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date: 17 May 2021


  • Robert L. Marshall
  • , revised by Robin A. Leaver


The congregational hymn of the German Protestant church service. Typically, it possesses certain formal and stylistic traits appropriate to its lay purposes: simple language, rhymed metrical verse, a strophic musical and textual form and an easily singable melody. Since the Reformation, and particularly during the first 200 years of its existence, the chorale has provided raw material for a variety of compositional forms, including the chorale prelude, chorale motet and chorale cantata (see Chorale settings and Borrowing and Borrowing).

During the first decades of the Reformation, Martin Luther and his contemporaries most commonly referred to the individual items in the newly revived genre of congregational, vernacular hymns as ‘geistliche Lieder’ (spiritual songs), ‘Psalmen’, ‘christliche Lieder’ and ‘geistliche’ (or ‘christliche’) ‘Gesänge’ or ‘Kirchengesänge’. In the later 16th century the term ‘Choral’, which had traditionally referred to the melodies of the Latin plainchant repertory, began to be applied to the vernacular church hymn. This was presumably partly because congregational singing in Luther’s time was led by the monophonic ...

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Graduale sacrosanctae romanae ecclesiae (Tournai, 1938)
F. Blume: Die evangelische Kirchenmusik (Potsdam, 1931-4/R, enlarged 2/1965 as Geschichte der evangelischen Kirchenmusik; Eng. trans., enlarged, 1974, as Protestant Church Music: a History)
Jahrbuch für Liturgik und Hymnologie
C. von Winterfeld: Der evangelische Kirchengesang und sein Verhältniss zur Kunst des Tonsatzes (Leipzig, 1843-7/R)
J. Zahn: Die Melodien der deutschen evangelischen Kirchenlieder (Gütersloh, 1889-93/R)