November 29, 2020

Weary of All Trumpeting

Hugo Distler in 1941 at the age of 32.

O grant us help against the foe, for human help is worthless.
Ps. 108:12
As I meditate on this verse this morning, I am led to think of Hugo Distler. Distler was a 25-year-old German musician when he joined the Nazi party in 1933—the same year Hitler came to power. Though his real commitment to the movement might be debated, it cannot be denied that because of his outward loyalty to the Third Reich, he was offered phenomenal career advancement throughout his short life.

One such opportunity came to him in 1938 when the German government commissioned Distler to write music glorifying the Anschluss (the union of Germany and Austria). The words paired with the tune he composed were, of course, celebratory and nationalistic in nature.

At the height of his fame as a musician and conductor, Distler took his own life in 1942. He was only 34. Though the reasons for his suicide are unknown, at least one musicologist wrote that "it appears that he saw the futility of attempting to serve both God and Nazis, and came to terms with his own conscience unequivocally."

Distler's Anschluss-tune was later paired by an American hymn-writer named Martin Franzmann with a text decrying the futility of warfare. I will allow Franzmann's words to be my morning prayer (you may listen to a striking arrangement of the tune by clicking on the video beneath it):
Weary of all trumpeting,
weary of all killing,

weary of all songs that sing
promise, nonfulfilling.

We would raise, O Christ, one song:
we would join in singing
that great music pure and strong,
wherewith heav’n is ringing.


Captain Christ, O lowly Lord,
Servant-King, your dying

bade us sheathe the foolish sword,
bade us cease denying.

Trumpet with your Spirit’s breath
through each height and hollow:

into your self-giving death,
call us all to follow.


To the triumph of your cross
summon all the living.

Summon us to live by loss,
gaining all by giving.

Suffering all, that we may see
triumph in surrender;

leaving all, that we may be
partners in your splendor
.
I pray this in the Name of Christ, who taught me: Our Father...