Johann Walter

Johann Walter

Johann Walter (Blanckenmüller) (1496 – 25 March, 1570) was a Lutheran composer and poet during the Reformation period. The asteroid 120481 Johannwalter is named in his honour. He is also commemorated in the Calendar of Saints of the Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod as a musician on April 24.


Walter was born in Kahla, Thuringia in 1496. According to a document filed with his will, he was born with the surname of Blanckenmüller, but adopted out of poverty by a citizen of Kahla, and given an education at Kahla and Rochlitz under his new name, "Johann Walter". He began his career as a composer and bass cantor in the chapel of Frederick the Wise at the age of 21. It was a position he would hold until Frederick’s death in 1525. By this time, he was the director of the chapel and had become and outspoken musical spokesman for Lutherans. Walter was consulted by Martin Luther in the construction of the first Protestant hymnal, "Geistliches gesangbuchlein", in 1523, and for the German-language Deutsche Messe produced in 1527.

Following the conclusion his appointment to Frederick’s chapel, Walter became cantor for the Torgau town choir in 1525, a post he would hold until 1554 when he was named court composer for Moritz, Duke of Saxony in Dresden.

While in Dresden, Walter composed a responsorial Passion in German. In earlier musical versions of the Passion story the entire narrative was a succession of polyphonic motets, but Walter used a monophonic reciting tone for the Evangelist and "dramatis personae", reserving for the people and disciples simple falsobordone (chordal) polyphony.

Walter did not remain in Dresden very long, and by 1554 he had accepted a pension from the duke and returned to Torgau, where he remained for the rest of his life. He died on 25 March 1570.

Musical Works

Walter wrote his motets and lieder, often of high quality, in two distinct styles. For the first style he employed a polyphonic manner derived from the Franco-Flemish school, in particular showing the influence of Josquin des Prez and Heinrich Isaac. In the tenor voice of these compositions was a cantus firmus sounding as an unbroken succession of sustained notes or as a melody fragmented into short sections separated by rests. Above and below the cantus firmus were counterpoints that sometimes imitated the tenor but more often moved independently of it. In either case the melodic flow of four or more voices avoided simultaneous rests.

For the second style Walter rejected imitative or independent voice-leading for chorale writing in which each fragment of the cantus firmus rested simultaneously with the other parts. In a few such cases he placed the borrowed tune in the top voice, thereby inaugurating the favorite manner of chorale setting of the succeeding two centuries.

Some of his more famous chorale arrangements include:
*"Allein auf Gottes Wort"
*"Christ ist erstanden"
*"Christ lag in Todesbanden"
*"Christum wir sollen loben schon"
*"Ein feste Burg "
*"Gelobet seist du Jesu Christ"
*"Joseph, lieber Joseph mein (Resonet in laudibus)"
*"Komm, Gott Schöpfer"
*"Komm, heiliger Geist"
*"Laus Matrimonii ex Horatio (Felices ter)"
*"Nun bitten wir den heiligen Geist"
*"Vater unser"
*"Verbum caro factum est"
*"Wir glauben all an einen Gott"
*"Wo Gott, der Herr, nicht bei uns hält"

ee also

*Calendar of Saints (Lutheran)
* [ ChoralWiki] (Audio files of Johann Walter’s chorale arrangements)


* Werner Braun: "Johann Walter", Grove Music Online, ed. L. Macy (Accessed November 24, 2006), [ (subscription access)]

External links

* [ Johann Walther 1496-1570] (The Cyber Hymnal)
* [ biography from]

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