My soul doth magnify the Lord; My spirit hath rejoiced in God, my Savior. In Latin, Mary’s Song in St. Luke 1.46-55 is called by its first word: Magnificat (“My soul magnifies…”). Mary’s Song is the canticle at Vespers, the church’s evening office of prayer and psalms. The HYMN OF THE DAY, “My Soul Now Magnifies the Lord” (The Lutheran Hymnal 275) is a translation by John Theodore Mueller of a German metrical paraphrase of the Magnificat. He served as professor of dogmatics at Concordia Seminary—St. Louis.
In Reformation Germany, the singing of the Magnificat was often associated with the psalm tone known as Tonus Peregrinus, especially on Sunday at Vespers. In the medieval church, the psalms were sung to a series of eight psalm tones in Gregorian (or plainsong) chant. Our choir uses these tones numerous times throughout the year for the Propers of the Divine Service. A ninth psalm tone (sometimes referred to as Tone IX) was called Tonus Peregrinus. Tonus Peregrinus means “wandering tone,” because, unlike the other eight tones, it uses a different reciting tone as the pitch for each half of the psalm tone.
Joseph Klug’s Wittenberg hymnal of 1533, which Luther had a hand in editing, appoints the Tonus Peregrinus for the singing of the Magnificat, and this tradition carried on in numerous places and publications following the Reformation.
In today’s music, we will hear two settings of the Tonus Peregrinus that are titled “Meine Seele erhebet den Herrn” (German: “My soul magnifies the Lord”) indicating the strong connection with the singing of the Magnificat to the Tonus Peregrinus, especially on Sunday. Today’s Prelude is by Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750) (BWV 648) and the Voluntary is by Johann Christoph Bach (1642-1703). The J.S. Bach setting is adapted for organ from movement 5 of Cantata 10 for the Visitation, which is a setting for oboe playing the Tonus Peregrinus melody above an alto and tenor duet of the text: “He remembers His mercy and raises up His servant Israel.”
In editing the pointing of the singing of the German text to the Tonus Peregrinus, Luther wrote about the Magnificat:
“First, she sings with a joyous heart of the grace and blessing which the merciful God had shown to her, praising and thanking him for it.
“Second, she sings of the blessing and great and wonderful work which God continually does for all men in all the world, namely, that he takes mercy on the miserable and meek, that he raises the lowly and enriches the poor. Again that he puts to naught the wisdom of the proud and arrogant, that he puts down the mighty who rely on their power and might, and that he turns rich men into beggars.
“Third, she sings of the proper and highest work, namely, that God has visited and redeemed Israel through His only Son Jesus Christ.” (Luther’s Works, American Edition, Volume 53, page 177).
In medieval usage, the Tonus Peregrinus was associated with Psalm 114 (Latin Psalm 113). The “wandering tone” was used to sing the text recalling the Israelites wandering in the wilderness: “When Israel went out of Egypt, the house of Jacob from a people of strange language…”