On Reformation Sunday, October 27, 2019 at 2pm, Kantor Jonathan Wessler will present a hymn festival centered around the Large and Small Catechisms of Dr. Martin Luther. Because Luther understood the value of music in the learning process, he wrote chorales based on each of the Six Chief Parts of the Catechism in order to facilitate people’s learning and memorization thereof. These so-called “Catechism chorales” explain the doctrines enunciated in the Catechism and allow congregations and families literally to “sing the faith.”
Johann Sebastian Bach’s chorale preludes for the organ frequently illustrate elaborately the theological concepts espoused in the chorale texts. The majority of the third volume of Bach’s Clavier-Übung (“keyboard practice”), published in 1739, consists of chorale preludes based on the Catechism chorales. For each Catechism chorale, Bach provided a chorale prelude for large organs incorporating an independent pedal division, as well as one for small organs without pedals. It is easy to extrapolate Bach’s intention here: the large and small chorale preludes parallel the Large and Small Catechisms. The hymn festival features all the Catechism chorale preludes, preceded by a stanza or two of the chorale itself sung by all; and it is framed by the large prelude and fugue that bookend the Clavier-Übung III. Extensive notes on the music and selections from Large Catechism will assist the listeners in connecting Bach’s chorale settings with the chorale texts. It is a wonderful chance to experience how Bach perceived the faith and expressed it in his brilliant music.