Luther as Musician

Music played an important part in Luther’s life. His categorical statement is simple and straightforward: “Music I have always loved”.


Luther’s introduction to music undoubtedly came from his parents. When he was about six months old the Luther family moved from Eisleben, the place of his birth, to Mansfield. It was here that he entered the Latin school some years later on 12 March 1491, St George’s Day. 

St George being the patron saint of the church and its adjacent school. The primary purpose of the education was to promote the understanding and use of the Latin language, especially as found in the Mass and daily Office. The Latin of liturgical texts was committed to memory by singing. Music therefore formed an important part of the learning process, with a stress on notation and sight-singing. In the upper class the boys were expected to sing in St George’s church on Sundays and major festivals; therefore they must have had at least some instruction in the rudiments of chant and basic music theory.

Early in 1497, Luther was sent to Magdeburg, where he entered the Latin cathedral school.

After only a year in Magdeburg Luther, now aged 14, was sent to Eisenach where he entered the Georgenschule in which the education he had received in Mansfeld and Magdeburg was continued.


Erfurt university at the end of the fifteenth century was second to none in Germany.

Corpus Rubeanus, humanist was another of Luther’s fellow students in Erfurt.

On 28 April 1520 Crotus wrote “You were the musician and erudite philosopher of our old circle of students. His skill as a lutenist was undoubtedly advanced during his student days in Erfurt, so much that an eyewitness of the musical evening that preceded his entry into the monastery commented on his skill in playing the instrument.

Mattheus Ratgeberger recorded that, around the time Luther entered the monastery, his friend recognized his musical accomplishments and declared that he was “a good musician”.


Luther was vested at the altar of a village church when the sexton surprised him by accompanying parts of the Mass, such as Kyrie, Gloria, and Creed, on a lute. When the sexton began Luther could hardly keep from laughing: “For I was not accustomed to such “organ” playing and had to adjust my Gloria to his Kyrie”. It is understandable that a lutenist monk, experienced in Gregorian chant and fascinated by music, should recall such an event.

*From Luther’s Liturgical Music - Robin A. Leaver