Brorson – The Rare Treasure of Faith
Brorson – The Rare Treasure of Faith
The music and poetry of Pietism offers a beauty that hardly any form of Lutheran religiosity can rival. It is rarely found more radiantly beautiful than in the great collection of hymns Troens rare Klenodie (The Rare Treasure of Faith) by the most important Danish representative of the Pietist movement, Hans Adolph Brorson (1694-1764). The melodies of the sacred Pietist songs are, in their strongly affective nature, in perfect accordance with the fervent and sensual mode of expression found in the texts. Selected from J.A. Freylinghausen’s Geistreiches Gesangbuch and among J.S. Bach’s contributions to Schemelli’s Musicalisches Gesangbuch those melodies are to be heard here, along with related galant music for flute, harpsichord and guitar from the court of the Pietist Danish King Christian VI.
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HANS ADOLPH BRORSON (1694−1764)
by Bente and Torben Bramming
The Young Brorson and Pietism
After a number of years of fruitless study in Copenhagen at the Faculty of Theology, Brorson was obliged to leave the university in 1716 and return to his home region of West Schleswig, to Randerup, where he had grown up and where both his father and paternal grandfather had been clergymen. At the same time, the new revivalist Pietist movement gained impetus when Enevold Ewald (father of the poet Johannes Ewald) returned from a period of study in Kiel. Here he had been influenced by the Pietist movement and he now borrowed his father’s pulpit, and that of other churches. Soulfully and fervently he now preached the new teaching, calling on his congregations for penance and repentance, and insisting on an immediate conversion from their former lives. Brorson and his brothers soon became strongly influenced by his preaching, which inspired people to lead a new spiritual life in the region, with songs and devotions but also with long prayer meetings, house visits and intercession. Poorhouses were built with overseers and schools established for the children of the local peasants and farmers. The movement was disseminated by common folk without any special rank in society, and it gathered together parish vicars and laymen, with women taking part on roughly an equal footing with men. The orthodox Lutheran deacon Koch in Åbenrå sought to curb the movement, which he regarded as a fanatic, dissolute collection of dissenters who were turned in on themselves in excessive religious schwärmerei and condemnation of others. Other clergymen in the Løgumkloster area also preached against the Pietist fanatics and their censoriousness. It was, then, in all this heated atmosphere and ecstatic excess that Brorson started to write his hymns.
After his years of searching and disorganised studies in Copenhagen, he now concentrated on his writing, finding inspiration in the live interaction between clergy and laity that took matters into their own hands, read and interpreted the Bible and met for hymn marathons and prayer meetings. The Pietist revival sought to realise Luther’s thoughts about the common clergy by empowering the laity and removing the actual separation found in orthodox Christianity between the learned and the unlearned. For that reason, the right to hold so-called unofficiated private conventicle meetings of the laity was one of the most important ‘battle-grounds’ in the Løgumkloster era. Here Brorson met the people he regarded as his true sisters and brothers.
Vicar, Deacon, Bishop and Hymn-writer
In 1723, Brorson took over his father’s incumbency in Randerup, from where, six years later, he sought a post in Tønder. This was the breakthrough period for his hymn-writing at the same time as he attended to a number of practical duties. The orphanages, known as Vajsenhuse (from the German Waise = orphan), where poor and orphaned children were brought up, was a central Pietist cause and a key work area for Brorson. The first orphanage came into being in Halle, but they then spread rapidly in Germany, reaching Copenhagen in 1727 and Tønder five years later. Linked to the Orphanage was a printing press, where Schrader’s Tondersches Gesangbuch (Tønder Hymn Book) was printed, and where Brorson had printed some of his hymn booklets that spread through the region and eventually reached the capital, with its Pietist king, Christian VI.
Christian VI was an absolute monarch, appointing his own vicars, deans and bishops, and in 1737 Brorson was made archdeacon in Ribe, and a bishop four years later. During that same period, Brorson collected together the 12 booklets of hymns already printed to form his major work Troens rare Klenodie (The Rare Treasure of Faith). The collection numbered 283 hymns, of which 83 were original, five written by his brothers Nicolaj and Broder, and the rest translations of German Pietist hymns.
