Lieder der Hutterischen Brüder, Die

Jump to: navigation, search

Die Lieder der Hutterischen Brüder (Scottdale, Pennsylvania, 1914, 894 pages, large size) was first published in 1914. Until the publication of this big hymnal, the Hutterites had nothing that would compare with the Ausbund, the hymnal of the Swiss Brethren, in fact no printed hymnal of any sort. It is true that prior to the 18th century the Hutterites had a great number of manuscript hymnals in which their innumerable Lieder were collected. Rudolf Wolkan {Lieder, 165-69) describes 21 such codices in European libraries, to which he adds three more which he could not reach. In America the Brethren have a few such codices too, some of which have become extremely difficult to read with the passing of time. But no hymnal was ever declared "official" and nothing had ever been printed. It must be assumed that in former centuries most of the hymns sung at Hutterite services were learned by rote and handed on to the next generation by word of mouth. It was therefore almost a daring enterprise when Elder Elias Walter (1862-1938), then of South Dakota but later of Standoff Colony, near Macleod, Alberta, decided to prepare a printed hymnal. When he received the approval of the brotherhood the publication became a semiofficial undertaking.

In his preface Elias Walter reports briefly about the sources from which he compiled the book: (1) a codex with 165 hymns, written sometime before 1600 (275 leaves, well preserved, title page missing); (2) another codex with 140 hymns, written about 1650 in Slovakia (400 leaves, again title page missing) ; (3) a third codex of 390 leaves, of which the first 60 are missing, containing 80 hymns (the time is that of Ehrenpreis, 1650-1660, the writing good but the paper, slowly falling apart). Many of these hymns are incomplete, although a century earlier they were said to have been known in full to the Brethren. Most likely even today many more codices are available than these three, but they are hidden in some of the 120 Bruderhofs in America and not easily found. Elias Walter arranged his book chronologically, though he did not always keep this plan, and the order is often quite confusing. The book begins with a hymn by Felix Manz (martyred in Zürich in 1527), Mit Lust so will ich singen, present in two of the sources named. Next follow hymns by Jörg Wagner (martyred 1527), Michaei Sattler (1527) (a hymn of 50 stanzas), Leonhard Schiemer (1528), Hans Schlaffer (1528), Balthasar Hubmaier (1528), of whom one hymn is printed, a supposed second was not available; two hymns go back to Jörg Blaurock (whom Walter reports as martyred in 1529, although the Geschicht-Buch gives 1527 as the date of his martydom); five hymns come from Ludwig Haetzer (died 1529). Of special interest is the discovery that the hymn, Sollst du bei Gott dein Wohnung han, which was customarily ascribed to Haetzer, is here (28-9) printed as deriving from Schiemer. It is this hymn whose fifth stanza was often quoted, Ja, spricht die Welt, es ist ohn Not dass ich mit Christo leide .... We may trust the manuscript and assume that the tradition was incorrect (see Mennonitisches Lexikon II, 230). Of Hans Hut's known four hymns two are printed here.

And so the volume proceeds through the hymn collections of the early times year by year. Elias Walter wrote a brief biographical sketch for each hymn writer, sometimes also listing his other works. Many of these hymns are extremely long (over 100 stanzas). Some of the Brethren were very productive, writing 30, 40, and even 50 hymns. Many of these hymns are anonymous; they could be identified only by reading the acrostic (where the initials of each stanza put in order reveal a name or message, a technique used mainly by brethren in prison). Walter points to this device whenever he decodes it. Three fourths of all hymns could thus be ascribed to individual authors; the rest may be assumed to have been composed collectively by groups of Brethren.

Rather famous among these hymns is the Väterlied, describing the work of the forefathers, the Vorstehers of the brotherhood. It was begun by Georg Pruckmaier (died 1585), who wrote 75 stanzas, and then continued by others until 1639, with a total of 105 stanzas. On page 877 it is still later continued by other loyal writers up to the year 1734, with a total of 18 more stanzas. At the year 1605 the Botschkai Lieder attract our attention (author unknown), describing all the horror of the attack of Turks, Magyars, and Tatars on the South Moravian colonies (158 stanzas, 804-812). The last part of the hymnal contains a number of hymns by the last great bishop of the brotherhood, Andreas Ehrenpreis (died 1662); one hymn is about his death. Close to 100 hymns are versifications of Biblical stories, which, however, are not quite as popular as the more personal hymns.

Not all these hymns are strictly of Hutterite origin. In fact A. J. F. Zieglschmid discovered that at least one is of Jesuit origin. But the Brethren are used to all of them, accept them, and are loath to change anything.

