Five hundred years ago in 1517, Martin Luther published his "Ninety-five Theses," launching the Protestant Reformation.
A break from the Catholic Church, the Reformation came to have profound consequences. As many churches hold special services to mark the beginning of the Reformation, the music composed at the time is being performed by I Cantori on Nov. 3 at Messiah Lutheran Church on Skidaway Island.
"It should be required listening for everyone in the community," I Cantori founder and director Robert Harris says with a laugh. "It's in honor of the 500th anniversary of the start of the Reformation. Seeing as how there are a lot of wonderful composers who happened to be Lutheran, it seemed to be a good opportunity to do some good music."
The concert will include a performance of Luther's own composition, "A Mighty Fortress Is Our God." The concert also will feature two works by the 16th century German composer Heinrich SchÃ¼tz.
"SchÃ¼tz was perhaps the first great genius composer who devoted his career to Lutheran church music," Harris says. "Born exactly 100 years before Bach, he has always been one of my favorite neglected composers.
"He was another real genius who wrote a ton of music. There was a lot of variety, so I could do a whole concert of music and just begin to get started. My hardest job was to keep narrowing it down.
"This Bach fellow spent a lot of time writing for Lutheran church - about 28 years," Harris says. "Mendelssohn and several others have been very gifted church musicians."
The catalogue of Lutheran church music is huge.
"You can only touch the surface," Harris says. "It's the deepest pool imaginable. Bach based a lot of church music on familiar chorales his church communities would have recognized immediately. "We're going to do some hymns from Bach," Harris says. "We'll let the audience sing on this one. There are hymnals in the pews."
"Johann Sebastian Bach is the true giant among all Lutheran musicians," Harris says. "Rather than pretend that we can do him justice with a few selections, we have chosen to represent his monumental church music ouvre with several varied chorale settings. No other composer compares with the imagination of J.S. Bach when it comes to building a composition around a familiar melody."
Other composers featured in the concert include Michael Praetorius, Melchoir Frank, Andreas Hammerschmidt and Felix Mendelssohn.
"Mendelssohn's grandfather was a Jewish philosopher of international reputation," Harris says. "When he was a child, his family converted to Christianity. He wrote a lot of church music, and we've selected a couple of pieces to represent him."
The concert will close with a composition by Hugo Distler.
"Distler served St. Thomas, the same church in Leipzig which had been Bach's professional home for 28 years," Harris says. "He died tragically during World War II, cutting short the promising career of a young genius who was still in his 30s.
"He had a deferment from serving with the Nazis because of his talent. He was very much against what the Nazis were doing.
"He panicked that his deferment might not be renewed, and it weighed on him so heavily, he ended up taking his own life," Harris says. "The day after his suicide, his deferment came in the mail."
Members of the audience will join the choir to sing several of the chorale melodies still found in Lutheran hymnals.
"It's been exciting for me to pause and dig back in composers I've always thought, 'I've got to get back and do him sometime,'" Harris says. "These are milestones among choral music.
"We're hoping it might appeal to the community, particularly the Lutheran community, who might not look to us as having a concert they would attend. This one is focused toward their tradition.
"To me, this is a real opportunity," he says. "Some of the finest choral music was written by composers writing for Lutheran worship services. Such is the variety in this program, you don't feel it is all the same."
IF YOU GO
What: I Cantori presents "Celebration 500"
When: 7:30 p.m. Nov. 3
Where: Messiah Lutheran Church, 1 W. Ridge Road
Cost: $15 adults, $10 students
Info: 912-925-7866, icantorisavannah.com