At the visitations, when those to be confirmed, young people, soldiers and ‘the old folk in the chairs’ (the old parishioners) were gathered together, Brorson asked them if they had anything to say against their vicar and deacon, for in that case it must be brought out into the light. As bishop, he also had to take measures against drunkenness among the peasantry as well as women who gave birth to children out of wedlock – and naturally against the never-ending dancing and ungodly pre-Christmas social gatherings. The accounts from visitations around the diocese indicate that Brorson, when speaking to children and young people, made a special impact on them. Here, for example, we read that the children in Toftlund urged him to continue with his examinations and made him promise to return the following year. As both a preacher and visitator he tried to realise the Pietist ideal of promoting the common clergy by speaking as one Christian to another and thereby removing the distinction between a bishop and an ordinary child of the parish. From the visitation accounts we can also see that even in parishes where things were going badly, Brorson could always find something worth praising.
Svanesang (Swan Song) 1765
The devout family life of the Brorsons is portrayed in accounts mentioning that the family used to gather twice a day, morning and evening, for devotions. This was completely in the spirit of Kingo, and a custom that Brorson probably knew from his own childhood home. Brorson married twice and had 16 children, only eight of whom reached adulthood. Around the table sat his grown-up sons, the younger children born at Taarnborg and the domestic servants. Often, Brorson’s own hymns were sung, written for precisely this purpose: Her vil ties, her vil bies (Time to ponder, not to wander), Den store hvide flok (The great white flock we see) and a number of other well-known hymns were first sung in this setting. The hymns were designed in such a way that the musical family could sing them together; some of them were duets and others written for four voices. The hub of family life was religion, and the strict upbringing was in accordance with the emphasis placed by the Pietists on a methodical life, with regular prayer, meditation, work and duties, to be carried out punctually. The Day of Reckoning or Day of Judgment was the focus of both outer and inner life.
Brorson died on 3 June 1764, and was buried in Ribe Cathedral, south of the altar. He was important for the religious revivals of the 19th century, particularly for the Inner Mission, but also for the philosopher Søren Kierkegaard, who chose a verse by Brorson for his gravestone. Hans Christian Andersen also liked to use Brorson; the fairytale ‘The Snow Queen’ for example has Den yndigste rose er fundet (Now found is the fairest of roses, DDS 122) as a leitmotif. Today, Brorson is represented by Taarnborg, a centre in Ribe that seeks to disseminate knowledge of his hymn-writing.
Bente Bramming, cand.theol. and Ph.D., and Torben Bramming, cand.theol., are managers of the knowledge centre Taarnborg in Ribe
The Harp Of The Heart
by Erik A. Nielsen
In the first half of the 18th century, Pietism emerged as a large and predominant religious persuasion in Lutheran northern Europe. Pietism roughly means a method of faith (the Latin word pietas means faith and the ending -ism means here, as elsewhere, a methodical philosophical structure). This may come as a surprise to many unsuspecting Christians who do not feel that faith and method have all that much to do with each other. But in the 18th century age of scientific Enlightenment they have! The meditation that plays such an important role in the hymns of the time is strictly methodical and full of guidance and instruction.
The Pietist movement is a mystery and a self-contradiction. On the one hand, the Pietists are notorious – and with good reason – for religious censoriousness and paternalism from which people have suffered life-long damage. Present-day rejection of Christianity is often a rejection of Pietism. On the other hand, the music and poetry of Pietism often offers a beauty that hardly any form of Lutheran religiosity can rival. Although it is dogmatic and rigorous in its thinking, it is also musical and radiantly beautiful. Both aspects are also in evidence in the most important Danish representative of the movement, the hymn-writer H.A. Brorson.
Troens rare Klenodie (The Rare Treasure of Faith), his great collection of hymns, compiled in the years 1732−39, was composed with the highest theological precision. Like other important clergymen of his age, Brorson connects clear-headed Christian faith with poetic taste and talent. The order of hymns on the present recording reflects the theological systematics underlying Brorson’s great work.