The Lieder has become "the" hymnal of the brethren. It is used daily at the prayer hour, and at all services on Sundays, holidays, and other occasions. One is amazed that these stanzas, often quite unwieldy, can actually be sung. Often they bear little connection with the worship service as such, and even their original meaning of three or four centuries ago is not always understood. But they are sung in many cases simply out of deference to tradition. The preacher "lines" the hymns, that is, he reads one line at a time, and then the congregation sings it according to melodies familiar to all. (There is no notation.) Only the preacher has a hymnal at the service, but most brethren know the texts by rote.

The singing of these hymns also deserves a few remarks. All hymns are sung in unison, not in parts, and they are overloud, almost shrill, with strained vocal chords. Zieglschmid, who discusses this kind of communal singing in a footnote in the Klein-Geschichtsbuch (580, n. 3), points out that according to an old report the Mennonites in the Molotschna also used to sing "über alle Massen grell und laut aus der Kehle gepresst." It is possible that this (not too appealing) method has its origin in 16th-century conditions when Brethren imprisoned for their faith wanted to communicate with other brethren in the same place but in different rooms. At least some sources mention such overloud singing at a quite early date (1536). A reference is also made to Isaiah 58:1, "Cry aloud, spare not, lift up thy voice like a trumpet" (Lasst uns schreien, dass uns der Hals kracht, in the Worms translation).

In later years some brethren expressed dissatisfaction with some parts of the Lieder book, and a new edition was brought out in 1953, in which 75 hymns were omitted, mainly those which contained versifications of Bibles stories. There was some grumbling, however, by others, since many liked the book as it was composed originally.

In the meantime, the late A. J. F. Zieglschmid began a thorough study and revision of this book. He found a great number of mistakes, inaccuracies, and false readings. Many hymns had been "zersungen," i.e., the words were changed and the meaning was lost, often even a whole line was omitted, and so forth. Moreover, he distinguished between genuine Anabaptist hymns and others which were adopted from outside, as was mentioned above (a Jesuit hymn). Thus he compiled a new, revised, purified and corrected edition, to which he added a number of Hutterite songs unknown at the time of Elias Walter, for instance, the versification of the entire Psalter by Wolf Seiler (died 1550). The Lieder contains 48 of his hymns (see Wolkan's note 1 in Geschicht-Buch, 257). The result of this scholarly work is a manuscript of nearly 4,500 sheets, still unpublished and deposed at the Mennonite Historical Library of Goshen College. It is yet uncertain whether the Hutterian Brethren will accept this "revision" or not, when a need for a new edition arises.

Elias Walter edited a smaller hymnal, the Gesangbüchlein, Lieder, besonders zum Auswendiglernen für die Jugend in der Schule geeignet, meistens aus alten Handschriften gesammelt und herausgegeben von Elias Walter (n.p., 1919, 525 pp., octavo). In 1930 a second edition of this hymnal was produced, printed in Macleod, Alberta, with 480 pages. In 1940, after Elias Walter's death (1938), a third edition was brought out under the title, Gesangbüchlein, Lieder fur Schule und häuslichen Gebrauch, herausgegeben von den Hutterischen Brüdern in Kanada (n.p., 1940, 591 pp., octavo). In neither of these editions is any reference made to sources, authors, or historic backgrounds. Thus the Gesangbüchlein has become more a popular hymnbook for school and family singing, and as such is a real favorite. Among other hymns it contains also the old (most likely not Hutterite) song, "Das goldene A-B-C." It contains Lutheran and pietistic hymns, but no old Hutterite hymns. 

See also Hymnology


Hege, Christian and Christian Neff. Mennonitisches Lexikon, 4 vols. Frankfurt & Weierhof: Hege; Karlsruhe: Schneider, 1913-1967: v. II, 89.

Wolkan, Rudolf. Geschicht-Buch der Hutterischen Brüder. Macleod, AB, and Vienna, 1923.

Wolkan, Rudolf. Die Lieder der Wiedertäufer. Berlin, 1903. Reprinted Nieuwkoop: B. De Graaf, 1965.

Zieglschmid, A. J. F. Das Klein-Geschichtsbuch der Hutterischen Brüder. Philadelphia, PA: Carl Schurz Memorial Foundation, 1947

Author(s) Robert Friedmann
Date Published 1957

Cite This Article

MLA style

Friedmann, Robert. "Lieder der Hutterischen Brüder, Die." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1957. Web. 20 Sep 2018.,_Die&oldid=145717.

APA style

Friedmann, Robert. (1957). Lieder der Hutterischen Brüder, Die. Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 20 September 2018, from,_Die&oldid=145717.


Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 3, pp. 339-340. All rights reserved.

©1996-2018 by the Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. All rights reserved.