Martin Luther loved music. I use the word loved deliberately. He delighted in music. He praised it for its immense value to the human soul. He loved music. And he didn’t think too highly of those who disdained it.
Although Luther composed a number of hymns, many people know only one. “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God” is one of the most widely sung and best loved hymns in the world.
Martin Luther’s famous hymn is based on Psalm 46. It has been translated from German to English many times, resulting in at least five different versions of the lyrics. Luther’s original, rousing musical composition is retained in every case. In my opinion, the most accurate translation (below) lacks the impact of Frederick Hedge’s more familiar version, but I thought some of you might find it interesting to compare the two.
Here is “Strong Tower and Refuge is Our God” from The Hymns of Martin Luther Set To Their Original Melodies:
Strong tower and refuge is our God,
Right goodly shield and weapon;
He helps us free in every need,
That hath us now o’ertaken.
The old evil foe,
Means us deadly woe;
Deep guile and great might
Are his dreaded arms in fight;
On earth is not his equal.
With our own might we nothing can,
Soon are we lost and fallen;
But for us fights the righteous man,
Whom God himself hath callen.
Ask ye, Who is this?
Jesus Chirst it is,
Our sole King and Lord,
As God of Hosts adored;
He holds the field foever.
Though earth all full of devils were,
Wide roaring to devour us;
Yet fear we no such grievous fear,
They shall not overpower us.
This world’s prince may still
Scowl fierce as he will,
He can harm us none,
He’s judged; the deed is done;
One little word can fell him.
His Word they still shall let abide,
And little thank have for it;
Through all the fight he’s on our side
With his good gifts and Spirit.
Take they then our life,
Wealth, fame, child and wife,
Let these all be gone,
No triumph have they won.
The kingdom ours remaineth.
I hope to find time to write more in a few days about Luther’s love of music.