Pietism is an ‘intellectual’ Christian belief, dogmatically organised through and through, as is evident if one reads the list of contents of Troens rare Klenodie. But if all of this has the appearance of a paralysing systematics, the work is actually anything but: it is a rich and abundant songbook where one can sing oneself from this troublesome earthly life straight into heaven. Not, however, without sacrificing earthly joys for heavenly ones. Earthly loss and heavenly gain are intimately interrelated.
And precisely this is the answer to the mystery and self-contradiction of Pietism. For the believers were also harsh towards themselves and thereby they learnt something about the ways in which profound pain or even broken-heartedness are an indispensable component of life-experience, as of music and poetry. Here it is the pain that acquires a voice, it is pain that ecstatically tunes the harp of the heart (DS 109). “The broken heart” is the Pietists’ name for – a Pietist:
And when the heart is most oppressed
Then is joy’s harp tuned in one’s breast
So it can sound more sweetly.
And broken hearts know best of all
What bliss this Christmas festival
Will fill us with completely.
Method means something that is prescribed and systematically planned. The word contains the Greek hodos, which means way. But way is also a word that Jesus applies to himself when he says the famous words: I am the way, the truth and the life (St. John’s Gospel XIV, 6). The Rare Treasure of Faith is such a way of heaven, something that its poetry and music confirm in every respect.
At an early point in his work, Brorson translated a wonderful hymn by the German Pietist C.F. Richter. In The Rare Treasure of Faith he rendered somewhat slavishly and slightly amusingly/boringly: How Christians are excellently beautiful – internally; externally the sun has scorched them. The formulation from Richter is a striking characterisation of the Pietist nature: seen from the outside it is contemptible and insignificant, but inside it is rich in hope and promise.
Brorson expresses this more tellingly in the personal formulation which our hymn book has chosen: As the lily’s heart can keep on growing/though the sun has scorched its outermost leaves (DDS 646). The image is the poetic focus of all of Brorson’s work. Like the bulb of the lily lies black and slimy under the earth for most of the year, Christians are insignificant in earthly contexts. But within them there lies a plant that in the course of time can send the loveliest and purest lily up above the surface of the earth. A Pietist thus has a life that is hidden from the world.
This Christian life is also hidden from the more or less fossilised, absolutist church of that age. In this lies Pietism’s challenge of and polemic against what is conventional. Advent Sunday, to which Freylinghausen has linked his formidable hymn Up, for now the day is breaking (TRK 3) is the day on which Jesus on his humble ass rides into Jerusalem. But in the Pietist doctrine it is also the day when new Christian secrets are revealed in the congregation of believers and the personal soul. It is the secret of faith that the whole of church life must hereafter be re-understood and interpreted in depth – and this occurs when faith starts to sing and finds its heavenly music.
There is just as much music in Brorson’s verse as in his choice of melody. He masters the most demanding and difficult verse forms with elegant ease. And although he also has a tone of grim invective, he adds a previously unseen mildness and soulfulness to the Danish language. As a translator, Brorson was just as excellent as he is in his own texts. He effortlessly masters even the most demanding times and rhyme patterns, and with unfailing taste chooses among the musical material available at the time.
The texts have a moving expressiveness that add qualities to Danishness that one might cautiously refer to as ‘feminine’. Strains of caring and psychological empathy. The masculine sounds from Thomas Kingo’s baroque trumpet are met in Brorson, who admired Kingo, by forms of expression one would like to call maternally caring, and he displays an understanding of children and childlikeness which is new at the time – and which marks an important addition to the ‘hard-handed’ Pietists. If every Christian, young or old, is directly answerable to his creator and saviour, children too may also find a way to Jesus, which is developed by the resolute Pietists into a wise and loving pedagogy. Brorson is, for example, the writer of the first true hymn for children in the hymn-book: Her komme dine arme smaa (Here your poor little ones all come, DDS 123), deals with the ‘way’ to the child lying in a manger.
