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8.224160 - BUXTEHUDE: Vocal Music, Vol. 2
English 

DIETERICH BUXTEHUDE: A SKETCH OF HIS LIFE

Dieterich Buxtehude lived his entire life close to the shores of the Baltic Sea. He was most likely born in 1637 in the Danish town of Helsingborg, now part of Sweden. His father Johannes (Hans), also an organist, had immigrated to Denmark at an unknown time from Oldesloe, in Holstein. In the year 1641 Johannes Buxtehude was employed as the organist at St. Mary's Church, Helsingborg, and soon after that he moved across the Øresund to become organist of St. Olai Church in Helsingør. The exact date of Dieterich's birth is unknown, but at the time of his death on 9 May, 1707, he was said to be about seventy years old. Baptismal records do not extend back to 1637 in Helsingborg, Helsingøt or Oldesloe. As a child in Helsingøt, Dieterich Buxtehude must have been aware of both his German heritage and his Danish surroundings, and he appears to have grown up bilingual. In Helsingør and during his early years in Lübeck, Buxtehude normally spelled his natne "Diderich," but later he regularly signed it "Dieteticli" or "Dietericus."

The knowledge of Latin that Buxtehude displayed in later life indicates that he must have attended a Latin school as a boy. Although he undoubtedly began his organ studies with his father, further infotmation concerning his teachers is totally lacking. Other possible teachers in Denmark include Claus Dengel, organist at St. Mary's, Helsingøt, from 1650 to 1660, and Johann Lorentz, Jr., the famous organist at St. Nicholas' Church, Copenhagen, ftom 1634 until his death in 1689. Lorentz was a pupil and son-in-law of Jacob Praetorius in Hamburg, and the Buxtehude family made his acquaintance in 1650 upon the death of his father, Johann Lorentz, Sr., an organ builder. Buxtehude might later have studied with Heinrich Scheidemann in Hamburg or Franz Tunder in Lübeck.

In late 1657 or early 1658, Buxtehude assumed the same position as organist of Sr. Mary's Church, Helsingborg, that his father had occupied before coming to Helsingør. He worked there until October, 1660, when he became organist of St. Mary's, Helsingør, called the German church because it served foreigners of the community and the military garrison of Kronborg. In Helsingør, Buxtehude was expected to play at the beginning of the service while the pastor was robing himself; he and the cantor were to provide instrumental and vocal music for the church on feast days and at other times at the pastor's request.

The position of organist and Werkmeister at St. Mary's, Lübeck, became vacant upon the death of Franz Tunder 5 November 1667, and Dieterich Buxtehude was formally appointed the following April. This was a much more prestigious and well-paying position than the one he had held in Helsingør; Buxtehude was the most highly paid musician in Lübeck, and he earned nearly as much as the pastor of St. Mary's.

Buxtehude swore the oath of citizenship 23 July 1668, enabling him to marry and set up his household. He married Anna Margaretha Tunder, a daughter of his predecessor, on 3 August, 1668. Seven daughters were born into the family of Dieterich and Anna Margaretha Buxtehude and baptized at St. Mary's. Three died in infancy, a fourth survived to early adulthood, and three remained in the household at the time of Buxtehude's death: Anna Margreta, baptized 10 June 1675, Anna Sophia, baptized 30 August 1678, and Dorothea Catrin, baptized 25 March 1683. Godparents to the Buxtehude children came from the higher strata of Lübeck society, the families of the wealthy wholesalers who lived in St. Mary's parish and governed both the church and the city. Buxtehude himself belonged to the fourth social class, however, together with lesser wholesalers, retailers and brewers. In inviting his social superiors to serve as godparents - and in some cases naming his children after them - Buxtehude was also cultivating their patronage for his musical enterprises.

As organist of St. Maty's, Buxtehude's chief responsibility lay in playing the organ for the main morning and afternoon services on Sundays and feast days. He also held the position of Werkmeister of St. Mary's, the administrator and treasurer of the church, a position of considerable responsibility and prestige. The account books that he kept in this capacity document the life of the church and its music in considerable detail. The cantor of St. Mary's, also a teacher at the Catharineum, held the responsibility for providing the liturgical music, using his school choir of men and boys. They performed together with most of the Lübeck municipal musicians from a large choir loft in the front of the church, over the rood screen. Two municipal musicians, a violinist and a lutenist, regularly performed with Buxtehude from the large organ.

