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]

The points below describe the nature of children’s singing in Herrnhut and other Moravian settlements in the mid-eighteenth century.

Point #12. But why do we hear … beauty in the singing of our Children, so that our heart rejoices? And hear nothing of the Mannerism, but only a good sound, which grows out of nature the way grass grows out of the earth, and how when one reads well orthographically and pronounces? And have to admonish them so little about this in the Worship Hall, just as at the building of Solomon’s Temple there was no sound of “hammer, axe or things of iron”? Why is that? For this reason, because for some time a number of girls has learned to follow the rule that nature makes and itself becomes obvious. Not because they have to be great art connoisseurs but because they understand enough about music and can read musically. And the ones who did not learn this in this manner learned it from the others, like birds. Quales audimus, tales fimus. [We share among them all that we have heard] It is not their fault that they often sing faster than is fitted for the subject. A single reminder in a singing school would help get rid of this, but nothing can be done until an appropriate order [is established] and all the fore-singing Brethren are united with the organist in slower singing and all together to use the Organ as the guiding line. Because this [the organ] expresses best of all the measure of the speed and slowness, one can discern roughly [how to] introduce song and sound and preserve it….

Point #13. Our children bear indisputable, continual witness daily that the Dear Savior and His Spirit not only remove the danger of this kind of learning for the Heart but graces it as well with His anointing and good pleasure. Such lessons will draw a fence and an enclosure around our treasure, to sing and play to Him, so that no part of it may be lost, nor anything be sullied as it was in 1746 and the   subsequent years. As in the O[ld] T[estament] the lips of the priest preserved the teaching and, together with the Levites, the Songs and sound of the Praise of the People, so our children will do for us in our singing. The heart and mouth of the parents and grownups will be converted to singing out of the mouths of the young children and this will prophesy finally to all the people. As then it already is now, that the singing and playing comprises no small part of our Liturgy, to the Playing of those “where the Harps preach and the Preachers rest.”

Point #14. According to this, it would be well to consider, whether or not in every Congregation where there is a Musician an attempt should be made to set up singing lesson in each boarding school, so that the Boys and—where possible as here in Zeist—the girls could learn as much as possible to read musically, so that they could sing the melody of each song as it stands written and printed. There are hundreds of such Village Schools with similar singing lessons in those regions where Ernest the Pious ruled and introduced this good thing. [Note: Ernest I, the Pious (1601-1675), Duke of Saxe-Gotha-Altenberg, part of the Ernestine Saxony, now Thuringia.] Since choral singing would be the chief purpose in this, there   should be no selection and the worst voices should not be excluded

Young Brethren have complained to me that they had been excluded from the music lessons when they were young because of their poor voices and in this way were misguided into not singing along at all, and now they find that their voices are not so bad at all. Experience also teaches that the same defect can be reduced among the Children or made unnoticeable in worship. When it   progresses further into Figural and Instrumental Music, it would become so much easier then through the general selection as well for all further instruction.

Point #15. To encourage this school practice, [I] wanted to suggest a Printing, which not    only would be useful for musicians, but also [would] be useful with several hundred children and Brethren and Sisters and at the same time preserve reliably the same purpose of a Chorale Book. Namely that our Br. [Christian] Gregor be granted the leisure and the mandate to set all of the tunes we use (those which are unknown first) one after the other, in 3 parts, or in order to reduce the cost, only in treble and bass, each voice separately with at least one verse under each tune and from time to time deliver a couple of leaves printed to our Boarding Schools. [Note: The Moravians referred to their schools as Anstalten or  “Institutes.”] Just like the very first little Protestant hymnbook at Wittenberg 1524 printed all the hymns at that time with separate voices, of which the Bass voice is here in the Library, and Nr. 4 is “Most Holy Lord and God.” How useful this can be could be shown verbally.

The points below describe the production of hymnbooks, the selection of chorales, details regarding different versions of tunes to be used, performance practice during services, and the importance of maintaining the tradition of singing in the church.