The centre of the Pietist movement was in Halle, with August Hermann Francke (1663–1727) as its central figure and energetic inspirer. His large institution can still be visited in Halle, and in its impressive complex teaching and study took place as well as the cultivation of theology, Christian writing and music at a high level. The Halle hymn-book (Geistreiches Gesangbuch 1714), edited by J.A. Freylinghausen became the model for many other hymn-books, including Troens rare Klenodie. Freylinghausen, who was a theologian, composer and poet, is the man behind the Advent Sunday hymn Op, thi dagen nu frembryder (TRK 3), a complex overture of Christian faith, music and theological poetry, beautifully translated into Danish by Brorson.
The Pietist song has a number of interrelated tasks. First and foremost, it is to open up a new, more profound entrance to the gospels. Just as Jesus rides into Jerusalem on an ass, the believer, with Christ’s help, is to ‘ride’ into the gospels and find there what more superficial Christians fail to discover. Pietism, to start with, means thorough, persevering reading of the Bible, conveyed via the rhythms and sounds of music. When one insists on and persists in uncovering the Christian secrets, a special way of reading develops that seeks out the sweetness of the holy mysteries. In the hymn GUds riges evangelium er sødt som honning-kage (God’s kingdom’s gospel is so sweet, as honey-cake its flavour, TRK 131) believers are instructed: Come, settle like a busy bee/in this word’s meadow-flowers,/the strength within seek earnestly,/suck deep for many hours,/there honey freely is bestowed,/the blood that from Christ’s wounds once flowed/in God’s word is discovered. (verse 7).
A heavenly sweetness, which in Pietist thinking stems from the idea that earthly hymn-singing is a distant echo or an anticipation of the perfect music that sounds in heaven. With a specially heavenly capacity for hearing, one can listen how ecstatically the white-clad angels make music, as is, for example, stated in Brorson’s own hymn: Den store, hvide flok (DS 571).
Erik A. Nielsen, Dr. phil. and Dr. theol., former Professor of Danish literature at the University of
Pietism and galanterie
by Jakob Bloch Jespersen and Allan Rasmussen
The fervent spiritual life of Pietism found expression in profusive hymn texts and exuberant galant melodies. It might seem paradoxical that this devout and world-disavowing religious persuasion within Protestantism chose menuets and sarabandes as templates for their hymn tunes. And yet the passionate relation to faith found in Pietism is seldom more evident than in precisely this combination. In his book Melodies for hymns by Hans Adolph Brorson, Henrik Glahn writes the following about the melodic material in Freylinghausen’s Geistreiches Gesangbuch: ‘The melodies – regardless of the models taken over from contemporary galant music – are, in their strongly affective nature, in perfect accordance with the fervent and sensual mode of expression found in the texts.’
Secular galant music, despite its immediate dissimilarity, is a precondition for what we connect with Pietist hymns, and it can be a short cut to an understanding of the innermost being of Pietism, with all this contains in the way of eroticism, fervour, meditation, passion and exaltation. For that reason, we have when selecting our songs focused on the Pietist melodic material that is connected to Brorson’s writing. A number of well-known, key hymns have therefore been deselected in favour of lesser-known songs, solely on the basis of the existing qualities and origins of the melodies.
The Melodies – Their Origins and Harmonisations
Of the 283 songs in Troens rare Klenodie (The Rare Treasure of Faith), Brorson has provided 200 or so with indications of suitable melodies. They refer to both Reformist hymn tunes from Kingo’s Gradual from 1699 and more recent Pietist tunes taken from J.A. Freylinghausen’s Geistreiches Gesangbuch (Halle 1704 and 1714). As Brorson’s colleague for the German-speaking congregation in Tønder, Hermann Schrader was a pioneer of the dissemination of Pietism in Denmark, and his Tondersches Gesangbuch (Tønder Hymn Book, 1737) was a model on which Brorson could base his work on Troens rare Klenodie. Freylinghausen’s songbook consisted to a considerable extent of new compositions and marked a distinct innovation to traditional Lutheran congregational singing. Important characteristics of these artistic spiritual songs are elements taken from the galant music of the time, including an often expressive melodic line that is stylistically very close to sacred arias. The melodies we have taken from Geistreiches Gesangbuch fit this description extremely well: In the meditative Jesu, al min fryd og ære (Liebster Jesu, liebstes Leben!) the lines and words are repeated like fervent religious mantras. Kom regn af det høye (Komm, himmlischer Regen!) has distinct sarabande traits and the Advent song Op! thi dagen nu frembryder (Jesus unser Trost und Leben), with its triple time, reminds one of the France dance movement the chaconne.
