Music for the First Sunday of Advent — November 28, 2021

Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland – Johann Pachelbel (1653-1706)


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Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland (Saviour of the nations, come, or literally, Now come, Saviour of the heathen) originates in the plainsong hymn Veni redemptor gentium, attributed to Ambrose of Milan (c. 340-397). Fashioning this ancient Latin hymn into a German chorale was accomplished by Martin Luther (1483-1546), who translated, paraphrased, and metricized the text, and Johann Walther (1496-1570), who adapted the plainsong melody. Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750) harmonized this melody; it is this setting which appears in our hymnal Common Praise at #90.


Many other composers have used this Lutheran hymn as the basis of compositions, vocal and instrumental. Among them was Johann Pachelbel, who, although he has never commanded the same respect and stature as some of his near contemporaries and successors – Dietrich Buxtehude and Bach in particular – was without doubt a prolific and innovative composer of great intellect. In his own lifetime his hard-earned reputation as both composer and teacher went far and wide, and he was fortunate enough, unlike J.S. Bach, not to be almost totally neglected following his death. As an innovator, Pachelbel’s contribution to works based on Lutheran chorales such as his setting of Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland, today’s postlude in church, is perhaps his most significant.


Gerald Harder