As of December 24, 2018, the book that I’ve been working on for years has been published and is now available via Steglein Publishing or Amazon (click the links). To whet your appetite, I’ve included an excerpt from the Preface below. Enjoy!!
This volume is comprised of thirty-two anthems, most previously unpublished, by Bishop Johannes Herbst (1735–1812), who lived and worked in Lititz, Pennsylvania, from 1791 to 1811. These works, largely neglected for the past two hundred years, represent the distinctive compositional voice of an early American immigrant. Herbst was born in Germany, educated in Herrnhut, and served various Moravian communities on the European continent and in England before being called to America in 1786. Consequently, his compositions are more European-influenced when compared to, for instance, his contemporary, Boston-born William Billings (1746–1800), yet Herbst’s eloquent and expressive choral works are early American gems that deserve wider exposure through study and performance.
Herbst’s compositional style, like other Moravian composers of the time, is reminiscent of continental approaches, including the “sensitive style” [empfindsamer Stil] of Carl Phillip Emmanel Bach (1714–88) and the early classicism of Franz Joseph Haydn (1732–1809)…but not quite. Herbst’s craftsmanship exhibits a uniqueness that reflects his own life’s journey. While he received some instruction in music and played the organ, he initially trained as watchmaker before beginning his work for the Moravian Church. He went on to become a pastor (eventually Bishop), teacher, school principal, diarist, and a prodigious copyist. His personal manuscript collection of other composers’ music, for example, includes over one thousand anthems and many larger works. It is a significant repository of eighteenth-century repertoire chiefly of, but not limited to, Moravian music. His process of avidly copying high-quality works provided an obvious and direct means for him to learn how to compose. Herbst composed his own music as time allowed, and with boundless energy, spirit, and assiduousness, he became one of the most prolific of the early American Moravian composers.
The Lititz anthems of Johannes Herbst reflect an effort to write accessible church works primarily as a means to employ music as worship. Anthems were usually written with a specific service or special occasion in mind, which would in turn dictate the choice of text and style of accompaniment required. The instruments employed would be those of the congregation’s resident ensemble, usually pipe organ, SSAB Coro, and strings. For special events, such as church dedications or festive celebrations, this core ensemble could be augmented by winds, brass, or even a Coro II. Herbst would assemble the musicians, rehearse, and provide direction and accompaniment for the performance from the keyboard of the 1787 David Tannenberg organ, located along with the performers on the church’s west gallery. Years of practical experience guided by spiritual inspiration enabled Herbst to reach a personal summit of compositional refinement, smoothness, and accomplishment in Lititz. His works, always popular in other Pennsylvania Moravian settlements like Bethlehem and Nazareth, are also found in Moravian music collections housed in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, and in other Moravian communities around the world, including Christiansfeld, Denmark and Herrnhut, Germany among others.
A discussion of Herbst’s Lititz anthems would be insufficient, however, without an introduction to the history of the Lititz congregation, its concurrent musical development, and the direct influence of these factors on his music. As in all the early Moravian settlements, music was a critical component of the Lititz community from the earliest days. Through the influence of Bishop Matthaeus Gottfried Hehl (1705–87), who served Lititz congregation from 1756 until his death, and Bernard Adam Grube (1715–1808), who served from 1765 to 1784, a strong foundation of musical excellence was established from which Lititz evolved into a significant 18th-century music center. When historical events and the culture of the Lititz congregation are considered, especially during the Revolutionary War period and immediately following, the repertoire and performance practice that emerged are of even greater significance. The anthems in this volume illustrate that Johannes Herbst arrived in Lititz at an ideal time, historically and culturally, to employ his natural gifts as a composer. He wrote anthems of exceptional quality, especially given this particular time and place, and is distinguished as a significant early American composer.