Lasst die Herzen immer fröhlich

A second set of Mennonite hymns of choice.

Performed by Canzona and conducted by Henry Engbrecht, 2010.

Available online at iTunes

About Lasst die Herzen immer fröhlich

The 31 hymns recorded here represent a continuation of the tradition of Russian-Mennonite congregational singing presented in Canzona’s previous CD recording: “Hallelujah! Schöner Morgen,” released in November 2009. With two exceptions (Track 1 and 15), the hymns in this recording are again chosen from the Gesangbuch der Mennoniten [GB1942] published for Canadian General Conference Mennonite congregations in 1942. They represent a selection of sixteenth- and seventeenth-century German chorales, eighteenth- and nineteenth-century German devotional songs, and nineteenth-century American gospel songs, which were central to the faith expression of General Conference Mennonite congregations throughout Canada from the 1920s to the present.

The 1942 Gesangbuch was a continuation of the Russian Mennonite hymn tradition established 50 years earlier in the Gesangbuch zum gottesdienstlichen und häuslichen Gebrauch in den Mennoniten-Gemeinden Russlands (Songbook for church and home use in the Mennonite Congregations of Russia), which was published in 1892 by Peter Neufeld in Neu-Halbstadt (present-day Molochansk, Ukraine). The 1892 Gesangbuch [GB1892] itself was a radical departure from the earlier Mennonite Geistreiches Gesangbuch [GG], which was first published in Prussia in 1767, went through 10 editions in Prussia and another 7 editions in Russia. By the time it was replaced in 1892, the old Gesangbuch had been in use in Russian Mennonite worship for over 100 years, an indication of the conservative nature of Mennonite worship in Russia. GB 1892 contained only 25% of the hymn texts from the old Gesangbuch and represented a radical shift away from the earlier Mennonite hymn-tradition. This clearly reflected the extent to which members of the Kirchengemeinde (the Conference Mennonite Church) in Russia had been influenced by the same nineteenth-century religious currents (especially the influence of the German Baptists, the German Erweckungsbewegung and Gemeinschaftsbewegung, and American revivalism) that had brought about the birth of the Mennonite Brethren Church a generation earlier in 1860. The Gesangbuch zum gottesdienstlichen und häuslichen Gebrauch went through five editions in Russia, the last one appearing in 1914, and another edition in Canada, where it continued in use by the almost 20,000 Conference Mennonites (Kirchengemeinde) who immigrated to Canada in the 1920s.

From the 725 hymns contained in GB1892, the editors of the 1942 Gesangbuch, including Johann G. Rempel, David Paetkau and Dietrich H. Epp, chose the 550 songs they thought best suited to the spiritual and worship needs of the new Canadian congregations. In their preface to the 1942 Gesangbuch, the editors highlighted two important functions of hymn singing in the life of the Mennonite community: singing served to beautify the service (“Gesang verschönt das Leben”), and more than that, it also helped to unify a congregation (“Gesang einigt die Gemeinde”).

The songs in the 1892 Gesangbuch had accompanied the Mennonite people in the “good” times from 1892 to 1914, and in the ensuing “bad” times of war, revolution, civil war, terror and famine. During these difficult years after 1914 many songs took on a new and poignant meaning for Mennonites as they struggled to maintain their faith communities in the face of severe opposition from communist Soviet authorities. At the hands of the secret police (known variously as the Cheka, GPU or NKVD) hundreds of church leaders, choir directors and Sunday school teachers were arrested and exiled; church buildings were closed or confiscated them for use as granaries, barns for pigs and cattle, theatres or night clubs.

In the face of this persecution, the two competing Mennonite congregations (the Kirchengemeinde, representing approximately ¾ of Russian Mennonites, and the Mennonite Brethren), whose earlier relationships had often been bitter and hostile in nature, experienced a short period of cooperation, and gained a new appreciation of their varying musical and religious traditions. When they came to Canada, the two groups often continued to worship together in small pioneer rural communities into the 1930s. Conference Mennonites especially learned to appreciate the participation of youth choirs in worship, and also learned to love the gospel song tradition that was characteristic of MB congregations. Because the original 1942 Gesangbuch contained practically no such Gospel songs, the editors – at the request of many Conference congregations – were forced to add an appendix of 50 “popular spiritual songs” (lieblicher geistlicher Lieder), mostly American gospel songs in German translation, in the 1950 and subsequent editions.

