Home History of Hymns: "Weary of All Trumpeting"

History of Hymns: "Weary of All Trumpeting"

"Weary of All Trumpeting"
by Martin Franzmann
The United Methodist Hymnal, No. 442

Martin Franzmann

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 heaven is ringing*

The origins of this hymn may be found in the Anschluss or "connection" of Austria to Germany in 1938, more realistically known as the occupation of Austria by Nazi Germany. The exploitation of the term Anschluss for the occupation in 1938 recalled its use twenty years earlier during the Anschluss movement, an attempt to unite Austria and Germany into a single country.

This idea was not new, but was a continuation of nineteenth-century debates to unite all Germans into a single nation-state. Following the First World War, the notion of a Kaiserreich (German Empire) was dissolved through the Treaties of St. Germain and Versailles. During the ethos of Nazi Germany, the annexation of Austria was seen as the partial fulfillment of a German destiny along with the absorption of the Balkans and other Eastern territories, sentiments that had long and deep roots in German culture.

Hugo Distler stamp

German poets hailed the restoration of the "connection" in 1938. According to Dutch musician Jan Bender (1909-1994), the Nazi state was looking for a musician to set their propagandist poems. The composer chosen was the young church musician Hugo Distler (1908-1942). Like so many during this time, Distler was engaged in propaganda of a cause against his will. According to musicologist Christopher Anderson, Southern Methodist University, correspondence has recently come to light that confirms that Distler was a member of the Nazi Party from 1933 to the end of his life. However, his high entrance number into the Party indicated "less than total devotion" to Party principles. At the same time, the Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei, the Nazi Party, supported his professional advancement. In other words, Party membership helped to guarantee employment.

Educated at Leipzig Conservatory, Distler was the organist at St. Mary Church in Lübeck, he and taught at the Lübeck Conservatory. In 1933, he was appointed head of the chamber music department at the Lübeck Conservatory. He taught church music from 1933-1937 at the lay-academy in Spandau and taught at the Hochschule für Musik in Württemberg (1937-1940). His employment in these prestigious positions was undoubtedly contingent upon Party membership. He assumed a teaching position in Berlin in 1940 and was appointed the conductor of the State and Cathedral Choir in 1942. Pressures by the Nazi regime ultimately led to his suicide at age 34. Musicologist Nick Strimple states, "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 tune, TRUMPETS in The United Methodist Hymnal, was paired to the text "Deutschland und Deutsch-Österreich" (Germany and German-Austria) by Nazi propagandist poet Hermann Harder. The last two lines of the second stanza cement the relationship from a German perspective: "Österreich und Deutsches Land/sind nicht mehr zu trennen" translated as "Austria and Germany are no longer to be separated," implying that the two countries were never actually separate except politically.

Following the war, Bender remembered the tune from the earlier days during the war and used TRUMPETS as the basis of his Six Variations for Organ on a Theme by Hugo Distler, Opus 38 (1966). Bender, who taught at Wittenburg University in Springfield, Ohio, during 1960-1976, sought a new poet to write words to this tune. In 1970 he asked Martin Franzmann (1907-1976) to provide the text that was published in 1972.

Franzmann received his education from Northwestern College in Waterville, Wisconsin (1928). Following graduation from Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary, he pursued further graduate study in Classics from the University of Chicago, returning to teach at his alma mater, Northwestern College, from 1936-1946. From 1946 until 1969, he taught New Testament at Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, Missouri.

Franzmann wrote many hymns, the first of which were published as Christian Hymns (1934). Hymnologist Robin Leaver prepared Come to the Feast: The Original and Translated Hymns of Martin H. Franzmann (1994), which is not only a collection of Franzmann’s hymns, but also contains four of his sermons and an analysis of his creative process. Concerning the latter, Professor Leaver notes, "the great pains Franzmann took to write, re-write, refine and enhance his poetic texts."

The first stanza of "Weary of all trumpeting" is reminiscent of the opening verses of Psalm 130, "Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord! O Lord, hear my voice! Let your ears be attentive to the voice of my pleas for mercy!" (ESV) Just as Psalm 130 begins in the depths of despair and ends in "hope in the Lord," so does the first stanza begin with weariness of war and killing, and ends in a song of hope that joins with "great music pure and strong/wherewith heaven is ringing." Rather than supporting one country – a unified German state – the first stanza supports "one song" that is raised to Christ.

In stanza two, the captain of war is replaced with "Captain Christ," who paradoxically is the "servant King" who "bade us sheath the foolish sword," a reference to Peter in Gethsemane who, after drawing his sword to protect Christ, was rebuked and told to sheathe it (Mathew 26:52; John 18:11). The trumpet in this stanza is brought to life by the "Spirit’s breath" and "call[s] us all to follow."

The final stanza finds "triumph" in Christ’s cross. All are summoned "to live by loss," and in doing so, we "gain. . . all by giving." Through "suffering" we find "triumph." This triumph culminates when we become "partner’s in [Christ’s] splendor."

The Rev. Carlton Young, editor of The United Methodist Hymnal (1989), places the militaristic language of this hymn in context: "Like 'Onward Christian Soldiers,' this hymn employs military metaphors to call and spur on the faithful, but in Franzmann’s audience, unlike the Victorian children for whom the processional was written, there are many who remember and felt the demonic and destructive force of Nazi-Germany and fear the present threat of nuclear holocaust. The poet transforms the shrill sounds of martial trumpets, the symbols and metaphors of violence, hate, and war, into God’s clarion call to celebrate Christ’s triumph. . .."

Dr. Anderson notes that German composer Arnold Schoenberg (1874-1951) also used the image of the trumpet symbolically in his post-war composition, A Survivor from Warsaw, Opus 46 (1947). The trumpet is "used to invoke both the horror of the 'reveille' in the concentration camp and the victory at the end of time."

It is likely that readers of this column have never had the opportunity to sing this hymn. Indeed, there are those who might question its inclusion in the hymnal since most congregations may never sing it. Hymns, however, reflect parts of human history and allow us to recall the struggles and sufferings of the past and remember that God continues to work even in our darkest hours. The musical setting may require extra effort to learn, but this hymn rings authentically in a post 9/11 world. Just as Distler’s original melody, written to serve the Nazi propagandist machine, was redeemed by Franzmann’s text, hate, violence, and death are redeemed by the "servant King" allowing us to become partners in the ultimate splendor.

**© 1972 Chantry Music Press, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

By C. Michael Hawn, University Distinguished Professor of Church Music, Perkins School of Theology, SMU, in consultation with Christopher S. Anderson, Associate Professor of Sacred Music, SMU.