The chorale is a German-Protestant hymn. In efforts to coerce the congregation into more participation, musician, composer, and religious reformer Martin Luther wrote the first known chorales in the early 16th century. Luther borrowed melodies from the more popular chants of the Roman Catholic church, incorporating bible verses or his own words into his chorales as in 'Von Himmel hoch (From heaven above) in 1539; a work which would be later revived in the 20th century.
Other composers following Luther's lead, would write many chorales throughout the rest of the century. These early chorales would become the standard for future, more complex works such as the chorale cantatas of the great J.S. Bach, renowned as the best composer of hymns at the time. Bach also integrated the organ into these and other compositions like his 'Ach mein herzliebes Jesulein' from his 'Christmas Oratorio' about 1734.
Early Renaissance Chorale
'Vom Himmel hoch,' da komm ich her'
Composed by Martin Luther 1539
Modern Variation Cantata
'Vom Himmel hoch,' da komm ich her' Variations
Composed by Igor Stravinsky 1956
Johann Sebastian Bach