reference, Michael’s text seems to lament the devastation caused by Swedish armies rather than hailing them as confessional allies. The results of this work, I trust, will add new and refreshingly concrete examples to the old question about the connections between music and the politics of the Thirty Years’ War. I have deliberately attempted to go beyond general descriptions of the war’s negative impact on musical life, focusing instead on individual pieces and the meanings they could generate. I draw on a variety of under-explored sources, including not just archival material but also printed political pamphlets, broadsheets, biblical commentary, and devotional material. As a whole, this project can contribute to an ongoing debate among both musicologists and historians about confessional strife in early-modern Europe. I seek to show that a firm grounding in early-modern politics and religion can enrich our view of the repertoire, and I discuss how music communicated political and confessional meaning in ways that non-specialists might not notice. I point to specific decisions by composers—especially in scoring and text repetition—that end up encouraging political readings of the music. Although I find no specific evidence that this repertoire had a direct impact on politics, I do claim that sacred music in print and in performance gave voice to, and often reinforced, the political and religious divisions within central Europe.

Derek Stauff
Assistant Professor of Music, Hillsdale College, Hillsdale, MI

Kontakt: dstauff(at)

Empfohlene Zitierweise: Derek Stauff – Lutheran Music and Politics in Saxony during the Thirty Years’ War. In: Dreißigjähriger Krieg Online – Projekte, hg. von Markus Meumann (Online-Ressource; URL: [Datum des Aufrufs in eckigen Klammern]).