A Short Review of Musical Development during Reformation in 16th Century Riga

Vilis Kolms

Among the Reformation’s endeavors to enhance the evangelical text one was to unite congregants in God’s presence through music. One of the first musical performances in the Lutheran church tradition took place in Konigsberg in 1527 with a multi-voice choir singing in local scriptural language emphasizing God’s grace in place of good works. The musical church tradition for the Lutheran congregations continued to develop with emphasis on the song hymnal which was eventually published in 1530, and included several hymns and psalms. Seven years later, the hymnal included not only the music’s text, but also musical notations (sheet music). 

The theologian Andreas Knopkens’ (1468–1539) made music an integral part of the Reformation. The Lutheran church music of his day consisted of chorals and other musical pieces that significantly differed from folk melodies. Paul Bucens (1548–1586) served as the first professional composer for church music at the Dome Cathedral in Riga.  His more than 150 compositions including numerous lengthy works provided music for the entire calendar year of the church. These works were created for a broad spectrum of voices, for as many as eight diverse instruments and with a vocal sophistication that moved the text and the music to intersect.

Theologians point out that music has aided congregants to unite faith with God’s Word through musical doxology. Thus, it is an inevitable conclusion that the Reformation used both music and theology to help congregants to understand their interdependence in strengthening the faith of the churchgoer.