Tunes (1958)

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Like most early Protestant hymnals (many European hymnals continued the pattern), Anabaptist hymnals contained no musical notation, printing the name of the tune to be used at the head of the hymn.

Old Dutch Mennonite hymnals like Veelderhande Liedekens (1556 and repr.), Een Nieu Liedenboeck (1562), Lietboecxken van den Offer des Heeren (1563), Hans de Ries' Lietboeck (1582), Het Tweede Liedeboeck (1583), and many others of the 16th and 17th centuries follow this pattern; at the head of each hymn is found at least one and often two tunes of familiar songs, religious as well as secular. Mennonite hymnals outside Holland generally continued this practice until the middle of the 19th century or later. Tunes were in these cases handed down by memory, except when printed in separate books either for the accompanying organ or for voices. The first Palatinate Mennonite hymnal, the Christliches Gesangbuch of 1832, did contain many tunes, but Jacob Ellenberger, the editor, also prepared a lithographed book of tunes in four-part harmony for use with the hymnal. The first regularly printed tune book for Mennonites appeared in the mid-19th century. It was Vierstimmige Melodien (Dürkheim, 1856), which served the hymnal of the South German Mennonites. Franz's Choralbuch (Leipzig, 1860) served the hymnal of the Mennonites of South Russia with a four-part harmonized tune book. His 1865 Choralbuch was for only one part. A West Prussian Choralbuch appeared in 1898. All of these appeared in reprinted editions, the Franz Choralbuch of 1865 in the United States and Canada as well. Neither the Dutch nor the American Mennonites produced tune books of their own. An examination of the tunes in these books as well as the titles of the tunes used in all European Mennonite hymnals after the Anabaptist period reveals that they used the tunes prevailing in Protestant hymnals from which the hymns were borrowed.

There has been almost no composition of hymn tunes by European Mennonites. In the 20th century some hymn compositions by American Mennonites have appeared in American Mennonite hymnals. In the Church hymnal, Mennonite (Mennonite Church 1927) 27 of the 645 tunes were by 12 different Mennonite composers, all members of the Mennonite Church (MC). Among them were J. D. Brunk, who had 12, A. B. Kolb 3, W. K. Jacobs 2, the rest one each. Since then Walter E. Yoder (Mennonite Church) has composed a number of tunes, of which three have been used, two in Life songs No. 2 and one in Songs of the church. Four tunes by Thersa Hostetler (MC) were used in Songs of the church, A total of 10 Mennonite (MC) tunes were used in this hymnal.

A thorough study of the hymn tunes used in the 52 English hymnals of American Mennonites published 1832-1956, made by Paul Wohlgemuth, revealed that of the 3,860 tunes used only 168 were composed by Mennonites. Wohlgemuth comments: "The Old Mennonites have produced the greatest number of composers and the greatest number of Mennonite hymn tunes. The only Mennonite outside of the Old Mennonite Church who has composed hymn tunes to any extent is Herbert C. Richert, a member of the Mennonite Brethren Church. In the opinion of the writer, Mennonite hymn tunes do not meet the standard of the English or German hymn tunes, yet they are generally better than the standard type of American gospel song. It appears that what is generally called 'Mennonite Hymnody' (the hymn tunes appearing in Mennonite hymnals) is in essence a hymnody borrowed from many different sources." Wohlgemuth's statistics reveal further that only 191, or 5 per cent, of the total of 3,860 tunes used were by German composers, and another 57 from other European countries outside England (which furnished 10 per cent); America furnished 57 per cent, while 23 per cent were of unclassified origin. It is clear that modern American Mennonites are singing predominantly American and English tunes, although those groups using German hymnals such as the Amish, the Old Colony Mennonites, and the Canadian General Conference Mennonite and Mennonite Brethren groups, of course sing predominantly German tunes. Wohlgemuth makes the following general comment: "The publishing of Mennonite hymnals in the English language began during the birth of the gospel song movement in America. The influence of this movement upon Mennonite hymnals is seen in the use of many American hymn tunes of the refrain type. The gospel song movement has been the greatest single influence upon the Mennonite hymnals published in the English language. The one group of hymnals that has been least affected by this movement is that published by the General Conference Mennonites. In recent years the trend in the larger Mennonite branches has been to use more dignified and more highly qualified hymn tunes."

The first Mennonite hymnal to appear with notes giving the melodies was the 1648 edition of the Gesang-boeck by Hans de Ries, although in the 1618 Het Boeck der Gesangen the first part containing the Psalms had tunes. In the 18th century all new Mennonite hymnals published in the Netherlands were provided with notes, though many reprints of older hymnals as late as the 1814 reprint of the Kleyn Hoorns Liet-boeck were without notes. The first European Mennonite hymnal outside Holland to publish melodies (this time with four-part harmony but not for all hymns) was the 1910 edition of the South German Gesangbuch, although the 1832 Christliches Gesangbuch for the Palatine Mennonites printed one-part melodies with numerous hymns. No Mennonite hymnals printed in Prussia or Russia ever contained tunes, either four-part or one-part. The first official American Mennonite hymnals to contain tunes (four-part) were the General Conference Mennonite Gesangbuch mit Noten (1890) and the Mennonite Church (MC) Hymns and tunes (1890), although the latter printed each tune only once accompanied by the several hymns appropriate to be used with it. The Philharmonia by M. D. Wenger, published at Elkhart in 1875, describes itself as follows: "A collection of Tunes, Adapted to public and private worship, containing tunes for all the hymns in the English Mennonite Hymn Book, the Gemeinschaftliche, Unparteiische und Allgemeine Liedersammlungen, the Unparteiische Gesangbuch, and the Mennonitische Gesangbuch, with Instructions and Explanations in English and German, also English and German Texts to most of the Tunes, Metrical Indexes, etc., including a greater variety of Metres of Church Music than any other Work of the Kind now Published."

