February 3, 1909—December 29, 1994
A Church Musician of the 20th Century
Biographical Essay by David Fienen
Table of Contents
This Catalog is the product of an extended study of the compositions of Jan Bender, and reflects an extended friendship with the composer and his family.
The biographical essay that begins this volume was previously printed in a Festschrift for Heinrich Fleischer (classmate of Bender's with Karl Straube in Leipzig in the early 1930's) titled Perspectives on Organ Playing and Musical Interpretation. It was published by the Heinrich Fleischer Festschrift Committee at Martin Luther College in New Ulm, MN in 2002, and is reproduced here with their kind permission. An earlier version of this essay appeared in Cross Accent (Journal of the Association of Lutheran Church Musicians) in July 1995.
I received generous hospitality from Charlotte Bender (who passed away on March 2, 2002) during my several stays in Hanerau. She also shared many invaluable insights and memories during our long conversations. I am especially grateful to her and the whole family for having allowed me complete access to all of Jan's papers, journals, contracts, royalty reports, recital programs, etc. Friedemann Bender was of particular assistance explaining many details and sharing his memories. Matthias Bender provided constant support of my efforts to preserve his Father's musical legacy. He also graciously allowed me to reproduce photographs from the Bender family collection and to include scans of several excerpts from Jan Bender's diaries. The newspaper photo (appearing with Opus 81 in the Catalog) is reproduced with permission from the Mankato Free Press. I took the color photos, made the scans of excerpts from Bender's diaries that appear in several places, and provided the translations.
My gratitude also extends to Arndt Schnoor for his unstinting enthusiasm for the music of Jan Bender, for his efforts to honor Bender's legacy through producing exhibitions in Lčbeck and Lčneburg, and especially for his eagerness to arrange for the preservation of Bender's Archives in the 630-year old Stadtbibliothek Lčbeck, where he is Head of the Music Department. These Archives now join those of Hugo Distler, Bruno Grusnick, Walter Kraft, Karl Lichtwark, and Erwin Zillinger.
To my wife, Judy, I owe special thanks. In addition to putting up with my several trips to Hanerau, she also accompanied me twice, spent long hours transcribing information from documents and recital programs and conducted internet library searches for me after she returned home the last time.
February 3, 1909—December 29, 1994
A Church Musician of the 20th Century
Biographical Essay by David Fienen
Jan Bender, church musician, composer, organist, and teacher, was a product of several currents which were significantly altering the face of the church and its music in Germany between and following the cataclysmic World Wars. The Orgelbewegung (organ reform movement) had been started by Albert Schweitzer's pamphlet The Art of Organ Building and Organ Playing in Germany and France, published in 1906. After World War I, the construction of an organ in 1921, based on a disposition and scalings from Michael Praetorius (1618), led to the Freiburg Conference of 1926, at which time the organ reform movement became closely allied with the liturgical and church music reforms being spearheaded by Christhard Mahrenholz. This organ reform movement had a distinct impact on the leading teacher and performer of the first half of the Twentieth Century, Karl Straube (1873-1950), who was to be Jan Bender's organ teacher in Leipzig.
A new, more liturgical approach to church music grew from this movement, drawing into its sway, among others, Kurt Thomas, Johann Nepomuk David, and Ernst Pepping. These composers exerted a strong influence on Hugo Distler (1908-42), who became the real leader in choral composition for the church, as well as a new style of organ music. Distler forged a highly successful fusion of late Renaissance and early Baroque structure with a modern rhythmic freedom and expressiveness, elevating church music to the highest levels of craftsmanship while continuing to incorporate the chorale melodies of the church. The freely expressive centrality of the text in Distler's choral works is regularly evident also in the choral works of his only composition student, Jan Bender.
