De gustibus non disputandum

Or, in English, matters of taste are not to be disputed. Or, to stretch the concept a little, there’s no arguing with tradition. I’m thinking of how we often feel a strong pull toward things we’ve grown up with, regardless of how our beliefs, tastes or critical faculties have changed over time. This is expressed beautifully and hilariously in the song Zen Gospel Singing by Mark Graham (recorded by Bryan Bowers). In it the singer tells how, despite having left the church become a Buddhist, he misses the four-part hymn singing. He doesn’t believe in that sin-and-salvation stuff any more, but that doesn’t stop him from trying to get his Buddhist friends to sing more than one note at a time.

I had to laugh when I heard this song, because it reminded me of the Christmas songs we used to sing at family gatherings years ago. Some of them are truly lovely; others can be either lovely or drippily sentimental, depending on the day; still others are just not very good (sorry, Mom). Bells are mentioned frequently, as in “Süsser die Glocken nie klingen” (“Sweeter the bells never ring”), “Hört Ihr nicht die Weihnachtsglocken” (“Don’t you hear the Christmas bells”), or “Kling, Glöckchen, kling” (“Ring, little bells, ring”). Christmas trees come up fairly often, too, as in one of my favorites, “Welchen Jubel, welche Freude” (“What rejoicing, what delight”). I sang all these, and loved them, long before I understood the words.

But for a certain subset of Russian Mennonites from the prairies (my extended family included), the crown jewel of Christmas music was “Der Friedensfürst” (“The Prince of Peace”). It’s different from the others: not a hymn or carol, but a choral piece probably written around the turn of the 20th century. It’s composed of several short sections, with each pair of lines in the text having a different musical setting. It sounds like it was written in the popular-song style of the day. Once, at a carol-singing evening at the church we attended in Toronto, someone brought out copies of “Der Friedensfürst” and we sang it. Those of us who knew the piece were thrilled; those who were new to it didn’t understand what all the fuss was about.

To this day I am not sure if it’s a good piece of music, objectively speaking. But that’s not the point. The point is that we used to sing it every Christmas, and now we don’t. And if, at some Christmas gathering, someone were to pull out a copy of the music, and if there were at least two other people in the room who knew it, I’d sing it. With feeling.

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20 Responses to “De gustibus non disputandum”

  1. Sarah Klassen Says:

    Joanne, I didn’t think realize that you can speak/sing in German. Many of the ‘kling’ sons you mention are familair to me. And although I didn’t grow up with the “Friedensfurst” I know of it. I always thought it belonged to a different era of Mennonite singing. I thought it was the Paraguayan Mennonite equivalent of The Halleluja chorus. But what do I know.

    Anyway, congratulations on the blog site. And keep on promoting poetry.
    Sarah K

  2. admin Says:

    Thanks for the comment, Sarah. “Friedensfürst” may well belong to an earlier era, but it did linger on into the ’80s, if not longer, in some circles. I’d never heard about its being popular among Paraguayan Mennos. That’s interesting.

    Joanne

  3. Corine Vanwie Says:

    Wherever did you find the material? I tried to get some additional details about it, but I wasn’t able to.

  4. admin Says:

    You mean about “Der Friedensfurst”? My mother has a book with the music in it, and I found a very little information about C.E. Leslie here, but otherwise it’s pretty scant. I’d like to be able to find more.

  5. Jason Says:

    The song has roots with Russian Mennonites. However, large numbers of Russian Mennonites came to North American by way of Paraguay. We still sing this in my Russian Mennonite Church on Christmas day.

  6. admin Says:

    Glad to hear it’s still in use.

  7. Der Friedensfürst Says:

    Der Friedensfürst

    Horch, die Engelchöre singen,
    Horch, die Engelchöre singen,
    Dir, o mächt’ger Friedensfürst,
    Du Heiland aller Welt.

    Hört sie lieblich schallen,
    Holde Freudenlieder,
    Dir, o mächt’ger Friedensfürst,
    Und ein Hosianna tönt auf Erden wieder,
    Dir, o mächt’ger Friedensfürst.

    Uns ist geboren heut’ ein Kind,
    Uns ist geboren heut’ ein Sohn,
    Und seine Herrlichkeit
    Füllet die weite Welt,
    Und er heisst, und er heisst
    Wunderbar, Wunderbar,
    Der mächt’ge Friedensfürst,
    Wunderbar, Wunderbar,
    Der mächt’ge Friedensfürst.

    Drum besingt den Ruhm des Herrn,
    Ihm gebührt der Lobgesang,
    Dich erhebt das Herz so gern,
    Friedensfürst voll Preis und Dank.

