Joachim Neander (1650-1680) is counted among the earliest and, perhaps, finest hymnwriters in the German Reformation tradition. Of his 56 known hymns, the most popular and well-known in America is Lobe den Herren, den mächtigen König der Ehren, or “Praise to the Lord, the Almighty King of Creation.”
Neander, whose musician grandfather had changed the family name “Neumann” to the Greek “Neander,” a common custom at the time. Born in Bremen, Neander studied theology, but with little real interest until hearing a sermon by the pietist preacher Theodor Undereyk. Neander would also come under the influence of Jacob Spener, at a time when the piestistic influences in the German Reformed Church were causing upheaval and dissension.
Neander spent time in Heidelberg before moving to Düsseldorf, following in his father’s footsteps as a Latin teacher. It was here that he began holding services in the nearby Valley of Düssel, a beautiful area that served as the inspiration for many of his poems and hymns. Sadly, Neander would be swept up in the theological controversies of the times, leading him to move to the valley and take up residence in a cave.
The valley was renamed after him, the valley or “thal” of Neander – Neandethal, site of the archaeological digs of the same name. Neander never had the opportunity for his thoughts to mature and, perhaps temper, with age. He died at the age of thirty, a victim of tuberculosis.