Jan Bender was born on February 3, 1909, in Haarlem, Holland (exactly 100 years to the day after the birth of Felix Mendelssohn). His father, a piano dealer, had died of pneumonia the previous August. When he was 13 years old, his mother moved the family back to her native Lčbeck, to live with her Father, a prominent Marzipan baker, at KÜnigstraže 59 (his house and Marzipan Fabrik). This house, built in 1295, is just a block behind the Apse of the Marienkirche. While Jan had studied piano in Haarlem, he was drawn to the organ at the Marienkirche, and began studying with the organist, Karl Lichtwark. As a teenager he also began composing, coached by his music teacher at the Oberrealschule zum Dom in Lčbeck, Bernhard Cappel. In fact, he wrote a string quartet as his graduation project in 1928! This four-movement work is remarkable for its well-developed control of form, the sweep of its melodies, and hints of the humor and rhythmic complexities to come. His technical skill is particularly evident in the second movement, which he wrote in 5/4, using both regular and triplet eighth notes as well as sixteenths within these asymmetrical measures. In 1929, he began studying with the new Marienkirche organist, Walter Kraft, though these lessons were interrupted twice by extended hospitalizations for spinal tuberculosis. It turned out that he didn't have this disease at all, just an extra rib! While this delayed him by a year from going on to school after completing his Abitur, he kept on composing and studying scores.
Bender, in an interview with Davis Folkerts (transcribed in Folkerts' dissertation), described in his own words his early influences (pages 139-140):
F.: What was it that influenced you to become a church musician most of all?
B.: When I came from Holland and went with my dear mother every Sunday to St. Mary's church, I was only thirteen or fourteen years old. I could not really quite understand what the pastor was talking about. In the first place, my German was not yet that good. I had learned a little bit from my mom, but otherwise, on the street and in school, we talked Dutch. Certainly this man there on the pulpit was very dignified, but what attracted me more was the organist there a hundred feet high. And this old man, the forerunner of Walter Kraft, kind of liked me. He was already old and couldn't see very well any more, so I was very welcome to him and to his daughter who always had to accompany him. When I was there, she didn't need always to come. I could listen so that when the pastor stopped (you couldn't hear a word up in the balcony there, but you could tell when he stopped preaching), then I had to tell the good organist to ring the bells for the bellows blowers. It was all done by foot in that time. There was no electric motor; that came later in the thirties.
I liked his music, and he liked me. He asked, "Shall I give you organ lessons?"
"Yes, why not?" I thought. It was romantic there in that big cathedral. I was permitted to study on that little choir organ. I had piano class and organ class. Because I liked the organ so much, I felt at home in the church, notwithstanding the German I couldn't understand. Well, this big cathedral, that influences a little fellow! At least at that time we were still susceptible for such a thing. Nowadays my boys run in and out as if it were a fair or a market. The impression is not that dignified any more. But such a big room impressed me immensely, and that probably made me a church musician. Then I heard of Straube and Ramin in Leipzig, and I thought that Leipzig must be a great place to go to study church music.
In 1930, Bender enrolled in the Kirchen-musikalische Institut of the Landeskirche Sachsen, a part of the Leipzig Konservatorium. While there he studied organ with the famed Karl Straube, piano with Carl Martienssen, and composition, conducting and music theory with Kurt Thomas. After three years of study, Straube advised him to return to Holland since he was still a Dutch citizen and would probably have trouble getting a job in Germany. Recalling this incident years later, Bender described it in his interview with Davis Folkerts (page 93):
Then the Nazis came, and Straube said, "Bender, you are still a Dutchman." I had been living already a couple of years in Germany, but he said, "You will never get a position here. You are Dutch, and you better go home." Years later I wondered why he did not try to encourage me to become German. Why not? Because he couldn't! He couldn't on account of his conscience. Nobody could become a German [at a time] when Germany [was] becoming Nazi. He [had] already looked through that whole thing, and so he could understand that. He was a very great man.
Jan took his advice and went to Amsterdam, but was disillusioned with the musical possibilities in the Dutch Church and decided to return to Germany. In 1934, back home in Lčbeck, he was appointed Organist at St. Gertrudkirche in June and became a German citizen in July. That fall he enrolled for further study at the new Lčbeck Staatskonservatorium where he became an organ and composition student of Hugo Distler. In September 1935, he completed his exams as an organist and choral conductor. He continued studying with Hugo Distler until December 1936.
Bender was a frequent participant in the Abendmusik Vespers at Distler's church (St. Jacobi) and sang in the Lčbecker Sing- und Spielkreis under the leadership of Bruno Grusnick from its founding in 1928. In 1936, he went on an extended tour with the Sing-u. Spielkreise, playing organ on most of the concerts--particularly the Distler Partita "Wachet auf". (This organization continues under the leadership of Domorganist Hartmut Rohmeyer.)
