TomWbyglass case
Lititz Moravian Church Archives Committee member Tom Wentzel inspects Franke document inside glass case of our museum’s Music Room

As reported in my blog post from September 22, 2017, Learning German Script: Deciphering the Code to Discover Historical Treasures, a small innocent-looking beautifully handwritten document, displayed for years in a glass case in the Music Room of our museum, has recently been re-discovered, transcribed, and translated.

Franke document in case
Franke’s Remarks document as currently displayed (center). Note in English, added many years later, reads  “Some remarks concerning the singing and playing of our hymn tunes.”

Through the generous support of the Lititz Archives Committee, a full academic translation of this document was completed in December by Rev. Dr. Roy Ledbetter, familiar to our congregation through his work on our Hehl History. As of now, this rare document, entitled Etliche Anmerkungen unser Singen und Spielen, Melodien und Choral-Buch betreffend (Several Remarks Concerning our Singing, Playing, Tunes, and Chorale-Book), hereafter simply referred to as Remarks, is seemingly a one-of-a-kind find! Even after extensive international searching, another copy of this treatise is yet to be found.

How this document from Herrnhut, Germany arrived in Lititz is still a mystery. The author, Johann Friedrich Franke (1717-1780), never visited here; most likely, an early pastor probably brought this document from Europe. Franke joined the Moravian community in Marienborn, Germany, in 1739 and, in March 1746, became Schreiber [secretary] for Count Ludwig von Zinzendorf, a position he held for seven years. After an approximate three-year hiatus, Franke worked for Zinzendorf again in 1756, as Schreiber…und bedient den Gemeingesang und die Musik [secretary and a director of sorts for the singing choir and the music]. Just over four and a half years later, on May 9, 1760, Zinzendorf died. Given Zinzendorf’s prominence as a Moravian bishop and his tremendous influence in shaping the practices of the renewed 18th-century church, Franke’s special position within Zinzendorf’s inner circle is noteworthy. The year after Zinzendorf’s death, in April 1761, Franke arrived in Herrnhut; and, in March 1763, wrote the Remarks treatise featured in this article. The manuscript’s distinguished author and his unique perspective, the detailed description of music education and church music performance during and immediately after Zinzendorf’s influence, and the specific nature of the inherent musical content makes this a very significant document indeed.

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Remarks entails a list of twenty-one points presented in Franke’s distinctive voice and is meant to remind Moravian congregations how to encourage and achieve greater uniformity in the singing of chorales (Melodien). His words are intended to augment the recent printing of chorale-books and other means to notate and publish music used for services, including Johann Daniel Grimm’s manuscript chorale book compiled in 1755, the London hymnal(s) printed in London in 1754-55, and Christian Gregor’s work to arrange “Psalms” begun in1754, eventually resulting in his 1784 Choralbuch. The physical size of the original pamplet is small and unimposing. The old German script is meticulously written and very clear, as one would expect from a professional scribe. Yet the content is voluminous, rich and full in meaning, and requires fourteen double-spaced pages to accommodate the English translation.

The purpose of this article is to share an accessible, reader-friendly summary of the main issues addressed by Franke in his Remarks, to be offered in installments over the next few issues of CSJ. Plans are underway for a formal, academic publication in a scholarly journal of the entire translation verbatim, but until then, all are invited to peruse Ledbetter’s translation in our museum and archives. As Director of Music Ministries, I am intrigued by Franke’s suggestions and have certainly taken his recommendations to heart in how I currently minister to our congregation musically. Even though Franke’s words are 255 years old, and common sense is required in balancing his performance suggestions with our modern sensibilities, especially regarding articulation, tempo, dynamics, and timbre, it is refreshing how instructive and inspiring Franke’s words are today.

First page of Franke’s Remarks shows the old German script, his beautiful penmanship, his underlining of words for emphasis, and the numbering of the points.

Points #1 & 2 explain the purpose for Franke’s “memo” as paraphrased above: mainly to promote a more unified performance of church music among Moravian congregations. I believe this document was meant to provide solid musical guidance at a critical time of the renewed Moravian Church. There seems to have been a crisis of leadership within the church and serious questions were considered about how the church would proceed after the death of its most prominent leader, Count Nicholas von Zinzendorf, referred to as “Disciple Z” by Franke. Point #3 explores the role of the Vorsänger [fore-singer] in teaching German congregations various versions of the chorales, a problem he believed was only partially solved by the publication of chorale-books. Inherent problems in creating artistic unity, i.e., lack of expertise among fore-singers or that organists could only do it with difficulty or slowly, suggests to Franke that

Another method must be found to produce relief and help for our Congregations, so that the precious gift that God has granted to us to sing and play to Him may be preserved in the future with thanksgiving and made secure from loss and harm according to the nature and dignity of the matter.

Point #4 addresses those who might consider themselves to be non-singers and how one should still participate wholeheartedly in services. He emphasizes the following:

With all memoranda about singing, I take for granted that the voice of a Child of God, no matter how bad it is and not suitable to singing alone, if a person is aware of his shortcoming, it will certainly not ruin singing in a service. For if everyone is aware of  his own shortcoming, than it can not be otherwise, than to sing more simply and softly. And then the least humming from such hearts will certainly contribute as much to the quiet and soft murmur to the chief part of our liturgy, as the smallest little lamp helps to make [the                                               darkness] bright. [Underlining in original.]

