Meter: 8.7. 8.7. 5.5.5. 6.7.
Composer: Martin Luther, 1529
Source: Joseph Klug, Geistliche Lieder, Wittenberg, 1533
Proper Text: A Mighty Fortress Is Our God (Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott)
Meter: 8.7. 8.7. 6.6. 6.6.7.
Martin Luther composed the tune “Ein feste Burg” to accompany his text, “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God (Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott),” probably in 1527. Though the tune owes much to the Gregorian melodies from which it is constructed, as a unified whole it must be ascribed wholly to Luther. Perhaps no other chorale evinces such a perfect marriage of text and tune. Compare especially the sixth line of the second stanza, “Er heißt Jesus Christ,” where the melody builds until the divine name of Christ lands on the high note.
The tune first appeared in hymnals beginning in 1529, but the first extant appearance is a printing by Joseph Klug from 1533. In its original form, the tune is highly syncopated. The form of the tune most familiar among English speakers is an isometric version such as that used by J. S. Bach in his arrangement of the chorale. Within the Missouri Synod, however, the original rhythmic version has long predominated.
Johann Walter prepared a polyphonic arrangement with the melody in the tenor, which was included beginning with the 1544 printing of his Geystliche gesangk Buchleyn. It is the tenor part for this arrangement that appears in a handwritten manuscript often seen in connection with this tune. This is actually an entry in the “Luther Codex,” a collection of tenor parts sent by Walter as a gift to Luther, who possessed a fine tenor voice. It is actually not, therefore, a true example of the original melody, which is to be sought in the hymnals, not in the choir books.
Johannes Eccard, 1597