Point #16. If the lovely song “A Lamb Goes Uncomplaining Forth,” is not sung at all because the next to last line is unknown to our Liturgists and Brethren and Sisters as received in Grimm’s Chorale Book and for this reason is not appreciated, it is because of the words: “My most lovely treasure, Lord Jesus Christ, is this, which flowed from Your Body’s Wounds” The older [tune] on the other hand is so dear    and mild as old wine, for the sake of the former custom. Thus one sees that the same must be printed one after another in the printing suggested, no matter which melody is found with that sort of variant reading, as in the chorale book of Drezelius [a Jesuit scholar and musician]. And so that the lovely song may not remain unused any longer, after consultation with the necessary musicians, one could introduce the older melody right away, because most [people] know it. The newer tune has more regularity to it, but the older, simpler tune (or one that sounds bad by itself) is better suited to the Idea of an older hymn than a newer one, and that this same older melody was sung regularly [is shown by the fact] that it was included in the 1755 Altona Chorale Book, which was engraved in copper. But all the other Congregations who get used to something from this planned Chorale Book or are accustomed to something by their Fore-Singers and complain sometimes, must be told firmly with this kind of becoming accustomed or unaccustomed to something, that a Liturgist who comes anew into a  Congregation will not think right away about changes in the singing, but will let the Congregation sing as it is accustomed, until this sort of Singing Choir and  School is in place. Then one confers with the Musicians and only concedes to them what one must grant to the worth of a Master Craftsman, even if one does understand a lot of his craft. And the choir then sings and plays whatever is agreed upon at every convenient opportunity, as long as it is necessary until the Congregation accustoms itself to it without any difficulty and without noticing it, for the things that must be said and reminded during this are not as proper for the Worship Hall as they are for the School Room. Thus in all our Congregations    where there is this sort of Singing Choir and School one can everywhere hear all of the same thing and various other things with that same pleasure as in the music of the Passion Week 1762 and on the 2nd February [17]63, the tunes used for “O Sacred Head now wounded,used in the 2nd, 4th and final verses in a good way, without anybody noticing anything different that would be unpleasant to us.

Point #17. The effort and faithfulness that the late Br. Grimm expended on his Chorale Book produced such a good and useful work that I willingly believe what he said about it in his memoir. [I] have with gratitude and pleasure likewise been able to see his industry and faithfulness in [providing] musical information in an article that he left behind. His Chorale Book, which has been in use for 8 or 9 years in our Congregations even in America, will remain valuable for everyone who uses it or receives it, and it will be put to best use in the Chorale Book that is suggested. Only that the variant readings must be added because of the reasons mentioned and treated in the same way, so that both the Congregation and the musicians do not have difficulties but can use it with pleasure. No deteriorations/worsenings belong among Variant Readings, as one has accustomed oneself here again to them, for example in the Tune “How would it be if the Singing were pleasant” etc. at the words “simple and poor,” and let them [the words?] circulate in all 4 tones, whereas in Br. Grimm’s and all the other Chorale Books, there are only 2 simple tones that arise in the Chorale. When in the year 1754 in Zeist I got several altered chorales, I was most pleased that he had happily removed the improvements but also the naked changes, for which I could find no basis, since I thought that it came from Herrnhut and I thought that the same would be done in other Congregations. I have not been able to learn why he left that sort of superfluity and elaboration in other places, where they just as conveniently might have been left out, for example in the melody, “O Wonder beyond measure, for us lost human beings”—on the syllable “Hu” there are the 5 tones instead of the 2, which is in other Chorale Books, even the Halle Hymn Book, where otherwise in the melodies many of that sort of superfluity are printed. That’s the way it is also with the close of the 2nd and 4th and final line of the verse “To gain remission of our sin, No work of ours availeth” (from the hymn “Out of the depths I cry to Thee”) I have never found one of our Brethren who sings it that way. These are only a few examples and can be made clearer at will and orally

Point #18.That one sings one or the other line and verse with another than the melody intended for it is a useful change and thus also good because one cannot always use all verses completely, the late Disciple [Zinzendorf] among others also used this [method]. It was however a singular joy for him if one could help him with the tunes that he had known since he was a child and had memorized.

