Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Non Moriar, Sed Vivam


If you are preaching come Sunday, and can tear yourself away from a comparison of atonement theories, you might spend a moment on Psalm 118.

In our sacristy here in Romania, there is a picture of Luther -- one of those unconvincing 19th century illustrations, that makes him look both handsome and heroic, even in his funny cap. And underneath is the verse in question: Non moriar, sed vivam, et narrabo opera Domini. One also sees it, not infrequently, incorporated into Luther's seal.

Here's why, according to William Johnston's website. During the fateful spring and summer of 1530, Luther was under the imperial ban, and subject to arrest if captured. Naturally, he could not attend the Diet of Augsburg. Instead, he stayed at the Coburg castle, and as Johnson writes:
Luther became very depressed and believed his end was near. In this state, Luther sent a letter to a friend, the famous German composer Ludwig [Senfl], asking that he send him a polyphonic version of a favorite antiphon, In pace in id ipsum. Stenfl did not send that song until later ... but he immediately sent Luther a copy of his motet on the 17th verse of the 118th Psalm: Non moriar sed vivam (I will not die, but live and declare the works of the Lord). The text and music had an incredible effect on Luther. He wrote those words on the wall of his room and came back to the fight with a renewed spirit (Nettl, 21-25). Luther later arranged Non moriar himself as a motet (Nettl, 60).
He is citing Paul Netti, Luther and Music (Philadelphia: Muhlenberg Press, 1948).

We're no fans of graffitti, but there are worse things for a preacher to write on the walls of his or her bedroom. Not least as Easter Sunday approaches.

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

It's Senfl, not Stenfl. Here's a Youtube video of a performance of Senfl's setting:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Tw5xa6myHcE

Father Anonymous said...

Thanks. I wish Blogger permitted links in the comments section. It's worth cutting and pasting.

PrSBlake1 said...

You know, back in the day before the internet and all that we had to do archival research by going through microfilms. So when I was a young graduate music student I searched and searched until I found this motet. I was thrilled to find it, but alas, there is a reason that it is not well known. Let's just say it is not one of Senfl's greatest hits. Anyway, the historical connection to Luther makes it interesting and in the process of going through 100's of motets I found some real gems. Blessings to you this Easter...
SBD+