Trumpeting the Trumpet: How Music Became Key to Moravian Worship

It’s time I explored how music, and the trumpet specifically, became so important to Moravian worship. Worldwide today, Moravians love to sing hymns and play music. It all started with the trumpet. How and why? To answer that question, I have had to go back into the history of the Moravian Church.

This paragraph is for Wolf Hall fans – others can skip to the next paragraph. Wolf Hall focuses on England’s break from the Catholic Church. This was, as we all know, to suit Henry VIII; however, it also built upon a movement in Europe of challenging the position of the Pope. Reference in Wolf Hall is made to William Tyndale, who was burned at the stake in 1536 in Belgium for translating the Bible into English. This was all based upon ideas developed much earlier ….

You’ve heard of Martin Luther, yes the chap who nailed his 96 Theses to the door of Wittenberg Catholic Church. Like many of us, he had a hero; his hero was John Hus. Hus was preaching Reformation themes a century before Luther and, in doing so, was challenging the Catholic Church and its practices. For his beliefs and writings, Hus was burned at the stake in 1415.

After Hus’s death a group following his beliefs established their own independent Ministry of Bohemia, in what is now part of the Czech republic. Thus, the Unitas Fratrum was formed.

By the early 1700s this group were again experiencing religious persecution. In 1722 a small group of these religious refugees from Moravia were given permission by Count Zinzendorf to settle on an uninhabited part of his estate. Little did the Count realise that he was helping to revive the oldest Protestant church. He offered protection and leadership; the place became known as Herrnhut and is still regarded at the centre of the worldwide Moravian Church. Although the traditional name is Unitas Fratrum, the church is now known in many parts of the world as the Moravian Church.

Where do trumpets come in to all this? Count Zinzendorf studied law at the University of Wittenberg and then went to Dresden, working in the service of the Elector of Saxony. SO … he was legally entitled to employ trumpeters on his estate. While in Dresden, he had done much thinking about religion and believed that religious services should engage emotions and create awe, but he despised the pomp and show of Catholic services. Hence, he introduced the use of the trumpet to engage people in the simple services held at Herrnhut.

From the Easter of 1745 trumpets were used to:
– wake the congregation (who needs an alarm clock?);
– accompany singing by the congregation at services and festivals;
– engage the congregation during the serving at Lovefeasts;
– announce the death of a member.

As members of the Church moved out from Herrnhut to England, the Americas and beyond, they took the tradition of music with them. Like many settlements, Fulneck blew a trumpet to announce the arrival of visitors; the trumpeter would have stood on the parapet above the Church. Although this was heightened when the attic space was used for school borders, it can still be seen.

Count Zinzendorf and his second wife Anna Nitschmann (Worldwide Head of the Single Sisters) visited Fulneck twice, in the summers of 1749 and 1754. It is recorded that on both occasions he arrived unexpectedly, so possibly missed out on hearing the trumpet being blown to announce their arrival. The first visit was for the laying of foundation stones and the consecration of the Burial Ground; the second occasion was to negotiate the lease to allow Fulneck to become a settlement.
Music is still a vital part of Moravian services; personally, our first visit to Fulneck was to a Christmas concert and it coincided with the work to renovate the amazing organ.   a You Tube clip of the Fulneck organ.

a link to the page for weekly services while our Church is closed. From 19 April onwards the services include a fine playing of the organ.    some fine trumpet playing

As mentioned in earlier articles, music in the Labrador church is still vibrant. Many Moravian bands are a vital part of USA congregations and there is even the annual musical ‘Trumpet in the Land’ that celebrates the arrival of Moravians; in Germany there is still an annual music festival.

Tales for another article. Please drop me an email if you have any comments or suggestions, it is always good to hear from folks when we cannot meet in person. As our history illustrates, many challenges have been faced and overcome, this lockdown is just one more.

Meanwhile, I hope that you are all safe and well.


27 April 2020