As indicated above, Bender developed his gift for composition at an early age. His early pieces and sketches show that he had a marvelous instinct and gift for melody, somewhat reminiscent of Mendelssohn. Bender himself credits Distler for urging him to seriously consider pursuing his talents as a composer, though his journal entries clearly show his preoccupation with the idea already from a much earlier age. On June 16, 1934, Bender wrote: "Ein recht herzliches VerhŐltniss bekomme ich zu Hugo Distler. Er triezt mich immer zu componieren." (I am developing a hearty relationship with Hugo Distler. He pesters me constantly to compose.) Later, on Feb. 9, 1935, Bender wrote "Distler ist mit einigen meiner Kompositionen zufrieden." (Distler is pleased with a few of my compositions.) David Herman, in his book The Life and Work of Jan Bender, reports that Bender cited discipline as one of the chief lessons he had learned from Distler, telling this story:
I remember once that Distler was very angry with me because I said, "Oh, I can still write more modern." He said, "No, you can only write what you feel, if you can do it still another way then you are on the wrong track." (p. 19)
One can hear ample evidence of Distler's influence in Jan's compositions, especially in his use and treatment of rhythms. This includes interruptions in the line for expressive purposes, developing a short chorale phrase into a free-flowing rhapsody, and adding aria-like solo lines with different text as commentary above the choir, as in his Music for Reformation Day (opus 44). As it turned out, Jan was the only composition student Distler would have. Distler moved to Stuttgart on April 1, 1937, but they carried on an active correspondence until Bender began his military service. Bender kept fifteen letters and postcards written to him by Hugo Distler between 1935 and April 20, 1939. These letters, still in the possession of the Bender family, include continued reactions by Distler to Bender's new compositions, as well as giving evidence of attempts by Distler to sell his harpsichord to his friend and former pupil. Further evidence of the importance of Distler's influence came in an article he wrote in the Festschrift fčr Bruno Grusnik (HŐnssler, 1981). Titled "Hugo Distler, Bruno Grusnik, und ich" (p. 23), Bender wrote:
Der Unterricht in Leipzig bei Karl Straube, C. A. Martienssen und Kurt Thomas hatte mich gelehrt, wie ich arbeiten mužte. Der Unterricht bei Bruno Grusnick und Hugo Distler lehrte mich, was ich arbeiten mužte.
(Lessons in Leipzig with Karl Straube, C. A. Martienssen, and Kurt Thomas taught me how to study; lessons with Bruno Grusnick and Hugo Distler taught what to study.)
From his earliest comments in his journals, it is clear that as a composer, Bender was concerned with how to write "modern music", though he wasn't anxious to shock his listeners. Bender came to regard his own music as a bridge between the past and the modern music of the present and future, particularly in the church. In interviews with David Herman, quoted in his book (page 64), Bender said: "The gap between very advanced music and the Christian layman becomes so far that it cannot be understood anymore, therefore, I dared to consider my work as a bridge between them."
Bender's early career also coincided with the rising impact of National Socialism on both the country and the church. The struggle between the Bekenntniskirche (Confessing or Orthodox Lutheran) and the Deutsche Christen (German Christian) branches of the church came to a head in Lčbeck where, as of January 1, 1937, the nine Pastors allied with the Confessing Church were forbidden to preach by the Bishop and were placed under house arrest. At Bender's church (St. Gertrudkirche), there were three Pastors, one allied with the BK, one with the DC, and one who was neutral. Though according to the usual rotation the BK pastor was scheduled to preach on January 1, he was now forbidden to do so and the DC pastor took the pulpit instead. Bender, aware of this in advance, refused to play for the service. His predecessor came along, was told by a church elder that he would have to play, and blew the fuse in trying to start the organ blower motor. The elder told the pastor "Bender hat die Orgel sabotiert!" ("Bender sabotaged the organ.") The Pastor told the elder to call the Kripo (Kriminalpolizei). The police came to Bender's house about noon that day (January 1, 1937) and arrested him. He was sent to jail in Lčbeck, then on to Sachsenhausen, a concentration camp near Berlin, from which he was finally released on April 20 (Hitler's birthday). He therefore found himself back in Lčbeck but without a job. [In an article about the struggles in Lčbeck during this time, Dorothea Anderson, Gemeindehelferin at St. Gertrude states that the organ had been repaired before the end of the service and was used for the closing chorale. (from a typescript of the article in possession of this author)]. In a document dated January 31, 1946, three members of the church council (Kirchenvorstand) of St. Getrudkirche stated that Bender had not committed any act of sabotage and that Walter Kraft (organist of St. Marienkirche) and the organbuilder Kemper, had examined the instrument and determined that no act of sabotage had been committed.]
