Above: The Moravian Logo
Scanned from the cover of a reprint of J. E. Hutton’s History of the Moravian Church
CHRISTIAN GOTTFRIED GEISLER (OCTOBER 10, 1730-JUNE 3, 1810)
Silesian Moravian Organist and Composer
JOHANN CHRISTIAN GEISLER (MARCH 13, 1729-APRIL 14, 1815)
Silesian Moravian Organist and Composer
JOHANNES HERBST (JULY 23, 1735-JANUARY 15, 1812)
German-American Organist, Composer, and Bishop
One reason human beings are on the Earth is to influence each other positively–to encourage and to build each other up. Two ways of tracking such activity are to look for familial relationships and ways teachers have mentored students. Both methods apply to this post.
We begin with two brothers from Toppliwoda, Silesia (now Cieplowody, Poland). Johann Christian Geisler (1729-1815) and Christian Gottfried Geisler (1730-1810) served God and the Moravian Church in a variety of capacities, most notably as organists and composers. They learned music and various instruments when quite young. That early reality set the courses of their lives.
Christian Gottfried, the less famous brother, was a dedicated and capable servant of God. He joined the Moravian Church under the influence of his parents and older brother. Christian Gottfried was so devoted to music at an early age that he preferred not to pursue any “useful” trades, as others referred to them. (Really, is music useless?) The younger brother became a church musician and composer. He lived at Neusalz (now Nowa Sal, Poland), then at Herrnhaag, in Hesse. From there he went to Zeist, The Netherlands, where, for three years, he worked in the kitchen at the Single Brethren’s House. A brief stint as an organist in London, England, followed; he disliked the climate. Thus, in 1757, Christian Gottfried returned to Zeist, where he served as a school and church organist for over half a century. And there, in 1765, he married Catharina Brandenburg. He died at Zeist on June 3, 1810.
Christian Gottfried composed music and copied the works of others for his collection. Among his original works were twenty-three sonatas for four translations and at least ten anthems for church use.
Johann Christian, the more famous brother, was a capable musician at an early age. He learned to play the harp and the organ. Then, in 1745, at sixteen years of age, he helped to form a trombone choir for the Moravian congregation at Gnadenfrei, Silesia. He became a minister, the pastor the several European congregations, and the husband of a harpist. He also knew Christian Gregor (1723-1801), the “Father of Moravian Music,” and other prominent Moravian Church musicians. Johann Christian, who also served on the Unity Elders Council of the Unitas Fratrum, died at Berthelsdorf, Saxony, near Herrnhut, on April 14, 1815.
Johann Christian, who started composing in 1760, wrote about three hundred works. His anthems included “Thus Says the Lord–We Can Never Describe It,” “O Dear Saviour, My Redeemer,” “The Fruit of the Spirit is Love…,” and “Glory to Him.”
Johann Christian Geisler taught Johannes Herbst (1735-1812). Herbst entered the world at Kempten, Bavaria, on July 23, 1735. His parents, unable to raise him, sent him to live in the home of his uncle at Hirschberg, Silesia (now Jelenia Gora, Poland). The uncle sent him to the boarding school at Herrnhut. Thus our saint found a new family–the Moravian Church–in 1748. At Herrnhut Herbst apprenticed as a clock maker. Later he lived in various places in Europe (mainly in Germany) until 1786. For a time he served as the treasurer of the global Moravian Church. Our saint, an ordained minister, married Rosine Louise Clemens at Herrnhut on June 30, 1768. In Europe he started copying music, thereby starting an impressive collection of more than five hundred works. That collection has become an essential resource for students and scholars of early Moravian music and a microcosm of early American Moravian music.
In 1786 the Herbsts emigrated to the United States of America. His first ministerial posting in America was at Lancaster, Pennsylvania. He transferred to Lititz, Pennsylvania, five years later. Two decades later, on May 12, 1811, Herbst became a bishop. Just two days later he left Lititz to begin pastoral duties at Salem, North Carolina. There he died seven months later, on January 15, 1812. He was sixty-six years old.
Herbst left a legacy of original church music–more than a hundred anthems and two hundred sacred songs, to be precise. His anthems included “Seek Ye His Countenance in All Places,” “None Among Us Lives to Self,” “Lift Up Your Hearts, Rejoicing,” and “One Alone is Your Master.”
Herbst and the Geisler brothers served that master well.
KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR
JANUARY 6, 2015 COMMON ERA
THE FEAST OF THE EPIPHANY
Eternal God, light of the world and Creator of all that is good and lovely:
We bless your name for inspiring
Christian Gottfried Geisler, Johann Christian Geisler, and Johannes Herbst
and all those who with music have filled us with desire and love for you;
through Jesus Christ our Savior,
who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns,
one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
1 Chronicles 29:14b-19
2 Corinthians 3:1-3
John 21:15-17, 24-25
–Adapted from Holy Women, Holy Men: Celebrating the Saints (2010), page 728