Johann Walter


Born: 1496 in Kahla, Thuringia Died: March 25, 1570 in Torgau, Germany
The man destined to provide one of the seminal influences on Protestant church music was born in a small village in 1496. Apparently, the boy Johann Blanckenmüller could not afford to attend grade school, so he accepted adoption in the village and took the name Johann Walter, or Walther. In 1517 (the year of Martin Luther's 95 Theses), the young musician was accepted as a singer in the Hofkapelle of the Elector Frederick the Wise of Saxony. He sang bass for Frederick's chapel choir and succeeded Adam Rener as court composer. In 1524, at the still-young age of 18, Walter published a collection of music, the first printed collection of music for the new Protestant church. Walter's Geistliches Gesangbuchlein contained five Latin motets (which were still being sung in Lutheran services), but also 38 settings of the new Lutheran chorales, forward-looking worship music in the vernacular German tongue. Martin Luther himself wrote the preface to Walter's collection and invited Walter to Wittenberg to consult with him over the vernacular Deutsche Messe that Luther was preparing.

Unfortunately, in the same year of 1525, Walter lost his job upon the death of his patron, the Elector. Though both Luther and Melanchthon wrote letters to the new prince on Walter's behalf, he and his new wife were only given a small stipend. He accepted a newly created municipal post in Torgau, the first cantorate in Protestant Germany. Over the next 24 years, Walter steadily reorganized all of the civic worship music in this important Protestant town, copying and writing new music, directing the chapel choir, issuing new and expanded editions of his hymnal, and teaching music, Latin, and religion in the town school. Among his students was the father of Michael Praetorius and the teacher of Heinrich Schütz. Luther visited in 1534, and once more took occasion to bless the work Walter was doing. His position ended after the 1548 War of the Schmalkald League, though he quickly attained a new appointment. Walter was asked by the new Elector of Saxony to establish a choir in his new residence of Dresden, and the resolute musician set about similar reorganization of all the church music in that city as well. Walter retired in 1554 after the death of the Elector, and returned to Torgau. He apparently continued to compose music in his old age, publishing another book of music at age 70; he died in 1570.

There are 28 Johann Walter recordings available.

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