Finally, in October 1937, Bender was hired as Organist and Choirmaster at St. Lambertikirche in Aurich (East Friesland), where he remained until 1952. He married Charlotte Peters at her father's church in Heiligenstedten, Holstein, on June 21, 1939. They met for the first time at a Singwoche in Detmold in March 1938, but she had heard of him before. She was a student at a Bible school in Dortmund. While there, she had been attending secret meetings of a group that was praying for members of the Bekenntniskirche who were in prison. Jan Bender, organist from Lčbeck, was the only North German on that list and, since she was also from Holstein, she paid special attention. Her enduring interest and concern for him led to their meeting at the banquet at the end of the Singwoche. They began corresponding, became engaged, married, and spent 55 years together.
Jan Bender began his military service with three months of training in the spring of 1939. He was married on June 21, and then in August, he was called to active duty, serving first in France (near Aachen), then Denmark, and finally in Russia. In August 1941, he was wounded at Luga, near Leningrad. Shrapnel from a Russian hand-grenade severed his left optic nerve. After recuperation, he was sent home to Aurich and, though still in the Reserves, was able to resume his duties at Lambertikirche and as Kirchenmusikdirektor for Ostfriesland. This last post required him to supervise all the parishes in his district, visiting each one every year, advising the church musicians on their work, recommending additional study in some cases, organizing workshops, etc. He was responsible for this to the Superintendent of the Landeskirche von Hannover, who was none other than the renowned Christhard Mahrenholz mentioned above, editor of Musik und Kirche.
After his return to Aurich, Bender wrote in his Tagebuch on Oct. 31, 1941:
Der Krieg... der entsetzliche Krieg.. ist fčr mich zu Ende. Gott hat ein Einsehen gehabt. Am 17. August, in der ersten Morgenstunde riss mir vor Luga ein russischer Handgranatsplitter das linke Auge fort. Jetzt bin ich "daheim." â Mittagsruhe im ganzen Hause.
(The war... the ghastly war.. is over for me. God has shown consideration. On August 17, at Luga, in the first hour of the morning, a Russian hand-grenade splinter ripped my left eye out. Now I am "at home." â Midday rest throughout the house.)
--excerpt from Bender's Tagebuch 1927 bis 1957
But the war was not over for him after all. He was called back to active duty again in September 1944, and sent back to Aachen, where he was captured by the Allies on Oct. 20. He spent the rest of the war in a Prisoner-of-War camp, first at CompiÄgne, then nearby at Attichy in France. He was finally released in early September 1945, to return to his home in Aurich. He was truly delighted upon his return to discover that his wife and three sons were safe and well, and his house, especially all his scores, papers, and books were just as he had left them a year earlier! In his Tagebuch 1927-1957, he wrote an entry on the top of page 271, dated 2. September 1944, in which he comments on his imminent remobilization, ending with:
Es ist nicht ganz einfach, von den lieben Herzen zu scheiden. Aber Gott ist mit dabei. Er kommt mit und bleibt hier und bindet uns zusammen. Ihm sei Lob und Dank fčr diese 3 Jahre in der Heimat. Ihm sei Preis und Ehre auch in der finsteren Zukunft.
(It is not easy to leave [my] loved ones. But God is with them. He comes with [me] and remains here and binds us together. To Him be praise and thanksgiving for these three years at home. To him be praise and glory also in the dark [or obscure] future.)
--excerpt from Bender's Tagebuch 1927 bis 1957
On the very next line of the same page of his journal he writes a year later, on September 16, 1945:
Endlich wagt das Herz den ersten Jubelschrei. Wieder daheim! Und alles wie ehedem! Gut, Ehr, Kind und Weib, - nichts haben sie genommen. Da, wo ich abschloss, darf ich neu beginnen. Wie wenigen Menschen ist das zuteil geworden.
