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Hutterite Songs.

Hutterite Songs. By Helen Martens. (Anabaptist and Mennonite Studies.) Kitchener, ON: Pandora Press; Scottdale, PA: Herald Press, 2002. [xxi, 330 p. ISBN 1-894710-24-X. $29.] Music examples, bibliography.

For the past several decades, folklorists, historians, ethnomusicologists, and literary scholars have been engaged in vigorous debate over the nature of oral transmission of both texts and music. Helen Martens's revision of her doctoral dissertation on the origins and aural transmission of Hutterite hymn tunes (Hutterite Songs: The Origins and Aural Transmission of Their Melodies from the Sixteenth Century [Ph.D. diss., Columbia University, 1968]) is a welcome addition to this literature. Hutterite Songs traces the musical roots of the 450-year-old tradition of unaccompanied unison singing among the Hutterites, a communal society that now resides in central and western Canada but had its roots in the Protestant Reformation. Using both musical and sociological data, Martens links traditional Hutterite hymn tunes to a myriad of sacred and secular sources emanating from the medieval period to the German Reformation in the early sixteenth century. For this revision, Martens examines "the relationship between Hutterite history and music, Hutterite theology of music, and their singing practices" (p. xxi). This objective is addressed most explicitly through an overview of Hutterite history (chap. 1) and a brief discussion of Hutterite musical aesthetics and singing praxis (chap. 2), although these themes continue to thread their way throughout the ensuing discussion.

Martens devotes the majority of her book (chaps. 3-9) to identifying and contextualizing musical precedents for Hutterite hymn tunes associated with Die Lieder der Hutterischen Bruder (The Songs of the Hutterian Brethren, or LHBr). While hymn texts in this official Hutterite hymnal (edited by the Hutterite Brethren of America [Scottdale, PA: Mennonitisches Verlagshaus, 1914]), have been passed down via handwritten manuscripts since the early sixteenth century, melodies for the 347 songs are not notated in the hymnal. Instead, they are indicated by tune-names only, making the task of tracing through four centuries of oral tradition a daunting one.

Martens's persistence in finding musical precedents was fueled in part by her quest to disprove German music scholar Franz Magnus Bohme's assertion that folk melodies still in the active repertoire in the late nineteenth century "[could] be traced back no further than the eighteenth century" (Franz Magnus Bohme, Altdeutsches Liederbuch [Leipzig: Breitkopf und Hartel, 1877] p. lxx, quoted in Martens, p. xvi). Her persistence was generously rewarded. Careful perusal of historic sources enabled Martens to find transcriptions of all but two of the more than 180 Hutterite melodies designated for LHBr song texts. Subsequent recording of these melodies among Canadian Hutterites in the mid-1960s often revealed a surprising similarity to a wide range of counterparts from earlier centuries. Thus, Martens was able to demonstrate that Hutterite hymns still sung in the twentieth century have their sources in genres such as medieval liturgical chant (chap. 5), Renaissance court songs (chap. 3), sixteenth-century sacred and secular folk tunes (chaps. 4 and 9), and Reformation hymnody (chaps. 6-8), all extant well before Bohme's eighteenth-century cutoff point.

As Martens notes, it is surprising that a group which was scattered and almost decimated by religious persecution shortly after its beginning has maintained a centuries-long hymn tradition. In fact, she notes that Hutterites still sing about forty of their original melodies, including "Es warb ein Knab nach ritterlichen Dingen," a melody "German scholars had declared lost" (p. 291). Present-day Hutterites themselves were surprised to discover that the melody they use for their communion hymn is that of a thirteenth-century Catholic chant, "Pange lingua." Inclusion of both original and present-day versions of many of these tunes allows the reader to enter fully into Martens's discussion.

For the curious reader, the endnotes offer a wealth of information and substantiate textual comments concerning the socio-historical context of Hutterite music making. The endnotes, for example, offer further insight into the Hutterite proscription against instrumental music (p. 113, n. 9) and the Meistersinger song-writing tradition (p. 116, n. 63; p. 188, n. 14). Additionally, they include a contemporary Hutterite perspective on musical authenticity (p. 169, n. 46), provide biographical details about certain Hutterite songwriters (p. 78, n. 39), comment on the similarity between Hutterite and Lutheran worship patterns (p. 55, n. 17), identify the seven Hutterite colonies whose singing Martens was allowed to tape-record (p. xxii, n. 4), and ably demonstrate the thoroughness of Martens's research and dialogue with the parallel literature on European sacred and folk melodies (e.g., p. 78, n. 26 and p. 217, n. 15), though it is only in the endnotes that the frequently-used term, contrafacta, is defined (p. 63; cf, p. 285 n. 34). Through these and other details, the endnotes perpetually enrich the main text.

