The use of tune numbers has been characteristic of Moravian tune books since the eighteenth century. While the hymnals of the Bohemian Brethren contained numerous tunes, no numerical arrangement was provided for them. Emil Bauer indicated that while the 1735 manuscript chorale book supposedly composed by Tobias Friedrich (Zinzendorf’s talented court musician) contained two hundred tunes there was no numbering in any successive order. (see note 1 below)
Sometime in the later 1730s or 1740s, though, tune numbering came into play, with each tune assigned both a number and a letter. All the tunes with the same number have the same metrical structure – number of lines, number of syllables per line, basic accentuation pattern. The letter, then, distinguishes which particular tune of that meter is intended. Several numbering systems seem to have been applied.
By the time Johann Daniel Grimm compiled his large manuscript chorale book in 1755, a numbering system was in place that remains in use today in the American provinces and elsewhere. Grimm’s book uses consecutive numbers; in his later 1784 chorale book, composer and pastor Christian Gregor used numbers up through Tune (Art) 575, but didn’t use every single number. Between 1755 and 1784 some meters had fallen out of use, and Gregor only included those tunes which went with texts in the 1778 (text-only) hymnal. Again, several tunes appeared under the same number with the use of letters to identify them, e.g. 22 a).
In Gregor’s system, in general, simpler and shorter tunes have lower numbers – thus tune 575 is a longer and more complex tune than tune 22! Christian Ignatius Latrobe used the Gregor system with some alterations and introduced British tunes with new numbers going as high as 600. The American Moravian composer Peter Wolle published a tune book in 1836 that added further tunes and introduced a poetic metric system. C.M. (common meter), L.M. (long meter) and S.M. (short meter) appeared for the first time “to facilitate the adaptation of these tunes to hymns contained in the collections used by other Christian denominations…” (Wolle, Preface). Heinrich Lonas published an undated Choralbuch which contained known and new tunes for use in the German congregations largely following Gregor’s numbers but introducing new numbers as well. (see note 2)
The Offices of Worship (1891) added additional tunes with accompanying tune numbers in an attempt to continue the Gregor system.
Separate band books have been printed through the years to provide a convenient format for the instrumentalists and continue to be used today. (You may have heard Moravian bands identify tunes by their number rather than by the words most commonly used – for instance, “159 D” instead of “Sing Hallelujah, Praise the Lord”.)
The 1960 German Choralbuch departed from the Gregor numbering in order to use a common identification pattern with the Lutheran churches with which our German congregations are in a close working relationship. That Choralbuch included listings with both old and new tune numbers that facilitate the transition for the brass players who play directly from the Choralbuch. This then enables Moravian and Lutheran brass to easily perform together for brass festivals and other ecumenical events. Thus the European Continental Province continues to use tune numbers, but not the same ones used in the American provinces!
The Moravian Book of Worship (1995) continues to print the tune numbers, as well as tune names. This serves both the needs of brass players and other musicians who are not familiar with the Gregor numbers. The introduction of more non-chorale style tunes has reduced the percentage of Gregor tunes in overall use, with the resultant diminution of the chorale numbers.
However, in the “blue” Moravian Chorales books published in 2006, new tune numbers were assigned to many newer tunes and to those which had not appeared in previous Moravian chorale books, in keeping with Brother Gregor’s system. This system is convenient for musicians, very practical, and easy to apply and understand!
And it can be fun as well. You’ll discover that you can sing the doxology (Praise God, from whom all blessings flow …) to a great many different tunes. At Moravian camps and other gatherings, we often sing our table grace to a different tune at each meal … including some fun ones that won’t be found in a hymnal!
(1) Julius Emil Bauer, Das Choralbuch der Brüdergemeine von 1784, nach seiner Abfassung und seinen Quellen mit dazu gehörigen biographischen Notizen. Gnadau, 1867. page 8. Bauer (1818-1888) was a Moravian minister in Germany.
(2) Heinrich Lonas, Choralbuch der evangelischen Brüdergemeine, enthaltend 123 der belannesten Melodien mit Text und als Anhang neun der Beliebsten Arien. Gnadau, n.d.