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An early printing of Luther's hymn A Mighty Fo...

An early printing of Luther’s hymn A Mighty Fortress Is Our God (Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Recently I was reflecting on my time in the band, and it always reminds me that music, especially band music, is my family’s second business. To the point that we think one of my ancestors was a bandmaster in the Napoleonic Wars.

Recently Jess has talked about her love of the Mass, and Chalcedon has talked some about his discussion group. I found both eminently relatable.

Like Jess, I love the liturgy, although traditional Lutheran worship is somewhat different than Anglo-Catholic.

And like Chalcedon, I too have run across a fair number of young people who fail to understand that God really is love and wants us to succeed but that if we reject Him he will sadly condemn us.

I wonder if these aren’t a part of what so many of rail about under the term of ‘modernism’. In so many cases it consists of little but very poor or no chatecismal education. I can’t really speak to the others but traditional Lutheran Worship is specifically designed to teach, as well as worship, and when you depart from it, you have to be very careful to keep all the elements there, and in order. It’s a problem, especially in so-called contemporary worship.Too often, Novelty rules, and as we have often said, novelty is not a good word. But you know for many of us it goes even deeper, many of us have said that there have been no good hymns written lately, some say 1940 or so some say since Queen Victoria died, we can always argue about that. But as we have also said, the great hymns are also good theology.

But that isn’t even confined to the lyrics. Consider the music, itself.

The key of C is composed of C, D, E, F, G, A, B, and C which is pretty straightforward and is, in fact, all white keys on the piano.But it is not symmetrical, C, D, E are whole steps but a half step to F, and then full steps to G, A, B and then a further half step to C. That a very common key, indeed, and is quite uplifting in it’s feeling.

Now, let’s start with middle C, you would play C, D, E, F# (G flat), G# (A flat), A# (B flat), then C again. This is a tri-tone scale based on six note in equal intervals, rather than seven notes found in the major scale.

Now play C and F# sharp together. This is what is known as the augmented 4th or flatted 5th. How does that make you feel? Now play C and F# over and over alternating at 1 second intervals. This is the opening riff from Jimi Hendrix’s Purple Haze. Black Sabbath was quite fond of it as well. Keep playing it. Has Old Scratch come to visit yet? Well that could be overstating the case a bit.

But that is called “The Devil’s Interval”. There are reports that it was banned by the clergy in the middle ages. I don’t know if that is true, but it has been used by many classical composers to instill a feeling of evil or dread. Including Martin Luther.

In A Mighty Fortress is Our God the third line of the first verse reads: “For still our ancient foe, doth seek to work us woe.” The third line of the third verse reads: “The Prince of Darkness grim, we tremble not for him. ” The two lines where Luther refers to the Devil in the text of the hymn, also happens to be when the “devil’s interval” is found in the melody line. Just a coincidence? Or genius?

Here, listen for yourself.

Hear it? it’s pretty obvious, isn’t it?

Me? I vote for genius. just goes to show why the old hymns, like the old words, are best.

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