(At last the heart ventures its first cry of joy. Home again! And all as it was before! Posessions, honor, children and wife, - they have taken nothing. [Obviously a paraphrase from Luther's chorale A Mighty Fortress]. There, where I ended, may I begin anew. How few people have this chance.)
During those months in the POW camp, he worked as an assistant to the American Lutheran Chaplain, Pastor Carl Albert Zimmerman. He played for services in the various sections of the camp, cleaned and swept out the Chaplain's office, participated in Bible study, studied music theory(!), and continued his composing. According to his journal, it seems that he also had some access to a Pleyel piano! While there, he expanded his Auricher Singbčchlein (opus 1), which consists of 122 chorale settings for SA or SAB voices, written for his children's choir in Aurich. This collection is very reminiscent in style and content to Distler's Der Jahrkreis (opus 5). After the war, they were published by BŐrenreiter and, along with his 90 Kleine Choralvorspiele, (opus 2) launched his publishing career. (Actually, his Eine vergnčgte Klaviermusik (opus 3 no. 1), piano pieces from 1936-37, appeared in print first.) It is interesting to read an entry from his untitled Tagebuch, written during his confinement at CompiÄgne and Attichy, dated August 31, 1945:
Ich mčchte mÜglichst schnell heim, das Auricher Singbčchlein abschreiben in Druck geben, ein berčhmter Mann werden und gar eine Sing- und Konzertreise durch die Vereinigten Staaten machen. Aber in diesem elenden Lager muss ich wohl noch lernen, dasz Gott seinen Kindern oft ganz andere Wege fŐhrt, wie sie zu gehen beabsichtigen.
(I desire the possibility to be home quickly, to have my Auricher Singbčchlein copied in print, to become a famous person and perhaps to make a singing and concert tour through the United States. But in this wretched camp I still must learn well, that God often leads his children on quite a different path than they intended to go.)
--excerpt from Bender's Tagebuch Dec. 1944-Sept. 1945
It is noteworthy that all of his desires were met, probably even in part surpassed!
In addition to Hugo Distler, a second important influence on Bender as a composer is the work of Paul Hindemith. While he never had the chance to study personally with Hindemith, he thoroughly studied the music and treatises by Hindemith, even calling him "Saint Paul" out of affection and respect. From Hindemith came some of Bender's ideas regarding harmony (especially quartal harmonies), use of non-harmonic tones, and analysis. This influence is especially evident in his textbook on organ improvisation (opus 59) and in his Experimentum organo (opus 55). Bender also required his composition students to study and use Hindemith's Craft of Musical Composition.
Upon his return to Lčneburg, he discovered that his substitute had not adequately discharged the duties at the organ during Bender's absence, and the new Pastor declared that Bender would not be allowed to leave for such an extended period again. In his Christmas letter to Prof. Hoelty-Nickel at Valparaiso, Bender asked him to look for possible positions in America.
On January 18, 1960, he received an invitation to teach at Concordia Teacher's College in Seward, Nebraska, and in April the official call arrived. With much thought, and considerable disagreement from many of his relatives, he accepted the invitation and moved to the United States in September. For that first year, his third son, Friedemann, came with him, while the rest of the family stayed in Lčneburg (the oldest son had only one year left before his Abitur). The next fall, his wife, Charlotte, and sons Jan Eilhard (having just completed his Abitur) and youngest son Matthias joined him in Seward. Christoph remained another year in Lčneburg to finish his Abitur before immigrating. In addition to his heavy teaching load of organ and music theory at Seward, Bender launched an active recital career, including fourteen concert tours throughout the continental United States, Alaska and Hawaii, as well as in Canada, Germany, Holland, Norway, and Spain. His hand-written list of concerts played or conducted throughout his career includes 312 recitals and Abendmusiken, but this author has found a few additional programs to add to the list!
While Bender was not a flashy performer, his playing was always very musical, with a strong sense of line and shape. His repertoire included the Baroque German masters, Mendelssohn, Reger, Micheelsen, Pepping, the two Distler Partitas (which he had studied with the composer), a few other contemporary Germans, and his own compositions. Only very rarely did he play a concert of only his own pieces. One of his most amazing recital series was presented during summer, 1947, in Aurich, where he played fourteen weekly organ recitals organized into a veritable survey of (German and Dutch) organ repertoire and styles. His oral program notes were always informative and entertaining.