Point #19. At this time all together there are some 40 tunes and several hundred verses which are unique, the like of which usage cannot be expected for all the rest. But no one will deny that there could and should be more of them. We lack many, especially of the older ones and those that were formerly in use than are now useful from the Ancient Brethren’s Church and from the Renewal [of the   Brethren’s Church] up to our times and from the time of the Reformation. Whoever would want to praise or even copy everything old without distinction in doctrinal matters as well as in singing and turn a blind eye to all the growth in the recognition from experience from one time to another? In view of Choral Singing, the period of the Reformation is a milestone and a testing stone. [Probierstein = “Touch Stone” like goldsmiths use to verify the existence and quality of precious metals] That now has been produced, which was received at the time from the old churches or reformed along at the same time, primarily so long as the spirit of the time prevailed and enlivened the following periods: that is what great musicians recognize as inimitable masterworks and take as examples to follow. On the other hand, the tunes that are not written by us but have been adopted by us have been so procured that the late Disciple [Zinzendorf] dismissed his intention also to put them in an order by date in the London Hymnbook, without having to be counseled against that, this as soon as he saw them together with       those.

Point #20. Remembering times past, which is so necessary, is also preserved by hymns and tunes that are none other than anointed and the late Disciple’s [Zinzendorf’s] parting blessing and the Watchword that followed it, “Just be watchful and guard your soul well, so that you do not forget your history, never lose it from your heart as long as you live and make it known to your children and your children’s children”. In this way the story of our dear Savior, especially the wonder beyond measure, loses no less than gold when mixed with something of lesser value when building up the church or it is mixed in.

Point #21. By means of the printed collection suggested for the singing school there would finally be no old song * [inserted at foot of page *In the meantime it is very necessary if this sort of thing is to be sung that the organist be informed about the Service, likewise if another liturgy is to be used, as when one considers the Congregation according to the order and by means of the prelude.] that is         unknown or un-enjoyed and variety be thus increased in the daily singing, in the Singstunden. It need hardly be mentioned that variety on our part is necessary and useful because the Singing is one of the various gifts of the Church, where the Lord “in His Wisdom gives many gifts.” The constant drive and inclination of the late Disciple [Zinzendorf] in this direction remains fresh in memory, among others       together with alternation between old and new from the good treasury of songs he had in his memory, still we need to preserve the following with thanks and care: 1) That the Brethren and the Sisters sing antiphonally in various hymns and tunes, 2) in addition the alternation between the Congregation and the Choir, 3) Choral and Figural Music. I should like to add, that he [Zinzendorf] did not always sing the Words of Institution at the Holy Communion but sometimes only spoke them. If a Liturgist gets a successor who cannot sing at all or with difficulty, so that he must recite the Words, this has been a good thing in other Congregations that they have heard it from others who could sing and may not it      an innovation nor something worthless. This has also been the case with the Doxology at the close of the Church Litany when this happens. Even here this love of variation has been made and the same been brought together: “Unto the Lamb Who was slain and hath redeemed us out of all the Nations of the Earth…. to Him be glory at all times,” etc.

         Concerning Figural and Instrumental Music, it must still be recalled that changes were the pleasure and love of the late Disciple [Zinzendorf] and as far as I know a great one, like that one from January 1758 and it remained that way until his Homegoing [Death]. That is of course a delicacy only for Sundays or Festival Days, and will not happen again, in the future especially for the whole       Congregation, if every one who can read that can have the text printed. Concerning the occasion for this expectation [I] will only mention the unavoidable weariness of the Congregation. Apart from that case, if the same should arise with the figural music, and the blessing and favor of the dear Savior          is not sensed any more, so then it must be removed from the Worship Hall [Saal], but except for the time of a renewed visitation like that, proved in the school. For it has its uses there, which is true for good voices as well as for instrument. However with bad voices every school practice and instruction may be useful, because [the bad voice] can lose some of its badness and learn to blend with the better voices, so that no bad sound will be heard and yet no mouth will have to remain closed. It is both of these delicious pieces that with time in the suggested way would become more common even in the singing of all of the Congregation [Gemeine = Moravian Church]: however, please, no figural, artificial or otherwise forced singing; or anything else, for which Art and reason and recollection and consideration are demanded. Everything figural is inflicted only on the [vocal] Choir. In the school this bad condition will be prevented only through industrious remembering in the school practice or in the choral singing about what is good in a chorus but not practical with the entire Congregation. Thus choral singing remains for us our daily precious bread and in order that this may always remain good and our Householders will not be lacking in what they need to do and to encourage this, as much as they are able so that there the best Flour may not be ruined with trifles in the preparation.

Herrnhut, m[onth of] April, 1763 J[ohann]. Fr[iedrich]. Franke.

Translated by Pastor Roy Ledbetter, presbyter Fratrum, St.Louis, MO, December 2017