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The University of British Columbia School of Music Music 120: Music History 1

Music as Propaganda in the German Reformation

Student: Julianna Bouso Rodrguez Student number: 45994134

November 22, 2013

Music as Propaganda in the German Reformation The reformation was a religious and political movement that took place in the year 1517. This movement was spread by the Cristian humanist Martin Luther, when he posted his Ninety Five Theses. The reformation itself is one of those things eve rybody has heard about but no one quite understands, even nowadays, 500 years after this movement occurred. The main reason for this movement is unknown, however, some causes are being slowly known. First of all, as this movement occurred in the renaissance, humanism was on the air and all the humanist ideas were being spread, so people were thinking more rationally, thus questioning the church and its ways of working. Also, the printing press as recently invented, and it helped dispersing the protestant ideas worldwide. Also, the monarchs or Europe challenged the church and the popes power, since church was even more powerful than some of the European kingdoms and monarchies. European monarchies did not like that the church was wealthy and had influence upon people, so they got against the church and its pope. Furthermore, church wealth and power tended to be abused by some of the members of the clergy. Church used to sell some of its offices, charging people to help them position in places of power. But the main issue that made the reformation happen was the sale of indulgences, so church made people believe that they could buy their way into heaven without making good deeds.

Because of all of these issues, the German monk Martin Luther criticized the church and its nepotism and corruption. His first objection was to Johann Tetzel von Wittenberg, who was offering the sale of indulgences to help rebuild St. Peter Cathedral in Rome, so he posted his 95 theses and these were spread thanks to the printing press. Luther was later excommunicated by Pope Leo X. One of Luthers main ideals was inclusion, since Catholic Church only offered mass in Latin and lots of people did not know how to speak it or read it, so people didnt understand most of the mass. So, thanks to this, Luther started his movement in German, so people could understand what he was trying to share. Even though Luthers ideals were effectively spread by the printing press, still there were people that did not know how to read or write, and as Luther claimed for inclusion, he couldnt only spread written propaganda, so he printed pamphlets with clear images, but most important, he used music as a way of propaganda to spread his ideals through Europe. In the next few pages, I will be researching through data and literature with the renaissance as their main topic to find information that helps me determine to what extent music acted as propaganda for the protestant reformation, and the impact that this fact has carried with itself, being the main goal of this paper. It is important to make an emphasis in the humanist ideas that were in the mind of people in the renaissance and how they were reflected in the actions and thoughts of people back then.

As a known fact, music has been a part of the worlds civilizations for hundreds of years before the middle ages. Primitive cave drawings, stories from the Bible, and Egyptian hieroglyphs all demonstrate the fact that people had created instruments and had been making music for centuries. When the predominance of the Catholic Church started, dozens of mini-kingdoms were established all over Europe, each presided over by a lord who had fought for and won the land. Mostly through superstitious fear, early Catholic leaders were able to claim absolute power over these lords. The Church was able to dictate the progress of arts and letters according to its own censures and employed all the copyists, musicians and artists. At this time, western music was only property of the Catholic Church.1 As music being owned by the church, the church themselves controlled what was heard and not heard in the masses. The lyrics of the chants were extracted from the antique bible only written in Latin, and people learned the lyrics and the melody, even though a vast majority of the people didnt know Latin in general. Martin Luther took advantage of this fact, since he know that music was a good way of spreading his ideas, first of all, because he knew that people would learn them. He used the cantus firmus technique which consists in borrowing someone elses melody, place it on the tenor and replace its lyrics and replaced its lyrics to spread the idea of the pope being the antichrist, why this? Because Luther knew that people already knew the melody, so they had to only remember the lyrics. This music also may involve parody to the

IPL2 (Florida State University). (Publication date: unknown) Music History 102: The Middle ages [online]. <>

original piece of music. He also translated a big amount of music into German so people could understand them. Thanks to this, songs became a source of news for the general public, these songs would tell stories about events that occurred during the reformation, but obviously, the lyrics of the songs were altered in order to deliver a certain message, and thus songs would have bias and would exaggerate and/or embellish the events in them to support one side of the story. Nevertheless, these songs were an important form of delivery of the current events. A few examples of cantus firmus melody O du armer Judas with replacement on the lyrics are: O jr Munich von Pfaffen (1522), Ach du armer Murnar (c. 1523), and Ach du arger Heinze (1541). Luther also relied in the newborn and very successful printing press to distribute his ideals. Songs were printed in pamphlets and distributed through Europe in general. One of Luthers main and biggest claims was the language barrier, because for that date masses were offered in Latin regardless of the fact that people did not know Latin, so he made sure that all the pamphlets were printed in high German to assure that all of the Germanspeaking regions could understand them. Also, pamphlets did not contain printed notes on it, instead, they would name the original song and they would also contain the lyrics of the new song. These pamphlets also would contain images for the non-reader. These images were graphic and they also were really and quickly easy to interpret. The images often depicted the Catholic Church or the pope working with the Devil or being the Devil itself (himself), or as being a criminal.

As we know, there had to be people open to help Luther pursue his goal and spread his ideals, and one of those was Lucas Cranach (the Elder), who was a Renaissance painter and printmaker, that through years worked with Luther in creating the images that later on would be on the pamphlets and therefore spread through Europe. Cranach also made portraits of Luther. Lucas Cranach was wealthy and was one of the most important and respected citizens, but he also worked for catholic patrons.

Martin Luther. Painted by Lucas Cranach (1520). Retrieved from:

Martin Luther. Painted by Lucas Cranach (1525). Retrieved from: 0&fol=01_Overall&img=DE_LHW_G11_FR189B_2010-06_Overall.tif We have now seen that propaganda was a very persistent tool during the Reformation Era for both Protestant ideology and Catholic ideology. Both sides attempted to create images of the other as the Devil or as a sinner through song, printed word, sermons, and art. This extensive use of art and songs as propaganda helps to preserve the popular history of the Reformation and also helps us to study and understand what was going on. The use of propaganda in discrediting an opponent, the themes used in the propaganda, and the lives of the propagators of propaganda are all reminders to us of the power of propaganda. And also we can now see backwards the power that propaganda had in the reformation and the power that the reformation has had over the world history. It is very likely that Luther could not continue with the reformation without the help of his musical

skills and the help of Lucas Cranach in the spreading of his intentions and ideals. Here, we see that music had a huge impact in the German protestant reformation. Appendix 1 Nun treiben wir den Babst hinaus Now we drive out the pope from Christs church and Gods house. Therein he has reigned in a deadly fashion and has seduced uncountably many souls. Now move along, you damned son, you Whore of Babylon. You are the abomination and the Antichrist, full of lies, death and cunning. Your indulgence, bull and decree, now they receive their seal in the toilet. Thereby you stole the good from the world, and defiled Christs blood as well. The Roman idol is cast out. We accept the true pope. He is Gods Son, the Rock and Christ on whom His church is built. He is the sweet highest Priest, who was sacrificed on the Cross. He shed His blood for our sins, true indulgence flowed from his wounds. He rules His church through his word, God the Father Himself invests Him with power. He is the head of Christianity, to Him be all praise and glory for eternity. As dear summer goes past, grant us Christians joy and peace. Give us a fruitful year, Lord, and preserve us from pope and Turks.

Appendix 2 Images by Lucas Cranach

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