“Walking Through the Forest” of Research

For my paper, I am exploring the history of Martin Luther’s hymn Christ lag in Todesbanden, which was based on the Victimae Paschali Laudes sequence from the middle ages. Since my topic incorporates two pieces of music and one very well-known theologian, general background information has not been difficult to find. However, this breadth of potential material makes it difficult to sort through sources for specific, relevant details. For example, while a search in the RILM database for English-language journal articles about “Martin Luther” uncovers 96 results, a search with similar constraints for “Christ lag in Todesbanden” only yields three, all of which are about later settings of Luther’s text, rather than Luther’s hymn in its own right. (Unfortunately, I can’t read German- that would make a few more results useful.)

The first truly solid source that I found was the second volume of  Paine and Jeffers’ Translations and Annotations of Choral Repertoire, which focused on works with German texts. The book, which is housed in the Music Library’s reference section, has the full German text of the Christ lag hymn with both word-for-word and sense translations into English, as well as a couple of pages of textual analysis and background information on the hymn. One of the most useful sections was a side-by-side text comparison between Christ lag in Todesbanden, Victimae Paschali Laudes, and the related 12th-century leise Christ ist erstanden. I was able to use this comparison as a jumping-off point for my own analysis of the hymn.

After that reference source, the book that has proved most useful to me thus far is Robin A. Leaver’s Luther’s Liturgical Music. Not only does it provide solid background information about Luther, it also quotes extensively from his writings and other primary source material, and it has an entire section devoted to Luther’s reaction to and treatment of Roman Catholic sequences like Victimae Paschali Laudes. For my second draft, I’d like to look more closely at other sections of the book, and to spend some time tracking down sources referenced in its bibliography.

On a related note, it might be interesting to try and draw more from available primary sources, as Luther’s writings on music are pretty easy to find. I also would like to incorporate some more recent journal articles-I’ll probably have to start with ones about Luther’s hymnody in general, since I had trouble finding any about Christ lag in Todesbanden in particular. 

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