In 1965, Jan Bender received an invitation to become Associate Professor of Composition and Organ at Wittenberg University in Springfield, Ohio. This was appealing to him partly because of his desire to spend more of his time teaching composition. Wittenberg also had, in those days, a very strong church music program with ties to the Kirchenmusikschule in Berlin-Spandau (now closed). So, in the fall of 1965, the Benders moved to Wittenberg, where he worked until retirement in 1975. Maintaining his ties with Germany, he exchanged positions for spring semester, 1971, with Heinz Werner Zimmermann in Berlin. For seven summers (1966-72) he also taught at the Schola Cantorum at Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, Missouri. He spent most of his sabbatical leave, fall semester, 1972, in Jerusalem (where his older sister had settled), composing and performing. This was his second trip to the Holy Land—he had visited there after his term of teaching in Berlin the previous year. Throughout these years in the United States he continued to be very productive as a composer of organ and choral works (opus numbers 20-64). He was promoted to Professor in May 1974. Though he retired in 1975, he was asked to stay on another year as Professor Emeritus, teaching part-time.
One activity that was quite important to Dr. Bender was his involvement with hymnody. A great percentage of his compositions use chorale tunes (and texts), both in cantatas and choral settings as well as in chorale preludes and accompaniments for organ. He even used chorale tunes in a set of piano pieces written for Abingdon Press (opus 31 no. 2), although the piece titles only refer to the appropriate season of the church year. Beyond this, Bender was very active in promoting the thorough and appropriate use of the new Evangelisches Kirchengesangbuch (EKG), which was introduced throughout the church in Germany in 1950. He organized workshops for the church musicians in his region to study this new resource and started a collection of chorale preludes and intonations intended to supply material for every tune in this hymnal. This manuscript resource (opus 75a), in three volumes, was never completed, though this author believes, based on calligraphic and ink evidence, that he started it shortly after moving to Lčneburg in 1953 (possibly in conjunction with opus 9 no. 16), returned to it in the mid 1970's, and again in the early 1980's (before beginning opus 75b). For this collection, like with Bach's Orgelbčchlein, Bender first wrote the titles of all the chorale tunes in EKG, one per page (sometimes allowing two pages per title), and then entered some pieces. Instead of following the hymnal order, however, Bender entered his titles in alphabetical order by tune. There are 264 titles listed, of which he entered 119 settings for 74 of the tunes. His earliest compositions were also chorale-based and of wide scope, opus 1 containing 122 chorale settings for SA or SAB choir, while opus 2 included 90 short chorale preludes (many designed for a one-armed organist, i.e. using one hand and pedals). These pieces, still in print today, are a wonderful study in developing short chorale introductions. The first ones were written specifically for his friend and Leipzig classmate, Hans Pflugbeil, who lost his right arm at the very end of the War, but continued his career as a prominent church musician in Greifswald!
After moving to the United States, Bender became involved with the preparation of a new hymnal for the Missouri Synod. In 1962, he was appointed to the Subcommittee on Music of the Missouri Synod's Commission on Worship, Liturgics, and Hymnology. The Commission was preparing to develop a new hymnal to replace The Lutheran Hymnal, which had been published in 1941. Their work culminated in the publication of Worship Supplement in July 1969. In the meantime, the Inter-Lutheran Commission on Worship (ILCW) was formed to prepare a new hymnal for all Lutherans in North America. When Bender moved to Wittenberg University (a college of the Lutheran Church in America) he was allowed to continue as a member of the Missouri Synod hymnal committee since he joined a Missouri Synod parish there. In 1966, Bender was nominated by the Missouri Synod as a member of the Music for the Hymns committee of the ILCW. This Commission ultimately produced the Lutheran Book of Worship, which was first published in 1978 (though the Missouri Synod backed out at the eleventh hour!). In his date book, Bender listed these committee meetings as "Gesangbuchbastelstčndchen" (which means something like ´little hymnal crafting hours'). As part of his ongoing participation in these meetings, Bender wrote 110 hymn settings (including accompaniments and choral settings) many of which were subsequently used in these two hymnals and in other collections. He was particularly proud to have been a part of this work and clearly contributed a great deal to the final musical shape of these hymnals.
