st. 1-3 = Luke 1:26-45
st. 4 = Phil. 2:6-11
As attested by Augustine in 372, as well as by other early writers, Ambrose wrote this hymn in Latin ("Veni, Redemptor gentium") in the fourth century. The text appears in a number of eighth- and ninth-century manuscripts. Martin Luther (b. Eisleben, Saxony, Germany, 1483; d. Eisleben, 1546) translated this text into German ("Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland") in 1523 and included it in the Erfurt Enchiridia (1524). Consequently "Savior of the Nations" has become possibly the best known of the Lutheran Advent hymns. Various English translations are found in modern hymnals, many of which use, at least in part, William M. Reynolds's translation from his Hymns, Original and Selected (1851). Using the Latin and German texts as well as several English translations, Calvin Seerveld (PHH 22) prepared the translation that appears in the Psalter Hymnal in Toronto, Ontario, in 1984.
Stanzas 1-3 explain in hymn form what the Apostles' Creed confesses: he was "conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary" (see also Luke 1:26-45). Stanza 4 alludes to Philippians 2:6-11, which speaks of Christ's humiliation and exaltation. Stanza 5 is a prayer for faithfulness, and stanza 6 is a plea that Christ continue to intercede for his people. Stanza 7, a doxology, points to Christ's second coming and the coming of his eternal "lasting kingdom."
Ambrose (b. Treves, Germany, 340; d. Milan, Italy, 397), one of the great Latin church fathers, is remembered best for his preaching, his struggle against the Arian heresy, and his introduction of metrical and antiphonal singing into the Western church. Ambrose was trained in legal studies and distinguished himself in a civic career, becoming a consul in Northern Italy. When the bishop of Milan, an Arian, died in 374, the people demanded that Ambrose, who was not ordained or even baptized, become the bishop. He was promptly baptized and ordained, and he remained bishop of Milan until his death. Ambrose successfully resisted the Arian heresy and the attempts of the Roman emperors to dominate the church. His most famous convert and disciple was Augustine. Of the many hymns sometimes attributed to Ambrose, only a handful is thought to be authentic.
The influence of Martin Luther was monumental in biblical studies, theology, and the course of church history, but his influence was equally important in the worship and music of the church. He was educated at Magdeburg, Eisenach, and Erfurt and Intended to enter the legal profession. But at the age of twenty-two he decided to become a monk and entered the Augustinian monastery in Erfurt. There he under¬went the required rigors of spiritual training and was ordained in 1507. In 1510 he was commissioned to go to Rome to discuss a controversy within the Augustinian order. While in Rome, Luther was shocked by the worldliness and commercialism of the Italian clergy and the ostentation of the papacy.
After his return to Germany, Luther was appointed professor of sacred Scriptures at the University of Wittenberg, a position he retained until his death. In his lectures and preaching Luther began to teach the biblical and Augustinian doctrines of salvation by grace through faith in Christ, and he began to urge reforms of the abuses in the church. This call for reform came to a head when the Dominican friar Johann Teael appeared selling indulgences. Luther protested the whole system of salvation as taught by the church and published his "Ninety-five Theses" in 1517. This challenge resulted in a condemnation from Rome, and Luther found himself on a collision course with the church. He devoted the rest of his life to working out the implications of his stance and to assuming the leadership of the Protestant Reformation. Luther embodied his teachings in sermons, lectures, debates, table conversations, devotions, letters, and songs. His collected works number over fifty volumes (in English translation), not including one of his greatest contributions-the translation of the Bible into German.
Luther also became involved in the reformation of the worship of the church. It is generally recognized that in his liturgy Luther remained much closer to the Roman Catholic Church than did Calvin. However, both his Latin Mass ("Formula missae," 1523) and German Mass ("Deutscher messe," 1526) incorporated the basic teachings of the Reformation and became the model of worship for later Lutheran (and other) churches. Luther also promoted congregational singing and wrote thirty-five hymns, many based on the psalms and others on early hymns. Scholars are not completely certain how many hymn tunes he composed himself or arranged from other sources, but more are attributed to Luther now than in the past. Luther was a fine singer and lute player, and his love of music influenced the Lutheran tradition. In cooperation with a number of associates, Luther supervised the compilation of various hymnals, ranging from the Achtliederbuch (1524) to Babst's Geystliche Lieder (1545).
During Advent or for Christmas Day (on Christmas Day st. 1-6 could be sung during the worship service, with st. 7 reserved for the doxology); stanzas 4-7 could also be used during Lent and for Easter Sunday.
--Psalter Hymnal Handbook
NUN KOMM DER HEIDEN HEILAND is a chorale derived from a chant. Among the simplest of the Lutheran repertoire, it is framed by identical lines–l and 4. Sing the entire hymn with antiphonal groups (the practice its original Latin author, Ambrose, strongly promoted). Sing some stanzas in unison and others in harmony. Always reserve stanza 7, the doxology, for a strong unison with full accompaniment. Play this music in two long lines to match the couplet structure of the textual lines.
The tune dates from a twelfth- or thirteenth-century Einsiedeln manuscript. Presumably by Johann Walther (PHH 398), the adaptation of the tune was published in the 1524 Erfurt Enchiridia. Johann S. Bach (PHH 7) used the tune for preludes in the Clavierübung and Orgelbüchlein and in his cantatas 36 and 62.
The harmonization in the Psalter Hymnal comes from Seth Calvisius's Hymni Sacri (1594). Originally named Seth Kalwitz, Calvisius (b. Gorsleben, Thuringia, Germany, 1556; d. Leipzig, Germany, 1615) became known as the leading music theoretician of his time. He was educated at the universities of Helmstedt and Leipzig and spent much of his life teaching and writing about music history and theory. He taught at the Fürstenschule in Schulpforta from 1582 to 1594 and at the University of Leipzig from 1594 until his death. He also served as cantor at several churches. In addition to his theoretical work, Calvisius wrote psalm and hymn tunes and anthems, and he edited the first hymn book published in Leipzig, Harmonia cantionum ecclesiasticarum (1597).
--Psalter Hymnal Handbook