Buxtehude inherited a tradition established by Franz Tunder of performing concerts from the large organ of St. Mary's at the request of the business community. Tunder had gradually added vocalists and instrumentalists to his organ performances, which are said to have taken place on Thursdays prior to the opening of the stock exchange. Within a year of his arrival in Lübeck, Buxtehude had greatly expanded the possibilities for the performance of concerted music from the large organ by having two new balconies installed at the west end of the church, each paid for by a single donor. These new balconies, together with the four that were already there, could accommodate about forty singers and instrumentalists. Buxtehude called his concerts Abendmusiken and changed the time of their presentation to Sundays after vespers. In time these concerts took place regulatly on the last two Sundays of Trinity and the second, third and fourth Sundays of Advent each year. By 1678 he had introduced the practice of presenting oratorios of his own composition in serial fashion on these Sundays. He also directed performances of concerted music from the large Organ during the regular church services, although this activity, like the presentation of the Abendmusiken, lay outside his official duties to the church.

By 1703 Buxtehude had served for thirty-five years as organist of St. Mary's; he was about sixty-six years old and he was no doubt concerned about the future of his three unmarried daughters, so he began to look for a successor who would marry Anna Margreta, the eldest, aged twenty-eight. The first prospective candidates of whom we know were Johann Mattheson and Georg Friederich Händel, both of whom were employed at the Hamburg opera at the time. They travelled to Lübeck together 17 August 1703 and listened to Buxtehude "with dignified attention," but since neither of them was at all interested in the marriage condition, they returned to Hamburg the following day. Johann Sebastian Bach made his famous trip to visit Buxtehude in the fall of 1705, coinciding with the Abendmusik season, and he remained in Lübeck for nearly three months. Bach, too, may have been interested in obtaining the succession to Buxtehude's position, but there is no evidence that this was the case. The account of the trip in Bach's obituary states unambiguously that its purpose was to heat Buxtehude play the Organ, and in his report to the Arnstadt consistory upon his return the following February, Bach stared that he had made the trip "in order to comprehend one thing and another about his art." Buxtehude died 9 May 1707 and was succeeded by Johann Christian Schieferdecker, who married Anna Margreta 5 September 1707.

Few documents survive to illuminate the details of Buxtehude's life, but those that do reveal a multifaceted personality to match the broad stylistic range of the music that he composed. In addition to his varied activities as a musician - composer, keyboard player, conductor - he worked with both numbers and words as an accountant and a poet. He composed dedicatory poems for publications by his friends Johann Theile and Andreas Werckmeister, and he appears to have written the texts for several of his vocal works. He was both a dutiful employee of the church and a bold entrepreneur in his management of the Abendmusiken. His choice of texts for vocal music demonstrates deep Christian piety, while his portrait with Johann Adam Reinken in "Häusliche Musikszene, " painted in 1674 by Johann Voorhout, shows a man of the world. These two aspects of Buxtehude's personality are neatly juxtaposed in the canon that he wrote for the Lübeck theological student Meno Hanneken; headed by Buxtehude's motto, "Non hominibus sed Deo" (not to men but to God), its text celebrates worldly pleasure: "Divertisons nous aujourd'hui, bouvons ... la santé, de mon ami" (Let us enjoy ourselves today and drink to the health of my friend).

The writers of his own and the succeeding generation made only scant mention of Buxtehude; nonetheless, he was honored, both in his own century and in the one that followed, in a manner that was ultimately of far greater significance than any number of verbal accolades might have been: by the copying of his music, more of which survives, and in a greater number of genres, than from any of his North German contemporaries. His vocal music is found chiefly in copies made by or for his friend Gustav Düben, chapel master to the King of Sweden. Many copies of his free organ works stem from the circle of J.S. Bach, while the surviving manuscripts of his chorale-based organ works were copied mainly by Johann Gottfried Walther. Buxtehude's only major publications during his lifetime were two collections of sonatas for violin, viola da gamba, and harpsichord (dacapo 8.224003 and 8.224004).