Freylinghausen’s songbooks became widely popular and many melodies were incorporated into later chorale books, including Georg Christian Schemelli’s Musicalisches Gesangbuch (Leipzig 1736). Johann Sebastian Bach placed his personal chorale book with figured bass harmonisations at the disposal of G.C. Schemelli, and for many years people assumed that Bach himself was the composer of the not immediately identifiable melodies. The estimated number of authorised Bach melodies has, however, fallen drastically and today only three are regarded as such, including Dig, dig min Herre vil jeg prise (Dir, Dir Jehovah, will ich singen, BWV 452), which can also be found in the Notenbüchlein für Anna Magdalena Bach. Bach’s harmonisation of Freylinghausen’s Som liliens hierte kand holdes i grøde (Es glänzet der Christen inwendiges Leben, BWV 456) we have also taken from Musicalisches Gesangbuch, and Dig min søde skat at møde (Seelenweide, meine Freude, BWV 497) likewise comes from this source. In our searching through Musicalisches Gesangbuch we came across a number of beautiful melodies that fit Brorson’s lines of verse, and we have taken the liberty of pairing two of these with Brorson’s texts: the irresistible Christmas hymn Ich steh an deiner Krippen hier, BWV 469 perfectly complements the honey-dripping mood of the poem Guds riges evangelium, and Kommt wieder aus der finstern Gruft, BWV 480, with its sweeping melody, lends the Easter hymn Du est, opstandne seyers helt exactly the right triumphant feel. Although Brorson was hardly familiar with these two melodies, both of them stem from the Pietist tradition and, in our opinion, they offer a good contemporary alternative choice of melody.The only text we have chosen to select from Svanesang (Swan Song) is Når mit øje, træt af Møje. The lovely melody that it has become a tradition to use for this text was originally composed by J.S. Bach’s great-uncle Johann Christoph Bach (1642–1703). It was first published in Neuvermehrtes Gesangbuch, Meiningen, 1693 for the Whitsun text Komm, o komm, du Geist des Lebens. In Breitendich it also appears as such in the Danish translation Kom, o kom du Aand som giver. Despite this, we have chosen in this instance to add our own figured bassline to the melody.
In a Danish context, the two key sources are Erik Pontoppidan’s Den Nye Psalmebog (1740) and Breitendich’s Fuldstændig Choral-Bog (1764). Both of them are linked to Pietism, which became the official religious persuasion at the court when Christian VI came to the throne in 1730. At the king’s request, Erik Pontoppidan, who held posts as Court Chaplain and Professor of Theology at the University of Copenhagen, based his Nye Psalmebog on a Pietist model. It appeared in 1740, and the following year the court organist , Frederik Christian Breitendich, was asked to begin on a chorale book that could standardise the organ accompaniment to Pontoppidan’s new Pietist hymn book. Breitendich’s Fuldstændig Choral-Bog, did not, however, appear until 23 years later, in 1764. From this book we have taken Allevegne, hvor jeg vanker, which in Breitendich we find under the title Dagen viger og går bort, and the large-scale song I Herrens udvalde has also been taken from here. But not all of Pontoppidan’s melodies are to be found in Fuldstændig Choral-Bog. Stille er min siel til Gud and Vor Jesus kande ey noget herberg finde, for example, have been omitted by Breitendich, which is why we have personally created a figured bassline in the high-Baroque style for these two songs. These two melodies are not found in the German tradition either, and must therefore be assumed to be of Danish origin.