Point #5 continues:

All disharmony or dissonance in singing comes only from the failure to recognize shortcomings or even the conviction of just the opposite. In this it is difficult to act with grown-ups but, conversely, easier with children….

He suggests this will be demonstrated in the points that follow. Such an emphasis on educating children and youth, in musical matters and otherwise, is a very Moravian concept and a regular priority in all the early communities. In Lititz, for example, this practice is reflected in the founding of the Boarding School for Girls in 1746, later renamed Linden Hall, and the highly successful Beck School for Boys, competently led by John Beck from 1813-1865. The role of music education will be a common theme in future installments of Franke’s Remarks.

Point #6 again addresses the Fore-singing Brethren, a term which in this context suggests that these individuals were responsible for leading the congregation through their own singing. Perhaps they would sing a line of a chorale first and have the congregation echo them; this was a common practice in the American colonies at that time and known as “lining out.” Whatever the case, it is these singers to whom Franke is addressing in his Remarks in an attempt to establish a consistent way of singing chorales.

If in the meantime all of the Fore-singing Brethren would agree together never to sing too loud or too fast, they will find that this is the only means infallibly to prevent all the otherwise unavoidable and prevailing shortcomings and defects. They would make this thus to be the rule and anything else would be the exception, e.g., when the Liturgist sings something which is unknown to the Congregation or changes the words or even sings by himself. [Underlining is as in original.]

Thus, hymns were to be sung at a moderate dynamic (volume) and tempo (speed), unless the worship leader was presenting something unfamiliar, or singing different words to a familiar tune, or singing a solo, in which cases, perhaps, a louder voice would be necessary or a somewhat slower tempo would be used.

Points #7-11 below offer specific instructions for hymn singing in worship. As our congregation’s organist, I find these recommendations particularly helpful and have attempted to put them into practice; however, as with all artistic decisions regarding interpretation, performance practice, and spiritual expression, one must also be sensitive to the needs of today’s congregation and our modern tastes and sensibilities. It is fascinating how these useful, relevant, and universal remarks have stood the test of time.

Point #7 begins with how to lead congregational singing and that the “the Gift of God” makes everything unnecessary,“ which one sees in the Fore-singers [cantors, song leaders] of other denominations.

Ours have only to begin the hymn and then sing along in an orderly fashion. If, for the sake of the subject, they want to have a verse or a few lines sung more strongly or cheerfully, e.g., with the blessed chalice and otherwise, then they need only make arrangements all together with the organist and as a result of this intone only a couple of words [of the hymn verse] with this intention, then the [Organist] will just fall right in, in addition however, he will always properly accompany the ordinary soft singing. Then it must only be left always to the spirit of the Congregation whether and how it will arouse a hymn and sound, so that it rings and moves or rushes like water etc. in a small way, as the prophet and the Revelation describe in a large way.

Point #8. As little as one can say that our dear Lord may be in the Whirlwind, the Fire or the Earthquake, it is so certain that the Still, Small Voice is the actual and customary accompaniment of His dear Presence, already in the Old Testament, and as a result still is and is necessary still at the Holy Communion, during which—especially in the first part—one can never be too careful in regard to loud or fast singing.

Point #9. It is not unknown among us that a Liturgist of the Organ can awaken and sustain a blessed feeling and to this play text and Word into the heart. Before this took place during the distribution of the Blessed Bread, when singing and playing were done in turn. Should this not be a consideration for us? Playing of this sort is also useful because the Liturgist can easily find the next tone, as the best musician (as much as he will deny it) can experience, and choose a tone that is too low or too high and thus let the voices sometimes rise or sometimes fall in the same verse. It might be helpful in the same case, in the Singstunden and other services, if the Liturgist would announce the first line of the next verse right away, so that the organist might begin again in the richest tone. This has been useful in other places and has taken place here previously.

Point #10. Something else must be mentioned here, that is not so common, to be sure, but is just as indecorous. This is the so-called Mannered Singing [singing in an excessive or selfconscious way], especially in chorale and especially where everything is most audible in fore-singing. For even in the Figural Music the astounding importance of our dearest Subject permits so little of this so-called Mannerism, that it would be better to omit it ten times than just once to present something indecent. All ornamentation from that side is best left to the organ and the other music and our Singing is most reliably beautiful when it is most simple and regulated, as the nature of the subject makes it accustomed.

Point #11. In the Services one can hear Immoderation in Slow and Fast Singing of the          Psalms of David and other songs. May His good Spirit guide us on a level path in the Middle between both wrong ways. Here at this time we are closer to speed than to slowness in view of the words and lines, as well sometimes as the Verses one after the other. For the necessary space in [Congregational] singing is so much greater than Choral Singing and of    necessity must be slower than the slowest Reading. This is how it is with   even larger sections. If one stands up, for example after kneeling and praying, it is only reasonable not to start singing until all the noise has subsided and the necessary stillness is there once more. Fast singing for this reason is not suited at all to our hymns, the more subjects they contain, which one already reads slower than others, for example in the    Passion and Easter Story. Of the tunes we accepted some time ago, many have—thanks be to God—fallen out of usage. But there are still one or another of them around whose parentage and nature may be too easily exposed through fast singing. And finally fast Fore-Singing helps all reminders that the Congregation might sing fine at the same time and      therefore make the hindering of the great beauty of their singing quite in vain, as though one would hear” “ONE VOICE.” [sic]

TO BE CONTINUED. Stayed tuned for more of Franke’s Remarks, which address the nature of children’s singing in worship and their music education.