Of the 31 hymns recorded on this album, five may be classified as German chorales (Track 3, 5, 8, 11, 25); another eighteen hymns originated in various eighteenth-century (Track 2, 12, 14, 18, 21, 30) and nineteenth-century (Track 1, 4, 6, 9, 13, 15, 19, 20, 22, 27, 28, 31) German renewal movements. Finally, seven hymns originated in the nineteenth-century American revival and Gospel Song tradition (Track 7, 10, 16, 17, 23, 24, 26).

The hymn “Die Zeit ist kurz, o Mensch sei weise” is an original Russian-Mennonite hymn text attributed to the well-known teacher and minister Bernhard Harder (1832-1884), the most prolific Mennonite hymn writer in Russia. The tune was provided by an unknown Russian-Mennonite composer, writing in the familiar style of nineteenth-century German Spiritual Songs.

These 31 songs, like the 30 found in the previous CD recording, reflect the communal faith experience of at least four generations of Mennonites in Canada. They are songs that spoke to their hopes and fears, their joys and sorrows, and provided encouragement, comfort and support in the difficult years of emigration and resettlement in Canada in the years after 1923.

– Peter Letkemann (Winnipeg)

Track listing

  1. Hallelujah! schöner Morgen
  2. O wie freun wir uns der Stunde
  3. Ich bete an die Macht der Liebe
  4. Gott ist die Liebe
  5. Liebe die du mich zum Bilde
  6. Gott ist mein Hort
  7. Harre meine Seele
  8. Du mein ewig treuer Jesus
  9. O Gott, mein Gott
  10. Wehrlos und verlassen
  11. So lange Jesus bleibt der Herr
  12. Aus dem Himmel ferne
  13. Ich singe dir mit Herz und Mund
  14. Womit soll ich dich wohl loben
  15. Komm doch zur Quelle des Lebens
  16. Es schaut bei Nacht und Tage
  17. O mein Jesu, du bist’s wert
  18. Bei dir Jesu will ich bleiben
  19. Ich weiss einen Strom
  20. O wie süss klingt Jesu Name
  21. Jesu, meine Freude
  22. Was mein Herz erfreut
  23. Näher, mein Gott, zu dir
  24. Was kann es schönres geben
  25. So lang mein Jesus lebt
  26. Horch, dein Heiland lässt dich laden
  27. Jesu, geh voran
  28. Nun ruhen alle Wälder
  29. Lieber Vater hoch im Himmel
  30. Schenk uns, Vater, deinen Segen

Thank you to the supporters of the recording project

  • Winnifred and Peter Barkman
  • Ilse and Philipp R. Ens
  • Betty Ann and Elmer Friesen
  • Linie and Ted Friesen
  • Alice and Harold Funk
  • Dorothy and Nick Heide
  • Hilda and Elmer Hildebrand
  • John Kuhl
  • Peter Letkemann
  • Eleanor and Walter Loewen
  • Shirley and Bill Loewen
  • Jean and Jake Rempel
  • Milton Penner
  • WBS Construction
  • Economy Consolidated Enterprises Ltd.
  • Golden West Broadcasting Ltd.
  • DREW Foundation Inc.

Credits

Dan Donahue – Recording Engineer
John Funk – Artistic Design
Peter Letkemann – Musicology Consultant
Philipp R. Ens – Production Consultant
Alice Pound – Research Assistant
Recorded at First Mennonite Church, Winnipeg

The church on the cover is First Mennonite Church in Winnipeg, built in 1948. The congregation, born in 1926, was the first urban congregation in the province of Manitoba. The hymns in this album were recorded in this building where they are also still being sung in weekly German services (2010).