When he finally retired in 1976, Jan and Charlotte moved back to Germany, settling in Hanerau, a small village in Holstein, which was Charlotte's Mother's home. In fact, they bought the house at Mannhardtstraže 65 which had originally been her Grandfather's house and had been built about 1807. Jan also retained his connections with the United States, returning as Visiting Professor and sabbatical replacement for Phil Gehring at Valparaiso University, Valparaiso IN (Spring 1979), Composer-in-Residence and Visiting Professor at Gustavus Adolphus College, St. Peter MN (1979-81), and Visiting Professor at Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary, Columbia SC (Spring 1982). While in Hanerau, he continued to play for church services on occasion, sing in the Parish choir, and founded the first handbell choir in North Germany at the village church (St. Severinkirche in Hademarschen). He "retired" from the choir in June, 1984, but continued to compose, completing his final composition (opus 114) in 1989. Until his very last years, he also regularly played for the residents at the nearby Altenheim and continued to teach a few students, preparing at least three of them to pass their "C" Prčfung in Kirchenmusik. He also took long walks in the woods, where at least one bench is now known as the "Benderbank" because he so often sat there to rest. He was an inveterate traveler throughout his life and kept extensive records of his travels, logging 251,450 miles flying in his life (equivalent to ten times around the earth, he noted!)
On December 23, 1994, Jan Bender was taken to the hospital in Itzehoe, having apparently suffered a mild stroke. He remained there until December 29, fading in and out of consciousness, when his family took him home. He relaxed into his familiar surroundings, but about three hours later he slipped peacefully into the sleep for which he had longed.
The funeral service for Jan Bender was conducted at the St. Severinkirche in Hademarschen, Germany on January 4, 1995. Pastor Karl Emil Schade, the retired Pastor of the Severinkirche presided, and Katrin Stotz, one of the students Dr. Bender had coached for her "C" Prčfung was the organist. The local parish choir was conducted by Katrin Stotz, and the cappella piccola from Hohenwestedt was conducted by Norbert Klose, with organ accompaniment by Wilfrid Myles. The service included:
During his career, Bender received many awards, including the Canticum Novum Award from Wittenberg University in May 1975, an honorary Doctor of Letters degree from Concordia Teachers College, Seward, NE, also in May 1975, and the Gustavus Fine Arts Award from Gustavus Adolphus College in May 1979. In 1987, the Association of Lutheran Church Musicians named him the first Honorary Life Member. He was also named an Honorary Fellow of the Hymn Society of America. One of the more intriguing honors bestowed on Professor Bender was his inclusion in a large church window at Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Detroit, MI. This window, dedicated to church musicians, includes Luther, David, Bach, Handel, Watts, Schčtz, Nicolai, and Jan Bender (the only 20th century figure in the group).
Church window in Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Detroit
(Bender is in lower right)
Jan Bender made many significant contributions to church music both in Germany and in America. During his long career, he wrote about 2,500 compositions, including 444 choral pieces, 816 for organ, 54 for brass, 26 for instrumental ensembles, 932 for keyboard (piano and/or harpsichord—this number includes individual piano settings for every hymn in the Lutheran Book of Worship, opus 75b), 102 songs, 83 handbell pieces, and one textbook (opus 59). Some of these compositions are still in the catalogs of publishers on both sides of the Atlantic. He has influenced many current church musicians and teachers by his example and, more directly, as their organ or composition teacher. He was a very warm, caring, Christian gentleman, who had strong convictions in his concern for high standards both of musical choice and execution in the worship of God.
About church music, Jan wrote in 1967: "Church music should have its roots in the past but at the same time should show that as an art it is developing and growing and able to change from something old to something new." (Church Music 67.2, p. 9) As to his personal goals as a composer of church music, he said in the same article: "I am trying to show that church music is something alive and wonderful, that is capable of being used as a means of expression of our faith, confession, love and joy and gratefulness to God." (ibid., p. 14) Bender considered his music to be a bridge between the very advanced music of today and the sensibilities of the Christian layperson. His goal throughout his career was to maintain a high level of creativity and craft in his composing while still communicating with the person in the pew.
"Herr, nun lŐssest du deinen Diener im Frieden fahren..."
"Lord, Now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace... "