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This month, we’re featuring the hymn “Allleluia, Let Praises Ring.” We’ve been singing it in worship services this fall, and will revisit the tune, at least, during the Epiphany season (after Christmas, before Lent).

The melody of this hymn was written by Philipp Nicolai (1556–1608). Nicolai’s hymn was named Wie schon leuchtet der Morgensten, which translates as “O Morning Star, How Fair and Bright.” It was called the “Queen of Chorales.” We will use a version of Nicolai’s original words, which were based on Psalm 45, with this tune during the Epiphany season. These words were frequently used in weddings during Nicolai’s time.

Nicolai was born into a pastor’s family near Waldeck, Germany. He graduated from the University of Wittenberg in 1579 and received his Doctorate of Divinity in 1594. After working with his father for several years, Nicolai’s first call was to Herdecke, where he served until 1588 when he moved to Altwildungen. He worked as a tutor and court preacher for the Countess of Waldeck as well. In 1596 Nicolai went to Unna in Westphalia. He was pastor there during the time of the plague, sometimes performing up to thirty funerals a day. During this tragic time in his pastorate, Nicolai wrote “Wake Awake for Night is Flying” and “O Morning Star, How Fair and Bright.” Clearly the pain of these years produced beautifully inspired music by Nicolai.

The musical preacher was called to Hamburg in 1608. He only lived seven more years in Hamburg, dying at the age of 52. He was remembered as a great preacher by all who knew him. We continue to enjoy his music today.

Years later, J.S.Bach used Nicolai’s melody line, creating more simple rhythms with notes of equal value. He wrote chorales based on the tune, adding wonderful harmonizations which made them particularly interesting—but challenging—for choirs to sing. The version we will sing as Lutheran Worship #437 brings bach Nicolai’s harmonizations as well as some of his more interesting rhythms.

The words we’ve been using this fall, “Alleluia, Let Praises Ring”, were the result of several versions of verses applied to Nicolai’s melody. In 1642, Martin Rinckart, who wrote “Now Thank We All Our God”, published a bridal mass and used Revelation 21 and 22 to compose a wedding hymn to this tune. In 1655 the hymn was rewritten as a burial hymn by an unknown poet. Then, in 1698, four verses were composed by Darmstadt as a hymn of praise to the Holy Trinity. This final version became the most popular and is used in many hymnals to the present day.

The “Alleluia” was previously named “Hallelujah! Let Praises Ring” in the version edited for The Lutheran Hymnal (TLH) in 1941. The German title was “Halleluja! Lob, Pries und Ehr.” The rhythms are, again, slightly different (perhaps more Bach-like) in TLH versus the Lutheran Worship version we will be singing in November and January.

We hope you enjoy this old German favorite of the Lutheran Church!

Enjoy more information about new hymns or the hymns you already love as we explore the Lutheran hymnody. Use this month’s hymn in your devotions and get to know the tune. We’ll be singing it a few times in worship over the next month or so and adding it to our growing congregational repertoire! Information for this article came from The Hymnal Companion to the Lutheran Book of Worship (Augsburg Fortress Press) and the Hymn Stories series (Kregel Press).