    Ehre sei dem Herrn in der Höhe,
    Ja, Ehre sei dem Herrn in der Höhe,
    Und Friede auf der weiten Welt,
    Gottes Friede auf der Welt.

    Seid fröhlich alle Völker
    Und singet Freudenlieder,
    Bringt Ehre und Anbetung, Ihm,
    Dem Friedensfürsten dar.
    Singt Hosianna, singt Hosianna,
    Hosianna bringt dem Gotteslamm,
    Singt Hosianna, singt Hosianna,
    Hosianna bringt dem Gotteslamm.
    Amen, Amen, Amen, Amen, Amen, Amen.

  8. Marilyn Penner Says:

    Der Friedensfürst! I don’t know about Paraguay, but it is The Hallelujah Chorus of the Russlander Mennonites. I could not translate it to save my life, but I sing it with love and enthusiasm. When I was growing up, only the adults sang it. We children had the Glocken und Klingen songs, which were pretty, but I thought they were babies’ songs. When I finally sang my first Friedensfurst, I was so proud! Exhausted. Hoarse. But glowing!!!!

  9. admin Says:

    Yes, that’s how it was for me, too. I sang Friedensfürst and loved it long before I understood the words. That piece was always the climax of our extended family’s Christmas gatherings.

  10. John Wieler Says:

    In an uncanny coincidence, I’m just visiting in Filadelfia Paraguay, and we sang the Friedensfurst this morning. It was the first time in about 30 years for me, but it came back instantly (at least the tune did). It’s too bad that the church I attend in Canada doesn’t sing it anymore, and hasn’t for many many years. We sing in other languages, but the old German songs are not PC or seeker friendly or something, and I miss them.

  11. admin Says:

    It must have been wonderful to sing that again! I miss it, too, along with a number of other German songs. That’s one reason I like the Boney M Christmas album: they sing “Leise rieselt der Schnee” in German!

  12. lfunk Says:

    I’ve just been doing some research on this topic. Charles Eddy Leslie published a lot of choral music, sacred and secular, in the 1880’s-1890’s. “The Prince of Peace” was published in Leslie’s Song Service or Service of Song No. 3, but I haven’t been able to actually see the music in question. At this point, I’m only assuming they’re the same.

    My question is: at what point did it get translated into German?

  13. admin Says:

    I’d be interested to see what your research comes up with. I have never seen the English version of the piece, but it makes sense that it would have been in English first.

    Leslie apparently worked in Kansas for a time, so maybe the Mennonites from Kansas who came up to Canada brought the song with them. Just a guess.

  14. admin Says:

    Further to your comment– I’ve just talked to my mom, who has a book called Die Palme no. 3 für Kirchen-Chore, Sänger, U.S.w. in which “Der Friedensfürst” appears with a copyright date of 1894. (The collection as a whole is copyright 1896.) It was published by Meyer and Brother, Chicago.

  15. Ann McInnis Says:

    Is anyone with the sheet music/book located in the Kitchener, Ontario area? We would like to use the music in an upcoming anniversary celebration.

  16. Harold E. Franz Says:

    I was choir director in the Mountain Lake, MN, Mennonite Brethren church where we continued the tradition of singing this for most of those years. I just had a request from a 43 year old who fondly remembers it from those years. I’m in the process of sending it to her. A WONDERFUL CHORAL NUMBER!

    I went to the archives to find the original music, located in “Die Palme, No.3″, pages 94 to 97. I also have an English translation that one of our ladies helped me with, and actually sang it in English.

    Blessings!

  17. Alice Reimer Says:

    Thank you so much for posting this! Although I now attend a non-denominational church, I am a Mennonite forever, from Paraguay, grew up singing this song every Christmas and LOVE it@

    Wunderbar!

  18. Margaret Penner Says:

    I wonder if anyone has the sheet music for Der Friedensfurst?

  19. admin Says:

    It’s in an old choral music collection, Die Palme no. 3. You might be able to find it at a thrift shop, or I’ve also seen it on Ebay. And Der Friedensfurst is in the Paraguayan Mennonite hymnal, in a lower key and with some alterations to the text. That hymnal might be tricky to find, but if you know of a Mennonite church that uses German they might be able to locate it for you.

  20. Galen Kauffman Says:

    @ Margaret Penner – If you are interested in the English translation mentioned above by Harold E. Franz, I recently used Finale software and transcribed Der Friedensfürst so that we have clear readable copies for our seasonal Mennonite choir here in Mountain Lake, MN. If admin would be so kind as to forward you my email address you can contact me and I would be glad to email you the pdf file to print.
    Also, you can find an online, page by page scan of Die Palme no. 3 at
    https://archive.org/stream/diepalmefurkirch00meye#page/n0/mode/2up

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