15 May 2018

Singing the Psalms auf Deutsch

Bad Liebenzell
Last month I was privileged to spend time in Germany at the Internationale Hochschule Liebenzell (IHL) in Bad Liebenzell, a beautiful village nestled in the Black Forest. The IHL is a ministry of the Liebenzell Mission, which was founded in 1899 and has its roots in a late nineteenth-century revival in Germany. It has branches in Canada, the Northern Mariana Islands, and six other countries around the world. The Mission is active in church-planting, Bible translation, education, evangelism, children and youth ministry, medical care, air service, substance addiction therapies, ministry to immigrants and community development in twenty-five countries. Remarkably, it also has monastic-like brotherhoods and sisterhoods, a fellowship of deaconesses, a retreat centre and a literature distribution ministry. It appears to be independent of any denomination, yet it does plant church congregations.

While there I found a stack of small red hymn books, titled Evangelisches Kirchengesangbuch, published for the Evangelische Landeskirche in Württemberg (1987). The layout, including the musical staves, is very like the Dutch Liedboek voor de Kerken. The volume contains a liturgy of word and sacrament in the front and numerous hymns thereafter. A section in the back includes a series of scripture readings in lectionary format organized according to the church year. Also an all-too-brief section of Psalmlieder, using some of the tunes of the Genevan Psalter. I requested to take a copy home with me, and my hosts graciously granted my request.


The section devoted to the Psalms is numbered along with the other hymns and extends from 176 to 200. It includes sung versions of Psalms 6, 9, 23, 31, 38, 66, 67, 68, 84, 85, 98, 100, 103, 117, 119, 121, 124 (two versions), 127, 130 (two tunes), 134, 146 (two versions), 147, the Magnificat and the Nunc Dimittis from Luke 1 and 2.

Psalms 38 and 66, with Genevan tunes

Psalms 38, 66, 84 and 98 are set to their proper Genevan tunes. Psalm 130 is set to Martin Luther's famous tune in the phrygian mode, AUS TIEFER NOT. Other texts and tunes are from other, mostly German sources.

Psalm 147 and the Magnificat

Psalm 130 (Aus Tiefer Not)

The Protestant churches in Germany are organized territorially, corresponding to the historic territories in the old Germany. Bad Liebenzell is in the Land, or Bundesstaat, of Baden-Württemberg, but there are two church bodies for each of Baden and Württemberg, the historic boundary between them passing very close to Bad Liebenzell. The Evangelische Kirchen vary confessionally with each Landeskirche. Some are more Lutheran in orientation, and others are more Reformed. Others still combine both, reflecting, I assume, the forced union of the Reformed and Lutherans mandated by the Prussian king in his lands in 1817. It was this union that prompted the “Old Lutherans” to flee to America, where they formed the nucleus of the Missouri and Wisconsin synods. The North American transplantation of the Prussian union church was the old Evangelical Synod of North America, which is best known for having produced Reinhold and Richard Niebuhr. It is now part of the United Church of Christ. Given the mixed origins of the Evangelische Kirchen, it is not surprising that this Gesangbuch should reflect both Lutheran and Reformed influences.

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