After 1890 all the official hymnals of the major American Mennonite bodies appeared in modern form with tunes and hymns printed together page by page. 

The Harmonia Sacra, which contained tunes with hymns, although printed by a Mennonite (Joseph Funk) and edited or written by him (preceded by Die Allgemein Nützliche Choral Music of 1816, and called A compilation of genuine church music in its first four editions 1832-47), was intended for the general public including Mennonites, but was not used in the regular Mennonite worship service.

The sources of the hymn tunes used by the Anabaptists, as indicated in their five 16th-century hymnals, the South German-Swiss Ausbund, the Lower Rhine Ein schon Gesangbüchlein and the four Dutch: Lietboecxken van den Offer des Heeren, Veelderhande Liedekens, Een nieu Liedenboeck, and Het Tweede Liedeboeck, together with the tunes in the Lieder der Hutterischen Brüder first published in 1914 from earlier manuscript materials of 16th-century origin, have been studied carefully by Rosella Doerksen. She had the benefit of George Jackson's study of the origins of the tunes of the Ausbund, the results of which appeared in 1945. Jackson concludes from his study of the 36 transcribed Ausbund tunes published by J. W. Yoder and a comparison with the tunes found in Erk and Böhme's Deutscher Liederhort (2nd ed., Leipzig, 1925) that the Ausbund tunes as sung today by the Amish are 16th-century tunes, many of them folk-tunes, some of them, such as the Hildebrand-ton, going back to medieval sources. Jackson published a table of "Amish Tunes and Old German Folk Melodies with Which They Show Greater or Lesser Kinship."

Rosella Doerksen's conclusions are as follows: (1) No original tunes by Anabaptists are extant, and there is no evidence of any dependence upon original melodic compositions by Anabaptists. (2) The tunes in the Anabaptist hymnals were borrowed, chiefly from various Reformation era sources, both sacred and secular, including many folk-tunes, German and Dutch, but including a few French, and including a very few medieval liturgical tunes. Fortunately all hymns carry an indication of the tune to be used, either by a title or by the first line of the song most commonly sung to that tune in the source used. (3) The secular tunes chosen need not come out of secular sources but may come directly out of earlier Lutheran or Reformed [or even Moravian. HSB] hymnals which borrowed secular tunes for sacred hymns. (4) On the whole the Anabaptist tunes were basically a folk-song art. (5) There was considerable duplication of tunes among the various hymnals, just as there was of the hymns.

The three German Anabaptist hymnals, according to Rosella Doerksen, contained a total of 607 hymns, to which 347 tune indications were given. Of the 73 Ausbund tunes 45 were duplicates of the 179 Hutterite tunes, and of the 95 tunes of Ein schon Gesangbüchlein 38 were duplicated either in the Ausbund or in the Hutterite tune collection. Some tunes were used very often, e.g., in the Hutterite hymnal one was used 32 times, another 30 times. Detailed lists of tunes of various categories are found in Doerksen's study. Much less attention is given by Doerksen to the Dutch Anabaptist tunes, hence her results for the Dutch hymnals are meager but still worthwhile.

Transcriptions of a considerable number of Amish hymn tunes have been made. J. W. Yoder published his transcriptions in Amische Lieder. Arthur Roth's manuscript transcriptions are deposited in Mennonite Historial Library at Goshen College. The Library of Congress has recordings of a number of these tunes made by Allen Lomax, and a copy of these is in Mennonite Historical Library (Goshen, Indiana, USA), besides some recordings by John Umble.


Burkhart, Charles. "The Church Music of the Old Order Amish and Old Colony Mennonites." Mennonite Quarterly Review 27 (1953): 34-54.

Duerksen, Rosella R. "Anabaptist Hymnody of the Sixteenth Century, a Study of its Marked Individuality Coupled with a Dependence Upon Contemporary Secular and Sacred Musical Style and Form." Doctoral dissertation, Union Theological Seminary, 1956.

Jackson, George P. "The American Amish Sing Medieval Folk Tunes Today." Southern Folklore Quarterly 10 (1945): 151-57.

Jackson, George P. "The Strange Music of the Old Order Amish." Musical Quarterly 31 (1945): 175-88.

Umble, John. "Recent Research in Amish Hymn Tunes." Mennonite Quarterly Review 24 (1950): 91-93.

Umble, John. "The Old Order Amish, Their Hymns and Hymn Tunes." Journal of American Folk-lore 52 (1939): 82-95.

Wohlgemuth, Paul W. "Mennonite Hymnals Published in the English Language." Doctoral dissertation, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, 1956.

Yoder, J. W. Amische Lieder. Huntingdon: Yoder, 1942.

Author(s) Harold S Bender
Date Published 1958

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Bender, Harold S. "Tunes (1958)." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1958. Web. 22 Feb 2020.

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Bender, Harold S. (1958). Tunes (1958). Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 22 February 2020, from


Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 4, pp. 753-755. All rights reserved.

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