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Nun bitten wir den Heiligen Geist

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"Nun bitten wir den Heiligen Geist"
Hymn by Martin Luther
Portrait of the Protestant Reformer Martin Luther, dressed in black, with green background
Lucas Cranach: Luther in 1525
English We now implore the Holy Ghost
Text by Martin Luther
Language German
Based on chant
Published 1524 (1524)

"Nun bitten wir den Heiligen Geist" (We now implore the Holy Ghost)[1] is a German Christian hymn. The first stanza dates from the 13th century and alludes to the Latin sequence Veni Sancte Spiritus. The most prominent form of the hymn has three more stanzas written by the Protestant reformer Martin Luther. His version appeared first in 1524 in Wittenberg as part of the choral hymnal Eyn geystlich Gesangk Buchleyn. The Holy Spirit is addressed, which makes the song suitable for Pentecost. General themes of faith, love and hope make it appropriate for general occasions and funerals as well.

The chorale is part of many hymnals, sung in several Christian denominations and in translations. It inspired vocal and organ music from the Renaissance to contemporary, including composers such as Michael Praetorius, Dieterich Buxtehude and Johann Sebastian Bach. Alternate versions of the hymn, concluding the same medieval first stanza have appeared in Catholic hymnals.

Medieval first stanza[edit]

The first stanza is documented in the 13th century: the Franciscan Berthold von Regensburg (died 1272) quoted it in a sermon.[2][3]

Berthold von Regensburg (Vienna manuscript, 1447)

Nû biten wir den heiligen geist
umbe den rechten glouben allermeist,
daz er uns behüete an unsrem ende,
sô wir heim suln varn ûz disem ellende.

It is a prayer in German to the Holy Spirit, reminiscent of the Latin sequence Veni Sancte Spiritus.[4] The concern is "most of all" (allermeist) the "right faith" (rechten glouben), considering to return "home" (heim) after the "exile" (ellende) of life. In the old German (Middle High German), "ellende" meant exile and was stressed on the second syllable, rhyming with "ende", whereas the modern "Elend" is stressed on the first syllable and translates to "misery".[5]

A tune derived from the chant of the sequence appeared first in Jistebnitz around 1420.[6]

Protestant continuation[edit]

The reformer Martin Luther intended this stanza to be sung every Sunday between the readings of the epistle and the gospel.[4] In 1524, Luther continued the prayer in three additional stanzas, addressing the Holy Spirit three more times, as "Du wertes Licht" (You esteemed light), "Du süße Lieb" (You sweet love) and "Du höchster Tröster" (You highest comforter).[7][6] The hymn is a "Leise", concluding each stanza by "Kyrieleis".[8] The three added stanzas can be as seen related to Paul's concept of "Glaube, Liebe, Hoffnung" (faith, love, hope), which he expressed in his First Epistle to the Corinthians, 1 Corinthians 13:13.[9]

The hymn in the Wittenberg hymnal of 1524

Luther's text, set to music by Johann Walter, appeared in 1524 in Wittenberg. It was part of Walter's choral hymnal Eyn geystlich Gesangk Buchleyn.[6][10] Johann Crüger included it, as many of Luther's songs, in his hymnal Praxis pietatis melica which was first published in 1647. The hymn has often been associated with Pentecost. It is part of many hymnals, in several Christian denominations and in translations. The oldest translation to Danish appeared in 1528.[2] Translations to English include "We now implore God the Holy Ghost" in The Lutheran Hymnal, St. Louis, 1941.[11]

Catholic continuations[edit]

Michael Vehe, a Dominican monk and theologian, took in 1537 the medieval stanza as a starting point which he completed by adding three different stanzas. His version appears with the chant melody in the first German Catholic hymnal Gotteslob as GL 870 for the Diocese of Limburg. In the main section of that hymnal, it appeared as GL 248 again in a different version, with stanzas two to four written in 1972 by Maria Luise Thurmair, who closed with a fifth stanza modeled after Vehe's second. The melody is a transcription of the chant in fixed rhythm.[9] This version was kept in the second edition of the Gotteslob, GL 348.

Melody and musical settings[edit]

The hymn with tune and figured bass in the 1653 edition of Johann Crüger's Praxis pietatis melica

Johann Walter, who collaborated with Luther, modified the medieval chant tune slightly and set it for four parts for his Eyn geystlich Gesangk Buchleyn.[7]

Michael Praetorius composed seven a cappella settings, for two to six voices.[12] Dieterich Buxtehude composed two organ preludes, BuxWV 208 and BuxWV 209.[13] Johann Sebastian Bach used the third stanza to conclude his cantata Gott soll allein mein Herze haben, BWV 169,[14] composed in Leipzig for the 18th Sunday after Trinity and first performed on 20 October 1726.[15]

Organ preludes were composed by Georg Böhm, Helmut Eder, Paul Hamburger, Arnold Mendelssohn, Ernst Pepping, Heinrich Scheidemann, Heinrich Scheidemann, Johann Gottfried Vierling, Helmut Walcha and Johann Gottfried Walther, among others.[16]

Johann Nepomuk David wrote in 1936 a Choralmottete (chorale motet) for four-part choir a cappella Nun bitten wir den Heiligen Geist.[17] It is the first movement of Ernst Pepping's Deutsche Choralmesse (Chorale Mass in German) for six voices a cappella (SSATBB),[18] in the position of the call Kyrie of the Latin mass.

Herbert Blendinger composed in 1984 for cello and organ Meditation über den Choral "Nun bitten wir den heiligen Geist", Op. 36.[19] Jacques Wildberger composed Diaphanie: per viola sola: fantasia su per "Veni creator spiritus" et canones diversi super "Nun bitten wir den heiligen Geist", published in Zürich in 1989.[20]




Online sources

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