A Mighty Fortress Is Our God – Noble Cain (1896-1977)

For many months I have examined the contents of more than twenty boxes of choral music sent by Dr. Eileen Guenther, organist and Professor of Music at Wesley Theological Seminary, Washington, D. C., as a gift to the Choral Library of Church Music Institute. The music in these boxes comprised the personal anthem collection of Mrs. Kay Morris, Dr. Guenther’s mother, a church choir director for many years who amassed an enviable and eclectic assortment of excellent anthems crossing many centuries.

Opening each box of Mrs. Morris’ music has been a joy, just like unwrapping a Christmas package with great anticipation for the contents it will contain. The Choral and Organ Libraries exist because of donations of personal collections of choral and organ music from individuals who have served the church for many generations. We continue to accept donations of one copy of each composition. Please contact us about donating your library.

In the last hour, I discovered from Mrs. Morris’ collection a composition by eminent American composer Noble Cain (1896-1977) that attracted my attention. The anthem is a choral arrangement of the well-known German chorale, A Mighty Fortress Is Our God. Written for SATB divided, piano or organ accompaniment, and published in 1943 by the Hall & McCreary Company, this setting is big and festive and would make a wonderful celebratory musical addition to Reformation worship. Those of you who know Mr. Cain’s music will find this piece comparable to the musical style of All Glory, Laud and Honor (Harold Flammer, 1940).

What surprised me most about A Mighty Fortress, however, is the text. Usually we see the Frederick Hedge translation of English text from Luther’s German text. Here, the composer, Noble Cain, has made his own English translation. Of course, the text is stylized church English of several generations ago, not the modern version we sing today. The text and music are both powerful, and the setting features a modulation to a contrasting key in the middle section with interesting harmonies before modulating back to the original key and ending in a unison singing for the last stanza. This is a marvelous setting of the hymn.

Robert C. Mann, D. M. A.
Resource Library Director
Church Music Institute