Influential theologian and church musician Richard Gölz (1887-1975) re-introduced music into the pulpit-centered German Protestant Church. Inspired by the Youth Movement, he championed congregational singing, a conscious music-text relation, and active participation in voice, spirit, and intellect. His famous Chorgesangbuch (1934) is a pioneering scholarly edition of 16th-century music by Martin Luther, Orlando di Lasso, Michael Praetorius, and others. The book reached every protestant church choir in Southern Germany and beyond, and it transformed the repertoire. It replaced sentimental 19th-century songs with sophisticated polyphonic works that boosted singers’ skills and revived liturgical life. Still a standard work today, it is known as “der Gölz.” Many chorales Gölz rediscovered are now classics.
In 1933, Gölz initiated a revival of Gregorian chant, working with 10th-century sources before anybody else. Tireless teacher, visionary scholar and editor, passionate promoter of the power of music, Gölz became known as “The Cantor of Swabia.”
Independent thinking is indispensable for ethical decisions. Gölz was in the zenith of his career when Hitler came to power. In 1933, Gölz taught at the prestigious Protestant Seminary in Tübingen and was a nationally visible figure. As Tübingen rushed to create the first “Jew–free” university, Gölz openly opposed the new regime. Characteristically, he spoke through music: in a scene that has become legendary, he interrupted a “German Christian" sermon by playing the chorale “Oh God, look down from Heaven and have mercy!” on the organ.
After this scandal, Gölz was made a simple pastor in the village of Wankheim.
In this same village of Wankheim, career Nazi Gottlob Berger had worked as a schoolteacher before rising through the ranks of the SS to national leadership. Berger was one of the last to visit Hitler in his bunker in April 1945.)
After his move to Wankheim, Gölz, refused the oath to Hitler. A father of five, amid income cuts and reprisals, he mentored and financially supported younger oppositional colleagues. He hid fugitive Jews in his home. Berger personally arranged for his surveillance, and in 1944, Gölz was arrested and imprisoned in the concentration camp in Welzheim.
Religion never stood in opposition to thinking for Gölz, and his independent spirit often put him at odds with institutions. After the war, he distanced himself from the Protestant Church. Interested in Slavic liturgy, and already fluent in five languages, he learned Old Church Slavonic. In 1950, he was ordained as a Russian Orthodox priest. Eight years later, aged 71, he moved with a congregation of Serbian Displaced Persons to Milwaukee. There, he served at St. Sava Serbian Orthodox Cathedral until his death in 1975.
Richard Gölz -- Singen und Widerstehen (English title: The Cantor of Swabia)
Our new feature-length documentary film about the life and work of Richard Gölz is now in post-production! It will have its first public screening on June 5 at 9 pm in the Erlöserkirche in Stuttgart.