WALTER, JOHANN (1496-1570)

Johann Walter was a German composer, theorist, and organist. He is known primarily for his liturgical writing in the early Lutheran church, composing hymns, motets, and larger works. Among his instrumental works are more than 100 chorale preludes for organ, as well as other keyboard works. Walter would later prove to be an influence on the music of J. S. Bach.
Walter wrote numerous canons and fugues for equal voices that appeared in several collections. Extended two-part canons are often closely related to fugues, as after the statement of the theme, the canon continues into what may viewed as a development section, or episode. In this example, we can clearly see Walter’s development technique unfold as the voices move tightly along in a clever chase. This brief, yet delightful, canon skillfully rivals those found in Telemann’s Six Sonatas in Canon.
Walter wrote his motets and lieder, often of high quality, in two distinct styles. For the first style he employed a polyphonic manner derived from the Franco-Flemish school, in particular showing the influence of Josquin des Prez and Heinrich Isaac. In the tenor voice of these compositions was a cantus firmus sounding as an unbroken succession of sustained notes or as a melody fragmented into short sections separated by rests. Above and below the cantus firmus were counterpoints that sometimes imitated the tenor but more often moved independently of it. In either case the melodic flow of four or more voices avoided simultaneous rests.
For the second style Walter rejected imitative or independent voice-leading for chorale writing in which each fragment of the cantus firmus rested simultaneously with the other parts. In a few such cases he placed the borrowed tune in the top voice, thereby inaugurating the favorite manner of chorale setting of the succeeding two centuries.