Martin Luther, claimed his place forever in history when he ignited the fires of the Protestant Reformation 500 years ago with his 95 theses, hammered unwaveringly into the door of his church at Wittenberg. He was also known for both his passionate preaching and his pithy quotes. But, you may not be familiar with another side of Martin Luther: Reformer of Music.
From a very young age, Martin Luther received instruction in music, both vocal and instrumental. His passion for singing remained very strong into his adult life so that he was called the “Nightengale of Wittenberg.” With this musical background and ability, Luther recognized the ability of music to teach doctrine and to move souls.
One of his great gifts to the Protestant church was to bring the singing of the congregation, in their own language, back to the people. During his day, most of the singing and chanting in the service was done by the priests. Furthermore, any parts of the liturgy that were sung by the people were sung in Latin, so that the people didn’t understand what they were singing. He also advocated for teaching young children to sing, because he saw that music could impart the gospel and truths to children who were too young to read.
So strong were his beliefs about music and worship that he wrote these fiery words: “Next to the word of God, the noble art of music is the greatest treasure in the world. It controls our hearts, minds and spirits. A person who does not regard music as a marvelous creation of God does not deserve to be called a human being; he should be permitted to hear nothing but the braying of asses and the grunting of hogs!” From Songsandhymns.org
Because Luther was a man of words as well as music, he not only restored ancient hymns but also wrote new hymns for the people in German. He used Psalms as well as confessions of his faith as lyrics for the hymns. Because of his efforts, many consider Luther the inventor of the Protestant hymn. His hymns provided more fuel for the growing reformation.
Perhaps the most famous of Martin Luther’s hymns that we still sing today is “A Mighty Fortress is Our God.” I have included a youtube video of this hymn with lyrics below.
21 Hymns of Luther can be found here with words and discussions.
Much of the information in this post is from here:Martin Luther as the Father of Protestant hymns