A Mighty Fortress

A Mighty Fortress

Martin Luther          arr. Johann Hermann Schein          ed. Matthew Oltman
SA/TB with keyboard          Duration: 3 minutes          Difficulty: 3

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Johann Hermann Schein (1586-1630), along with Heinrich Schütz and Samuel Scheidt, was one of the leading German composers of the early seventeenth century. His career mirrors that of his successor, J. S. Bach, in that he spent time in the ducal court at Weimar (1615-1616) after which he served as Thomaskantor in Leipzig until his untimely death in 1630. Schein was an important bridge between the polyphonic, “Palestrina-style” compositional practices of the Renaissance and the nuovo musiche practices of Baroque that featured monody supported by vertically composed harmonic structures realized with figured bass notation. His compositions prior to the middle part of the decade 1610-1620 were influenced by Calvisius (who immediately preceded him as Thomaskantor), Handl and Lassus. Following the publication of the first part of his Opella nova in 1618, his compositional output shifted to the new en vogue model of solo voice(s) with instrumental accompaniment. While the texts of his secular music were all self-composed, his sacred compositions were largely set to texts by Martin Luther (1483-1546). This “fantasia” on Luther’s Ein fest Burg ist unser Gott comes from Opella nova I and is typical of Schein’s voicing preference: 2 treble lines over a figured bass. The arrangement works equally well with men’s voices, and, therefore, I have made versions for both women’s chorus and men’s chorus with the usual modern-day clefs.
– Matthew Oltman


A mighty fortress is our God,
a sword and shield victorious;
he breaks the cruel oppressor’s rod
and wins salvation glorious.
The old evil foe
[has] sworn to work us woe!
With dread craft and [dreadful] might
he arms himself to fight.
On earth he has no equal.

No strength of ours can match his might!
We would be lost, rejected.
[But] Yes now a champion comes to fight,
whom God himself elected.
You ask who this may be?
The Lord of hosts is he!
Jesus Christ our Lord,
[Christ Jesus, mighty Lord,]
God’s only Son, adored.
He holds the field victorious.
– English Translation from 1978 Lutheran Book of Worship (adapted)