The final chapter of the book vacillates between conclusion and personal memoir, and it is here that the tension between the scholar trained in the positivist historical approach of her mentor, music historian Paul Henry Lang, and the researcher engaged in a phenomenological experience is expressed most poignantly. Like the introduction, the conclusion shows the warmth, diplomacy, and ethical integrity with which Martens conducted her research among Canadian Hutterites. One can appreciate the challenges of tracing the historical processes of a group whose written records have largely been destroyed and whose musical traditions are strongly oral, and can only guess at the despair of a researcher looking for contemporary comparative data only to be ordered "to leave the colony immediately with [her] 'devil's machine'" (p. xxi). Yet, one suspects there are many more incidents from Martens's fieldwork that could provide a fuller understanding of indigenous Hutterite perspectives.

Of more consequence is the fact that while retaining the empiricist framework of her dissertation ensures a thorough perusal of older musical and textual precedents, it often leaves unanswered more substantive questions concerning both historic and contemporary Hutterite musical practices. For example, what was the nature of the sixteenth-century popular culture that Hutterite musical practices were resisting? How do Martens's findings on Hutterite musical practices compare with research on historic Anabaptist and contemporary Mennonite groups which, like the Hutterites, have maintained a cultural and musical identity separate from more mainstream Mennonite groups (e.g. Rosella Reimer Duerksen, The Anabaptist Hymnody of the 16th Century: A Study of Its Marked Individualism Coupled With a Dependence. [Ph.D. diss., Union Theological Seminary, 1956]); historic and more recent studies of musical practices among the Old Order Amish (George Jackson Pullen, "The American Amish Sing Medieval Folk Tunes Today," Southern Folklore Quarterly [June 1946]: 151-57; Charles Bruckhart, The Music of the Old Order Amish and the Old Colony Mennonites: A Contemporary Monodic Practice [Ph.D. diss, Colorado College, 1952]; Lee R. Bartel, "The Tradition of the Amish in Music," The Hymn 37, no. 4 [October 1986]: 20-26); or more recent research on Old Colony Mennonites (Wesley Berg, "Hymns of the Old Colony Mennonites and the Old Way of Singing," the Musical Quarterly 80 [1996]: 71-117)? How have the Hutterites avoided the melismas or melodic ornamentations which, according to George Jackson Pullen (cited above) and Nicholas Temperley, are characteristic of societies that have, either volitionally or circumstantially, been culturally, ideologically, and musically separated from their surrounding societies? (Nicholas Temperley, "The old way of singing: Its origins and development," Journal of the American Musicological Society 34, no. 3 [1981]: 511-544). What explanations do Hutterites provide for present-day differences in melodic realizations amongst various colonies? And most significantly, how do Martens's findings on aural transmission compare with the burgeoning scholarship on oral transmission theory of the past several decades? These and other questions remain for future researchers to explore.

Finally, one cannot help but notice the simple, yet elegant cover design: a relief of four Hutterite women singing, presumably from LHBr. Yet, the author could have been better served by the book's designer. Musical scores often straddle the page or are awkwardly separated in relation to explanatory text (e.g., p. 127). A larger page format could have contributed to greater ease in reading. Another musical issue, noted by musicologist Wesley Berg, is Martens's occasional misidentification of modes and her assumption that certain sixteenth-century modes are medieval ("Book Traces Origins of Hutterite Songs," Canadian Mennonite 7, no. 14 [July 14, 2003]).

For all its strengths and weaknesses, however, this work will be a sourcebook for those considering further research on Hutterite music as it provides the most complete discussion available in the English language. As well, Martens's work appears at a critical juncture in Hutterite musical identity and expression: at the nexus between maintaining a centuries-long communal tradition and the adoption of various new forms of musical expression such as the formation of choirs, the formal study of conducting, the playing of musical instruments, and the exploration of what Martens calls "more and more non Hutterite songs," including the four-part classical repertoire (p. xiii). This more formally learned and literate-based approach to musical education parallels current changes in other aspects of Hutterite education, namely, to move beyond the conventional eighth-grade schooling into post-secondary education. It is in this context, that Martens's work assumes its most significant role: to serve as a valuable historic reference point for future scholars of Hutterite music, yet also for those interested in the music of the German Reformation generally and of nonconformist Anabaptist groups in particular, in addition to its insights on musical change and continuity.


Sir Wilfred Grenfell College, Memorial University of Newfoundland
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Author:Klassen, Doreen Helen
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Dec 1, 2004
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