David Heermann

David Heermann (1655-1720) was a pastor in Trotschendorff and wrote his Erklärter Lieder=Schatz oder Gesang=Buch that was published posthumously in 1722 in Görlitz. For each song, the songbook contains not only the lyrics but also brief explanations of tricky words or the content of the song.

The preface, written in 1721 by Johann Samuel Laurentii, Past. Prim. begins with extensive reference to numerous Bible texts where singing and praying are addressed. He then brings praise to poets of hymns and church songs from the early church up to and including the Reformation. According to the author, Martin Luther made the faith singable to the simple believers and did much good with his songs for the ‘Erbauung’, the faith education, of people, who could never have been reached through books. However, the songs have been adapted and falsified by malcontents and opponents. Moreover, he worries,

“daß durch neue und verdächtige Lieder auch die alte und reine Lehre verfälschet worden sey: So stehet zu dieser höchst-betrübten und fast noch gefährlichern Zeit eben dieses und fast noch mehr zu besorgen; nachdem der Fanatische, Chiliastische und Enthusiastische Schwindel=Geist seine Greuel in allerhand anmuthig scheinenden Liedern einfältigen Hertzen und Händen suchet beyzubringen und einzuschieben. “

(translation: “that by new and deceitful songs also the old and pure doctrine is falsified: So, in this most distressing and almost even more dangerous time, this and even almost more is to be feared; as the fanatical, chiliastic and enthusiastic deceitful spirit seeks to bring and insert its abominations into simple hearts and hands through all kinds of seemingly charming songs.”)

In the preface, he praises the work of Heermann who, like the other hymnologists of the early 18th century, recognised the problem of obsolete language in early Protestant songs, making it problematic to understand the song even if one sings the right words. Like Johann Christoph Olearius, he argues that while song sermons such as by Johann Benedikt Carpzov can be helpful in this regard, they do not reach everyone. Therefore, Heermann places the explanations in his book directly next to each song so that they can be consulted even by the simple churchgoer when the song is sung.

St John Passion with song strophes

A special feature of this hymnbook is an elaborate passion story, based on John’s gospel.

“Die Historia des Leidens und Sterbens Jesu Christi, unsers Herrn und Heylandes wie solche am Sonntage Judica ohne, und am Char=Freytage mit untermengten Choralen in Görlitz abgesungen wird.”

This story is among the songs for the Passion period and contains role assignments, including a role for the congregation who sing song stanzas in different places and thus become actively involved in the story. According to the clue, in Görlitz it is sung on Sunday Judica without chorales and on Good Friday with the 12 stanzas from different chorales for the congregation mixed in.

All the chorales used are from the old Lutheran song heritage:

  • Strophe 6 from Zion klagt mit Angst und Schmerzen, Johann Heermann (1585-1647)
  • Stroph 4 from Vater unser im Himmelreich, Martin Luther (1483-1546)
  • Strophe 6 from Ich dank dir, lieber Herre, Johann Kolrose (1487-1558)
  • Strophe 1 from Aus tiefer Not schrei ich zu dir, Martin Luther (1483-1546)
  • Strophe 3 from Vater unser im Himmelreich, Martin Luther (1483-1546)
  • Strophe 5 from Durch Adams Fall ist ganz verderbt, Lazarus Spengler (1479-1534)
  • Strofe 3 from Herzliebster Jesu, was hast du verbrochen, Johann Heermann (1585-1647)
  • Strophe 4 of Herzliebster Jesu, was hast du verbrochen, Johann Heermann (1585-1647)
  • Strophes 1-3 of the song Christe du Lamm Gottes, Martin Luther (1483-1546)
  • Strophe 8 of Nun freut euch lieben Christen gmein, Martin Luther (1483-1546)
  • Strophe 11 from Hertzlich thut mich verlangen, Christoph Knoll (1563-1621)
  • Strophe 2 from O Jesu Christ, meins Lebens Licht, Martin Behm (1557-1622)


Download the pages with this passion story from the Erklärter Lieder=Schatz here. Or view the entire book on this website of the University in Halle.

Inspiration for Bach's St John Passion?

The fact that David Heermann was also part of the Lieder-Freunde makes us curious about the relationship between this work and Bach’s Johannes Passion of 1725. It is precisely the handling of the old Protestant church song in this passion that makes it relevant in the context of the group of hymnologists who worked to preserve this song heritage. In a mourning poem on the death of Johann Martin Schamelius (in 1742), Bach and Heermann were even mentioned in one line.

We would like to delve further into this relationship and are therefore looking for other sources of passions for liturgical use that explicitly include the church song, possibly even sung by the congregation. Was David Heermann the first? Or are there other examples? Above all, let us know if you have additional insights that help complete the picture. We are curious!


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