1496 - 1570 Person Name: J. Walther, 1496-1570 Composer of "GOTT DER VATER WOHN UNS BEI" in Evangelical Lutheran Hymnary Johann Walther (b. Kahla, Thuringia, Germany, 1496: d. Torgau, Germany, 1570) was one of the great early influences in Lutheran church music. At first he seemed destined to be primarily a court musician. A singer in the choir of the Elector of Saxony in the Torgau court in 1521, he became the court's music director in 1525. After the court orchestra was disbanded in 1530 and reconstituted by the town, Walther became cantor at the local school in 1534 and directed the music in several churches. He served the Elector of Saxony at the Dresden court from 1548 to 1554 and then retired in Torgau.
Walther met Martin Luther in 1525 and lived with him for three weeks to help in the preparation of Luther's German Mass. In 1524 Walther published the first edition of a collection of German hymns, Geystliche gesangk Buchleyn. This collection and several later hymnals compiled by Walther went through many later editions and made a permanent impact on Lutheran hymnody.
Walther, Johann, was born in 1496 at a village near Cola (perhaps Kahla, or else Colleda, near Sachsenburg) in Thuringia. In 1524 we find him at Torgau, as bassist at the court of Friedrich the Wise, Elector of Saxony. The Elector Johann of Saxony made him "Sengermeister" (choirmaster) in 1526. When the Electoral orchestra (Kapelle) at Torgau was disbanded in 1530, it was reconstituted by the town, and in 1534 Walther was also appointed cantor (singing-master) to the school at Torgau. On the accession of the Elector Moritz of Saxony, in 1548, Walther went with him to Dresden as his Kapellmeister. He was pensioned by decree of Aug. 7, 1554, and soon after returned to Torgau, still retaining the title of "Sengermeister." He died at Torgau, perhaps on March 25, or at least before April 24, 1570. (Monatshefte für Musikgeschichte, 1871, p. 8, and 1878, p. 85; Archiv für Litteraturgeschichte, vol. xii., 1884, p. 185; Dr. Otto Taubert's Pflege der Musilz in Torgau, 1868, and his Gymnasial Singe-Chor zu Torgau, n.d., 1870, &c.)
Walther was more distinguished as a musician than as a hymnwriter. In 1524 he spent three weeks in Luther's house at Wittenberg, helping to adapt the old church music to the Lutheran services, and harmonising the tunes in five parts for the Geystliche gesangk Bucklyn, published at Wittenberg in 1524. He was also present in the Stadtkirche at Wittenberg, when, on Oct. 29, 1525, the service for the Holy Communion, as rearranged by Luther and himself, was first used in German. His hymns appeared mostly in his Das christlich Kinderlied D. Martini Lutheri, Erhalt uns Herr, &c. Auffs new in sechs Stimmen gesetzt, und rait etlichen schönen Christlichen Texten, Lateinischen und Teutschen Gesengen gemehrt, &c, Wittenberg.
Those of Walther's hymns which have passed into English are:—
i. Herzlich Lieb hab ich dich, mein Gott. Trinity Sunday. First published in 1566 as above, and thence in Wackernage, iii. p. 204, in 4 stanzas of 8 lines. Translated as:—
0 God, my Rock! my heart on Thee. This is a good translation of stanza i., iii., iv., by A. T. Russell, as No. 133 in his Psalms & Hymns, 1851.
ii. Herzlich thut mich erfreuen. Eternal Life. First published separately, in 33 stanzas, at Wittenberg, in 1552, entitled "A beautiful spiritual and Christian new miner's song, of the Last Day and Eternal Life" [Konigsberg Library]. Thence in Wackernagel, iii. p. 187, in 34 stanzas, stanza 33 being added from the Dresden reprint of 1557. It is set to the melody of a popular song on the Joys of Summer. It is a fresh and beautiful hymn, but is only partially available on account of its length. Translated as:—
1. Now fain my joyous heart would sing. This is a translation of stanza 1, 4, 5, 17, 33, 34, by Miss Winkworth, in her Lyra Germanica 2nd Ser., 1858, p. 223. Her translations of stanzas 1, 4, 5, were included in the English Presbyterian Psalms & Hymns, 1867, No. 325.
2. Soon will the heavenly Bridegroom come. This is by Dr. Kennedy, in his Hymn. Christanza, 1863, No. 1009, and follows the text of the Geistliche Lieder omitting stanza 16, 18, 13. It is repeated in the Laudes Domini, N. Y., 1884, &c.
3. The Bridegroom soon will call us. By Dr. M. Loy, from the Geistliche Lieder, but omitting stanzas 18, 13, as No. 24 in the Ohio Lutheran Hymnal, 1880. [Rev. James Mearns, M.A. ]
--Excerpts from John Julian, Dictionary of Hymnology (1907)