Chamber Music – Two Contemporary Collections From The Royal Library
Prinsesse Charlotte Amalies samling (The Princess Charlotte Amalie Collection) is closely connected to Schrader’s and Brorson’s melodic material. The collection contains transcriptions in French guitar tablature for one or two baroque guitars of a repertoire that was probably taken from a larger collection of music that Ludvig Holberg purchased for the Court Music Archive in 1728. The first five books are thought to have been transcribed around 1730 by the master guitarist Johan Friederich Fibiger, who was a tutor of music and arts for Christian VI’s sister, Princess Charlotte Amalie (1706−82). Johann Hermann Schrader, Brorson’s colleague in Tønder, was the princess’s spiritual tutor, and at the back of one of the booklets there is a collection of Pietist hymn tunes in Johann Hermann Schrader’s own hand, with numbers that correspond to his Tønder hymn-book. A selection of these melodies has additionally been arranged in guitar tablature by Fibiger. So there is a direct connection between the Charlotte Amalie Collection of guitar transcriptions and Brorson’s choice of melodies via the Pietist songs and the domestic practice of chamber music at court. From the collection we have selected a number of movements from Charles Dieupart’s Second Suite in D major as a recurrent element in the programme, partly in Fibiger’s arrangements for guitar and continuo, partly in a contemporary version for flute as well as in their original form for solo harpsichord. The small Sonata no. 19 for two guitars in A major by an unknown composer also comes from here.
Another key collection of music from the age of Brorson is Gieddes samling (The Giedde Collection). Lord-in-Waiting Giedde (1756−1816) had a career at the Danish court in various different capacities. He was additionally an eager amateur flautist and alongside his work he amassed a considerable collection of flute music from all of Europe. From Gieddes samling we have chosen to present two composers, both of whom were active in Copenhagen at the time of Brorson.
Morten Ræhs (1702−66) is in many ways an unusual figure in the history of Danish music. He grew up in Horsens and later Århus, where his father acquired a position as a town musician. Already when young, Ræhs displayed exceptional talent as a player of the transverse flute. The most important basis of his development as a virtuoso flautist and composer, however, took place during a stay of several years in England in the 1720s, where he was able to become familiar with the influential musicians and composers of the time. After completing his service in England, he returned to Århus in order to take over his father’s position. Later, we find him in Copenhagen, where as the city’s leading virtuoso on his instrument he was a regular member of The Royal Danish Orchestra, without ever gaining a permanent position there, however. During his life, Ræhs went on various trips abroad, preferring the higher echelons among international court musicians rather than life as a town musician. Ræhs’ sonatas in the Giedde Collection are thought to date from the 1740s. Stylistically, they have their roots in the Baroque, but are also influenced by the galant style that was emerging in Europe.
Johann Adolph Scheibe (1708−76) grew up in Leipzig, where for a while he studied law at the university there. In 1729, he unsuccessfully applied for the post of organist at the St. Thomas Church, where J.S. Bach, as its cantor, was an influential figure. After also having unsuccessfully applied for posts in Prague, Gotha and Sonderhausen, Scheibe moved in 1736 to Hamburg, where he got to know the city’s famous opera composers Johann Mattheson and Georg Philipp Telemann. In the years that followed, Scheibe published the critical periodical Der Critische Musikus, in which he wrote harsh words about the compositional style of the cantor at St. Thomas Church, J.S. Bach. In 1740, Scheibe was summoned to Copenhagen to be kapellmeister at Christian VI’s Pietist court. He soon became a leading figure in Copenhagen musical life and, among other things, was the man behind the establishing of The Musical Society, which such proficient amateur musicians as Ludvig Holberg and the aforementioned Lord-in-Waiting Giedde also frequented. Scheibe’s chamber music in particular was performed in this context, include the flute sonatas, which stylistically follow the galant tendency of the age.
Jakob Bloch Jespersen and Allan Rasmussen, 2018