BUXTEHUDE’S VOCAL MUSIC

Although Buxtehude never held a position that required him to compose vocal music, he left over 120 vocal works in an extremely wide range of texts, scorings, genres, compositional styles, and length. Texts, almost entirely sacred, are found in four languages, and performing forces range from one voice with one instrument and continuo to nine voices with fifteen instruments and continuo, divided into six choirs. Few of these works can be considered liturgical music for the Lutheran church, which was in any event the responsibility of the cantor. They were probably performed under Buxtehude's direction from the large organ at St. Mary's in Lübeck during the distribution of communion at the morning service, during vespers, or perhaps in concerts, such as the Abendmusiken.

Buxtehude inherited well-established traditions regarding the musical settings of the texts that he chose. German composers of the seventeenth century typically transformed biblical prose into sacred concertos and strophic poetry into songs or arias. If the poetry was a church hymn associated with a well-known melody, however, they usually incorporated this chorale melody into a sacred concerto.

The German sacred concerto, whether for few or many voices, was established early in the seventeenth century in the works of Praetorius, Schütz, Schein, and Scheidt. It was often described by theorists of the time as a piece in which vocalists and instrumentalists contend with one another, and indeed one of its most salient characteristics is the tossing of musical motives associated with a phrase of text from one performer to another. Its form is usually through-composed, consisting of a number of sections delineated by contrasting meter, texture, and perhaps scoring, each reflecting the nuances of its particular portion of the text.

The word "aria" is the only vocal genre designation that Buxtehude is known to have used himself. His aria texts always consist of strophic poetry, usually newly written, and their musical settings may be in purely strophic, strophic variation, or through-composed form. An instrumental ritornello usually articulates the divisions between strophes. In contrast to the concerto, the arias texture tends to be more homophonic, its phrase structure more regular, and its style more unified, placing more attention on an overall affect than on single words.

Buxtehude's treatment of chorale melodies ranges from rather simple harmonizations with instrumental interjections to elaborate concerted settings. Chorale concertos differ from those composed to biblical texts in one important respect: it is normally the chorale melody rather than the phrase of text that generates the musical motives.

While these genres remained quite distinct earlier in the century, in the hands of Buxtehude and his contemporaries they began to merge. In Buxtehude's works, the meeting of concerto and aria occurred in two distinct ways. On the one hand he juxtaposed these genres as separate movements within a larger work, which we now call a cantata, retaining most of the stylistic features associated with each genre, including their different texts. On the other hand, he extended each single genre by bringing into one or more sections of a work stylistic attributes associated with the other, such as concertato instrumental interjections between the phrases of an aria or aria-like sections within a concerto.

INDIVIDUAL WORKS IN THIS ALBUM

The text of Das neugeborne Kindelein (BuxWV 13), published by Cyriacus Schneegass in 1588, appeared in numerous 17th-century hymnals with various melodies, but Buxtehude disregarded them all and chose to set these four strophes as a through-composed aria for four voices and instruments. This piece offers an excellent example of Buxtehude's integration of elements from the concerto into the aria. Each strophe of the poem consists of four eight syllable lines, and his setting of the first three lines of the first strophe totally reflects this poetic structure, as is the case throughout the aria "Dir, dir Höchster" in Alles was ihr tut. After that, however, the regular phrases cease, and the fourth line is extended through contrapuntal interchange and repetition. One is still aware of the integrity of the poetic line, however, and the strophe is set off by a ritornello, as one expects of an aria. The concertato elements are much more pronounced in the second strophe, including a meter change within it, but the ritornello returns, this time in the dominant, to remind us that this is still an aria. Some regular phrases return in the third strophe, but numerous instrumental interjections assert the concerto's continued presence, as is the case with the fourth strophe, which follows in a new meter after a second ritornello. The great advantage of the through-composed concerto is its ability to reflect every nuance of the text; we see this, for example, in the strong contrasts drawn in the third strophe between the reconciliation and friendliness of God reflected in the adagio chords of the first line and the opposition to the devil shown in the sharp, quick, and repeated setting of the word "trotz" in the third. This hybrid work also has a more widely ranging tonal plan than is the case with most of Buxtehude's arias.

