A Mighty Fortress

John Edmondson
Queenwood/Kjos, 2003


Martin Luther composed Ein’ Feste Berg (A Mighty Fortress) in 1529, and it has become one of the best known and most inspiring hymns of all time.  John Edmondson has taken the timeless melody and treated it in two settings.  The first statement is mostly traditional, and the second setting is a reharmonized treatment which employs more modern sonorities and instrumental colors.

The original hymn tune adds one beat to the end of each of the opening four phrases.  This is maintained in the first setting, but the second setting omits the repeat of the first two phrases and their extra beats.  The time signature of 2/4 and 3/4 are used to accomplish this chant-like time spacing and to avoid the use of 5/4 time.  A steady pace works best, although liberties may be taken at phrase endings to simulate the breathing of a choir singing the hymn.  Rests are written in to accommodate these breath points.  The use of suspensions in some inner voices is prominent and they should be brought out.  Always allow the moving parts to be heard if you are playing a sustained part, and if you are playing a moving line, bring it out.  Tune the polychords at measure 46 carefully, as well as the chromatic harmonization at 51 and other places.  The percussion should play a supporting role and should never intrude.

Performance Notes

A Mighty Fortress was commissioned in honor of Mr. T. K. Adams, Sr., by the 2002 Cousins Middle School Band of Covington, Georgia, directed by C. Lloyd McDonald.

Musical Challenges

With any young ensemble, the fact that A Mighty Fortress is a chorale presents the largest problem.  Often younger musicians seem to prefer up-tempo pieces with energy and flair.  Pieces like this one, though, need to be a staple in the musical diet of a strong middle school ensemble.  While the rhythms, time signatures, and ranges are no challenge for a Grade 2 ensemble, playing in tune and in chorale style will provide plenty of instructional material to fill the rehearsal schedule.

The first setting opens immediately with alternating phrases between the woodwind and brass (with saxophone) sections.  Make sure to have the two sub-ensembles match volume, tone, and intensity.  Intonation is a large requirement in these sections as well!  As the band approaches the second setting at measure 46, make sure the performers place intonation foremost on their mental to-do list!  Take time to go slowly through the dissonances and consonances of the second setting, letting the students hear the richness of the textures, and the “pull” of non-chord tones as they dictate the voice-leading.  While young students could find a piece like this “boring”, bring them into the loop of harmonic awareness can help them enjoy the piece and mature as musicians.

About the Composer

John Edmondson is known throughout the world for his more than 700 publications in the field of band and educational music. His contributions to the literature are accessible, enjoyable to perform and exciting to hear. Perhaps most importantly, his music has helped train the young musicians of today.

In addition to his achievements in educational music, he has written several hundred arrangements and compositions for various professional, military, college, and high school groups in the areas of marching band, concert band, jazz band, dance combos, and choral, as well as commercial television and radio jingles. This varied experience has brought a unique perspective to his writing.

Edmondson received his Bachelor of Arts from the University of Florida in 1955, majoring in music theory, with minors in English and sociology. After a two-year stint with the U.S. Army 8th and 9th Division Bands, he received his Master of Music in composition from the University of Kentucky in 1960, where he studied composition with Kenneth Wright and band scoring with R. Bernard Fitzgerald.

He taught public school music for 10 years in the Central Kentucky area, where he wrote extensively for his own students. During this same time, he free lanced as a writer for various university and high school marching bands, including seven years as Staff Arranger for the University of Kentucky Wildcat Marching Band. In addition to free lance composing and arranging, he was a professional trumpet player and pianist and developed his own educational publishing firm.

Following his teaching career, he was appointed Alfred Reed's successor as Educational Editor with Hansen Publications in Miami Beach, Florida, and remained in that position ten years. He was responsible for hundreds of publications, including works for concert band, marching band, the Fun-Way Band Method (co-authored with Paul Yoder), instrumental solo books and other instructional materials. From there he went to Wisconsin as Director of Concert Band Publications for Jenson Publications, adding several new works.

John Edmondson was honored in 1991 as the recipient of the University of Florida, Department of Fine Arts, Music Department Alumni Achievement Award. He is a member of the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers and is listed in the International Who's Who of Music.

His interests include the study of philosophy and politico-economic theory.