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Kingo’s Song Books

A new recording from the Phemius Consort situates Thomas Kingo and Danish hymnody in the wider context of the baroque sound world.

Thomas Kingo. From: J. P. Trap, "Berømte Danske Mænd og Kvinder." (Famous Danish Men and Women, 1868.)

The Reformation in Denmark

Danish Church came under “new management” during the Reformation, reorganizing itself around Lutheran principles in the early to mid 16th century. The shift in church theology also spelled changes in church music and hymns sung in Danish gradually replaced chant in Lutheran services.

Thomas Kingo

Thomas Kingo was a central player in the development of Protestant music in Denmark and was heavily involved in the 1699 printing of a new church hymnal commissioned by Christian V.

But it was Kingo’s first publications—the two song books of 1674 and 1681—that earned him the reputation as one of Denmark’s greatest hymnodists. In fact, hymns from these 1674 and 1681 songbooks are centuries later, still sung in some Danish congregations; this despite the fact that Kingo never meant them for collective worship. Per Martin Luther’s instruction in the Small Catechism that fathers lead their families in daily devotions, Kingo’s collections of Hymns and Songs (Aandelige Siunge-Koor) were meant for domestic and personal use.

Musical Borrowing

The songbooks are laid out with the texts separate from the melodies to which they are to be sung. Printed in the back of the book, some of the melodies may very well have been composed by Kingo himself, but a good number are definitively by other famous composers of the day.  Not all the melodies were necessarily “church-like” either. Kingo had no qualms about setting his sacred texts to the tune of a secular song. As a result, lots of composers contributed to Danish Church music—some perhaps without even knowing it!

A 2015 Da Capo release from the Phemius Consort situates Kingo and Danish hymnody in the wider context of the baroque sound world. Their program explores not only Kingo and the music in his collections, but also the music by composers who Kingo would have known or from whom Kingo borrowed melodies for his hymns. For instance, for his 1674 collection, Kingo appropriates several melodies by Johann Schop. In another case, the melody for the hymn, Rind nu op i Jesu Naun (“Rise up in Jesus’ name”), is lifted from the famous French opera composer, Jean Baptiste Lully.

Adam Krieger is another composer whose tunes similarly find their way into Kingo’s hymnal. In their performance, the Phemius consort has furthered Krieger’s contribution by augmenting Kingo’s hymns with Krieger instrumental interludes, or ritornellos, from a posthumous 1667 publication. They do a similar thing in Kingo’s Dend praegtig Sool, this time interposing ritornelli from a Buxtehude cantata (Jesu, komm, mein Trost und Lachen) between hymn verses. The appropriations are a bit unconventional, but the idea is not so far-fetched given Kingo’s own propensity for musical borrowing.

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Thomas Kingo’s Sacred Song Books is the Phemius Consort’s debut recording—and it’s a very enjoyable one. Listeners could wish only for one thing more: texts of the hymns are printed but sadly, no translations from Danish provided. The three essays included with the CD booklet, however, are engaging and informative and lend not only musical perspective, but insight into various historical and spiritual aspects of the music.

Janelle Davis

Janelle Davis is a violinist and performer with period instrument ensembles throughout the United States. She is currently a candidate for the Doctor of Music degree from Indiana University, Bloomington where she specializes in early music.

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