Luther and his contemporaries referred to these vernacular hymns as geistliche Lieder (spiritual songs), Psalmen (psalms), christliche Lieder (Christian songs), and geistliche (or christliche) Gesänge or Kirchengesänge. The German word Choral, which was originally used to describe Latin plainchant melodies, was first applied to the Lutheran hymn only in the later sixteenth century (Marshall and Leaver 2001).
Chorales also appear in chorale preludes, pieces generally for organ originally designed to be played immediately before the congregational singing of the hymn, but developed into an autonomous genre by north-German composers of the middle and late 17th century, particularly Dieterich Buxtehude (Marshall 2001). A chorale prelude includes the melody of the chorale, and adds contrapuntal lines. One of the first composers to write chorale preludes was Samuel Scheidt. Bach's many chorale preludes are the best-known examples of the form. Later composers of the chorale prelude include Johannes Brahms, for example in his Eleven Chorale Preludes, and Max Reger who composed many examples, including Wie schön leucht' uns der Morgenstern (based on the hymn by Philipp Nicolai). In the 20th century, important contributions to the genre were made by Hugo Distler and Ernst Pepping (Marshall 2001).
Sofia Gubaidulina – Meditation über den Bach-Choral "Vor deinen Thron tret' ich hiermit", for harpsichord, two violins, viola, cello, and contrabass (1993)
Scholarship regarding Lutheran chorales intensified from the 19th century.
Carl von Winterfeld
Carl von Winterfeld [de] published three volumes of Der evangelische Kirchengesang und sein Verhältniss zur Kunst des Tonsatzes (Evangelical church-song and its relation to the art of composition) from 1843 to 1847 (Winterfeld 1843–1847).
Zahn's classification of chorale tunes
Johannes Zahn published Die Melodien der deutschen evangelischen Kirchenlieder (the tunes of the German Evangelical hymns) in six volumes from 1889 to 1893 (Zahn 1889–1893).