Sunday, December 5, 2010

Leuthen Chorale Lyrics for the 253rd Anniversary of the Battle

On the 253rd anniversary of the Battle of Leuthen, Dec 5, 1757, I thought it would be fitting to put up the lyrics of what came to be known as the Leuthen Chorale. This is a Christian hymn that the men of the army started to sing in the twilight of the aftermath of the battle, and it was picked up by 25,000 voices joining in.

There are other hymns that are also recorded as having been sung by the old Prussian army back in those days, but I'll just stick to this one for Leuthen Day. This date used to be the occasion for a wargame get-together for the Seven Years' War Association. In the context of the Seven Years' War, this is one of the most famous battles for a few good reasons.

It's because anyone in their right mind would have given up hope and gone into winter quarters, but instead Frederick came from four weeks' march away to turn things around completely in this far-away province, outnumbered and with half his men beaten in November and the rest in June, here he came from his most lopsided victory over the Empire and the French at Rossbach outnumbered there too, to knock the Austrians off this field. It was extraordinary, and came down as his greatest glory.

It might be helpful for a quick review, because there is some confusion among casual students as to why, for instance, Frederick the Great came to be called the "great," when a closer look after the initial praises shows that sometimes he lost battles. In fact he lost several battles out of twenty or so big ones that he was involved in, and he even famously ran away in the first big victory at a time when things didn't look so good, yet, a topic he was quite sensitive about afterward. It was old Field Marshal Graf von Schwerin who took command when the king decided to leave, and as it turns out, Schwerin won the battle after all.

That was at Mollwitz, in April 1741. The horse Frederick rode away on--like 25 miles away--was retired and cared for after that and was ever known as the Mollwitz Gray, or Mollwitzer Grau.

Frederick was considered great in part because of his military competence and in part for other reasons. There is more involved in raising a country up to a higher status in the world than the simplistic idea that anyone meriting the title 'great' must have won every battle, captured every town, and intimidated the quiet people. It's more than just that.

I think the confusion arises because many of the people nowadays interested in him come from the ranks of enthusiasts in particular of military history and put more emphasis on battles at the expense of understanding other parts of a bigger picture. He had canals built, villages, brought poor soil to cultivation, he saw to it that potatoes would be grown more widely, and plenty more besides. He is a complicated and fascinating figure for historians and biographers to try to interpret. It's not just battles alone.

On the other hand he did 'win' more than half, and got through a number of years of war without losing, and was able to build back up from the damage done. In the seven years war he took on three fourths of Europe it sometimes seems single-handed, but he did have a hard core of men who marched with him wherever he felt he had to go next, and those men gave him what he required of them.

But they were not superhumans, they were men, and for all we hear that they were some sort of machines or robots, here again I think the case is overblown and a closer study would reveal that that is an exaggeration, and only relatively true to a certain extent.

By twilight on the day of Leuthen, when the Austrian army was in retreat and the Prussians had won the day for the king, he went off with a small force to try to head the Austrians off at the bridge, unable to just let go after such an experience, and the other 95% of the men broke into this song, looking over what they'd been through and giving thanks to God that they had survived it.

The song was written by a pastor who had been besieged by the Swedish army in Eilenburg, a town in Saxony, during the Thirty Years War, and so great was the suffering there that he was doing fifty funerals a day, after the other pastors in town also died. Personally I can't drink fifty cups of coffee in a single day; if it was only a twelve hour day that would be over one funeral every 15 minutes, and I suspect that it was over a twelve hour day for him. The mindset of the gratitude he shows to God in these trying circumstances is striking.

Depending on who is writing the explanation, the sentiment is ascribed to certain Old or New Testament verses: 2 Cor2:14
           Sirach, Ch 50, verses 22-24  (aka Ecclesiastes)

This is the song that spread from regiment to regiment on the bloody, snowy field after the sun went down and the only Austrians left were the dead and wounded and the prisoners.

The siege mentioned for Martin Rinkart, the pastor who wrote the words, was in 1636 and it is thought he wrote it  then. It was published in Berlin in a book in 1647, and with music, and the author of this book is credited with having written the music. That is Johann Crueger. A third person much later became involved in the story of the song, Catherine Winkworth who in 1856 translated the lyrics to English. The matchup is not word for word. She believed that Martin Rinkart also wrote the music, but we'll probably never know for sure about that. That's just the way it is in history.

Johann Sebastian Bach also used the music to work it into a cantata. All that can be looked up for those interested in the different versions. As for my purpose here, the story is told. Since there is a motion picture by the name, the Leuthen Chorale, those searching You Tube will run into the whole movie rather than just the song. The song itself is either Nun Danket Alle Gott, or else Now Thank We All Our God.

Then you can also find versions by choirs, organs, the Bach, and I forgot to mention Franz Liszt.

 All those can be found but I've selected a skit much in the style of the History Channel, but this is in German, but do not let that stop you from the 3 1/2 minutes of SYW battle visuals of the Alte Fritz. In the last 30 seconds you'll see the troops singing the song. Links to the short youtube vid and then the lyrics follow so you can sing along from the beginning.

(link removed)EDIT

Nun danket alle Gott
Mit Herzen, Mund und Händen,
Der grosse Dinge tut
Ans uns und allen Enden;
Der uns an Leib und Seel
Von früher Kindheit an
Unzählig viel zu gut
Bis hieher hat getan.

Der ewig reiche Gott
Woll uns in unserm Leben
Ein Immer fröhlich Herz
Und edlen Frieden geben,
Und uns in seiner Gnad
Erhalten fort und fort
Und uns aus aller Not
Erlösen hier und dort.

Lob, Ehr und Preis sei Gott,
Dem Vater und dem Sohne
Und dem, der beiden gleich
Im höchsten Himmelsthrone,
Dem dreimal einen Gott,
Wie er ursprünglich war
Und ist und bleiben wird
Jetzund und immerdar!

Now thank we all our God, with heart and hands and voices,
Who wondrous things has done, in whom this world rejoices;
Who from our mothers’ arms has blessed us on our way
With countless gifts of love, and still is ours today.

O may this bounteous God through all our life be near us,
With ever joyful hearts and blessèd peace to cheer us;
And keep us in His grace, and guide us when perplexed;
And free us from all ills, in this world and the next!

All praise and thanks to God the Father now be given;
The Son and Him who reigns with Them in highest Heaven;
The one eternal God, whom earth and Heaven adore;
For thus it was, is now, and shall be evermore.

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