A historical examination of the hymn tune Ein feste burg and its treatment in selected twentieth-century concert band literature



Journal Title

Journal ISSN

Volume Title


Texas Tech University


This study is a historical and analytical examination of the hymn tune Ein feste Burg, the German title for the song A Mighty Fortress. Although portions of the tune bear some similarities to earlier works, Ein feste Burg is considered an original melody composed by Martin Luther (1483-1546), a Reformation theologian whose radical opposition to the Roman Catholic Church and whose prolific and scholarly theological writings have played an important role in history. This study addresses Martin Luther's musicianship and authorship, as well as his poetic alteration of Psalm 46 in Ein feste Burg.

Through its words and its melody, Ein feste Burg has had a significant impact on the musical world. In music literature, incorporating hymn tunes and chorales into original compositions is a common practice and has extended to wind band composers. This study concentrates on six selected twentieth-century concert band works that incorporate Ein feste Burg, either as a main theme or in some capacity within the composition. The selected works, examined chronologically by publication date, are The Leaves Are Falling by Warren Benson, Psalm 46 by John Zdechlik, Tribute to Canterbury by Gordon Jacob, Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night by Elliot Del Borgo, Rejouissance by James Curnow, and Festive Adorations by Vaclav Nelhybel.

Each of the six separate chapters on these works opens with a brief biography of the composer, followed by an analytical study of the composition. Analysis is limited to the application of Ein Feste Burg in each particular piece of music. Musical examples of how each composer uses Ein feste Burg are labeled and described for each selected composition. The Ein feste Burg usage then is compared with the original hymn tune, and any changes are described in detail.

The study's conclusion shows the similarities and differences between the selected compositions and provides a methodology for presentation of the selected works. This chapter also demonstrates the results of a survey often College and University band conductors. Research for this project includes correspondence with living composers and with surviving family members of those composers now deceased.



Band music -- Interpretation (phrasing, dynamics, etc.), Musical analysis -- Music collections, Hymn tunes -- History -- Reformation, Band music -- Analysis, appreciation -- Twentieth century, Hymns -- Instrumental settings