A musical lecture with a twist

On comfort with Luther

The start of the Reformation is dated to 1517, but around 1520 Martin Luther began actively reaching the general public with ‘the new faith’. You no longer had to buy indulgences to find comfort for your soul, because ‘faith alone’ was enough. But that also created uncertainty, because how to do that? And when do you believe strongly enough? In his series of songs from 1524, Luther described in many ways how man could find that comfort of faith. After all, he was also the inventor of the word “pastoral care”. In fact, his opponents sometimes feared the power of his songs more than his books and battle writings.

On church songs with Bach
Exactly 200 years later, there was much debate whether those old songs by Luther and his contemporaries were still needed. After all, the somewhat outdated language and compact poetry were no longer well understood. Moreover, religious movements arose that thought differently about piety. The orthodox Lutheran theologians absolutely wanted to preserve them, precisely because of their comforting value. They called themselves the “Lieder-Freunde” and stated: if people no longer understand the old songs properly, we should not discard them, but rather explain them better! And this is where Bach’s role came into picture, for this is the very reason why in 1724 Bach gave the jubilant songs a new lustre with his beautiful chorale cantatas.

There are many fascinating things to share about Luther’s songs and Bach’s cantatas, but it is even better to also experience for yourself how people in 1524 and 1724 (re)discovered comfort through the songs and cantatas.

In this musical lecture, two ladies who played a major role behind the scenes with the “Lieder-Freunde” of their husbands take you back to 1724. Dorothea Schamelius and Anna Magdalena Bach combine the story of the songs and cantatas with singing them themselves (also for less experienced singers). All the information is entirely scholarly, except of course for the one twist we have hidden in the story (see also the Synopsis below).



About the performers:

Lydia Vroegindeweij did extensive doctoral research on consolation in Luther’s songs, the origins of hymnology and the creation of Bach’s chorale cantatas and will take participants through this fascinating history.

Paula Bär-Giese is a soprano and pianist. She illustrates the lecture with music and accompanies the audience when a chorale is sung together.

Comments from visitors:

  • “We enjoyed ourselves last Monday!”
  • “It was great fun to attend! Wonderful music and interesting to hear more about the history of the songs!”

Book this performance at your venue?

Play dates:

  • The premiere of this lecture/workshop/performance was on Monday evening 8 April 2024 at the Luther Museum in Amsterdam.
  • 9 November 2024, 4pm at the Amersfoort Swan / Lutheran Church Amersfoort.

This musical lecture can be booked (in English) in 2024 and 2025 (through May). A good piano or grand piano must be available in the hall.

Two variations are possible:

a. Lecture with music, with the audience singing along with the closing chorale only. Duration: about 60 minutes.
b. Lecture with music, with the audience singing along with more songs. Duration: approximately 80 minutes.

For more information and bookings, please contact Lydia Vroegindeweij.


It is spring 1724. Johann Sebastian Bach has been working in Leipzig for almost a year now, and he has convincingly presented himself with a year-long cycle of cantatas, a piece of music of about 18 minutes for each week, in which Bible texts were clarified for churchgoers with music, with recitatives and arias – a form also known in opera -, and usually concluded with a stanza from a well-known church song. The Lutheran lectionary (reading schedule) covers one year, so in the second year, the same Bible readings come up each Sunday. Time to think of something new, but what?

Anna Magdalena, Bach’s second wife, is a professional soprano and helps him write out and produce the sheet music in different parts for the weekly cantatas. She is thus closely involved in the writing process and likes to think along with him from her expertise.

She has known her friend Dorothea Schamelius from Naumburg since her childhood in Zeitz. Her husband, the theologian Johann Martin Schamelius, is also a frequent writer, but on the background and content of all Lutheran church songs. He regularly published another revised version of his standard work, the Naumburgisches Gesangbuch. A completely revised and improved version will be published this year, and Dorothea is busy correcting the proofs. The occasion is that it is now, in 1724, exactly 200 years since Luther wrote his first series of church hymns and the first three Protestant songbooks were published. Schamelius therefore includes the contents of those first editions as an appendix in his new Evangelischer Lieder-Commentarius, which will be published this year.

Schamelius and Bach belong to the ‘Lieder-Freunde’ group, a group of theologians and poets who are working to preserve the ancient Lutheran song heritage from the 16th and early 17th centuries. These days, this is under threat from critics, who think the old songs should now make way for new ones with more modern doctrine. Moreover, that outdated and difficult language is no longer easily understood by people. The ‘Lieder-Freunde’ absolutely disagree, because it is especially those old songs that are so valuable as trusted life companions for the faithful. In fact, they often offer more comfort than a Bible text. And if people no longer understand them well, we should not discard them, but explain them better.

Time for a creative idea. Leave that to the ladies Bach and Schamelius!


Dorothea Schamelius is staying at the Bach house for a week as she supervises the production of her husband’s latest book with the printer in Leipzig. She is working on checking the proofs.

Anna Magdalena Bach is busy writing out parts of Johann Sebastian’s next cantata.

In between there is time for socialising and …. devising a ruse to explain the old songs better!

Video-impression (in Dutch)