German poet and journalist Matthias Claudius wrote many devotional poems and texts but We Plow the Fields and Scatter is the only one that has stood the test of time. Originally seventeen stanzas long, it was the peasants’ song in Claudius’s sketch Paul Erdmann’s Feast (1782) but, with the omission of several stanzas, became a popular hymn in 19th century German hymnals. It made its first English language appearance in Charles Bere’s A Garland of Songs (1861) thanks to a translation by British writer and music teacher Jane Montgomery-Campbell.
We Plow the Fields is nearly always sung to the tune Wir Pflugen which was first published anonymously in 1800 but was later credited to German musician and composer Johann Abraham Peter Schulz in Lindner’s 1812 Berlin songbook Jungenfreund. In 1861, English clergyman and hymnist John B. Dykes added a harmonization in Hymns Ancient and Modern which we still use today.
We Plow the Fields always reminds me of another wonderful text that I believe is part of an Amish hymn:
Bid the refreshing north wind wake,
Say to the south wind blow,
Let ev’ry plant the pow’r partake
and all the garden grow.
In the spirit of that simplicity, I reached back to my childhood and my very first recital piece – Edward Grieg’s Grandmother’s Minuet – and used Grieg’s grace note motive as inspiration to create my piano arrangement of We Plow the Fields. Perhaps because of the nostalgia, this arrangement is one of my favorites to play. Enjoy!