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In the Musical Spotlight: Lutheran Hymnists

In celebration of Reformation at the end of October, I have chosen to highlight one hymn written by a Lutheran Hymnist for each Sunday this month. Every week, I will give a little background on the hymn's author and a little reflection on that hymn. Today we look at the hymn, "O Holy Spirit Enter In."

The text of this hymn is written by Michael Schirmer, born to a wine cask tester in Leipzig in the year 1606, we are once again transported back to the 30 Years' War. Schirmer studied at the University of Leipzig and graduated in 1630. He moved to Berlin where he was a subrector for the rest of his career. Passed up for promotion time and again, he retired in 1668 after a younger subrector was appointed rector over him. Brief mention was made of health troubles and suffering from "melancholy" for long stretches which others speculate is why he never was promoted. Berlin was a good move for him though in that he met up with Johann Crüger, one of our previous hymnist spotlights. Schirmer was honored in 1637 with the title of "King's Poet," and is known for his poetry and translation of the Aeneid. "O Holy Spirit Enter In" is his most famous hymn and is very popular at Pentecost.

Of course, without the work of Catherine Winkworth, we might not be as familiar with this hymn and many other German hymns. Born in 1827 to a silk merchant in London, she spent a year in Dresden, Germany and became interested in German Hymnody. Her first book was Lyra Germanica, published in 1854 shortly after her Dresden visit. She published three more books of translations plus collaborated on The Chorale Book For England. In our hymnal she is listed as the translator on 19 hymns. Known as more than a wordsmith, Winkworth was also a proponent for female education and worked for the Clifton Association for Higher Education for Women, and was a supporter of the Clifton High School For Girls. Winkworth is also noted for her two biographies about people, Life of Pastor Fliedner and Life Of Amelia Sieveking, both of whom founded sisterhoods for the poor and sick.

Back to the hymn itself, this is one of my favorite hymns because it is so dramatic. The tune is written by Philipp Nicolai who was a minister before Schirmer was born. It is not metered like we see music today, I love the interplay of the rhythms where we start off with a set long pulse and then break into a lilting descension at the end of the phrase, repeating the same melody again after that. We start the last phrase with that pulse but instead of outlining a chord, we repeat the same two notes before getting into what I think of as the more punk element of this song with quarter notes sticking to two notes before moving into the last gasp with an octave leap up and descending to our beginning note again. The lyrics provide a neat progression too as we begin by inviting the Holy Spirit to us. The first verse continues with a theme of light: Sun of the soul, Light divine, brightly, shine, radiance life. The second verse in our hymnal now asks for guidance and to keep us on the right path. And of course the third verse erupts with praise and thankfulness of all that God give us while also reminding us of God's strength. It's an obvious Pentecostal Hymn, but I think when we sing those words, it's easy to see how they are really important to us all year.

I hope you have enjoyed our spotlight on Lutheran Hymnists this month. I'll be back in December with a series on holiday music.

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