Der Herr ist mit mir (BuxWV 15) is one of Buxtehude's most homogeneous and accessible sacred concertos, intended perhaps, like Alles was ihr tut, to appeal to a broad spectrum of the Lübeck citizenry. Its text comprises two psalm verses, each beginning with the same phrase, "Der Herr ist mit mir" (the Lord is with me), which Buxtehude set with a sharply profiled and frequently recurring rhythmic motive, first heard at the very beginning of the instrumental introduction. To this he juxtaposes the opposing phrase at the end of the first verse - "what can man do unto me?" - with strongly contrasting adagio chords. The second major section, corresponding to the second verse of the text, has a gentler character, prompted perhaps by the text "to help me"; it is in triple meter, which serves to soften the rhythm of the "Der Herr ist mit mir" motive, and this change in character is further underlined by an initial shift to the major mode. Throughout these two sections the text is the generating force and is clearly comprehensible; the texture is mainly homophonic, and there is little change in voicing. The music takes over in the concluding "Alleluia" section, however, a ciacona consisting of 19 variations over a two-measure ostinato bass Here Buxtehude introduces varied voicing, instrumental and vocal virtuosity, and counterpoint to bring the work to a brilliant conclusion.

The dramatic nature of Fürwahr; er trug unsere Krankheit (BuxWV 31) is apparent from the first measures of the opening Sinfonia, with its stark dynamic contrasts and abrupt rests. Two sections for solo voice carry the main burden of the text of this sacred concerto, the bass in concertato style with the full corpus of instruments and the soprano in a dramatic recitative accompanied by gambas, whose parts are marked "tremulo" for an especially expressive effect. Buxtehude dramatically renders the response of the community to Isaiah's suffering servant by lifting one line of text, "Yet we esteemed him as one who was afflicted...," and repeating it in rondo fashion and in ever increasing intensity, from duet, to trio, to the entire ensemble. The close imitative counterpoint of the tutti refrain and of the final phrase, "and with his wounds we are healed," contrasts strongly with the block homophony to the words "that we might have peace." This remarkable work, one of the finest examples of the late sacred concerto, is preserved in Buxtehude's only surviving autograph manuscript score in the Düben Collection at Uppsala. In its intense and expressive setting of the passion theme it is reminiscent of the cantata cycle Membra Jesu nostri (BuxWV 75), which Buxtehude dedicated to Gustav Düben in 1680.

Alles, was ihr tut (BuxWV 4) may have been Buxtehude's most popular vocal work during his lifetime, since it alone is preserved in three independent manuscripts, one copied in Lübeck under Buxtehude's supervision, one copied partially by his friend Gustav Düben at the Swedish royal court, and one at the ducal court of Holstein-Gottorf. It maintains that popularity today, due largely to its direct and ingratiating style. It is one of only four of Buxtehude's vocal works that combine three distinct stylistic types - the sacred concerto set to a biblical text, the aria with a strophic text, and the setting of a chorale text to its preexisting melody - into what we now call a cantata. The compilation of the text reflects the work ethic of the Lübeck business community, beginning with the admonition from Colossians to do everything in the name of Jesus and closing with the undertaking of the work to which God had destined [the citizen] in his vocation and class in society. The concerto at the beginning, "Alles was ihr tut," opens in uncharacteristically homophonic style, followed by a more contrapuntal texture at the word "danket." The aria, "Dir, dir Höchster," is not for solo voice, as one might expect, but for all four voices in strict homophony. Set to a poem by an unidentified author, perhaps even Buxtehude himself, its three strophes are articulated by a lively ritornello, with shorter instrumental interludes between phrases. The second biblical text, "Habe deine Lust," is set for bass solo in arioso style and introduces the closing chorale, strophes 6 and 7 of the hymn "Aus meines Herzens Grunde," by Georg Niege, with an anonymous 16th-century melody. Buxtehude set it in his most characteristic chorale style, homophonically with instrumental interludes separating each phrase, first for solo voice and then for chorus, drawing the individual into the community for a most satisfying conclusion.

Appendix

Early in his career, Bruno Grusnick found an attractive anonymous setting of the Magnificat in the Düben Collection at Uppsala and published it as a work of Buxtehude in 1931, arguing that other works of Buxtehude were preserved anonymously at Uppsala. Many years later, while making an extensive study of the Düben Collection as a whole, he discovered that the manuscript source of this work had come from Central Germany, and thus could not have been composed by Buxtehude (see Svensk tidskrift för musikforskning 48 (1966): 148, note 153). In Georg Karstädt's catalogue of Buxtehude's works, it is listed among the doubtful works as BuxWV Anh 1. In the meantime, however, several others editions of the work had appeared under Buxtehude's name, and many still believe it to have been composed by him, even though no evidence supports this claim. Its musical style is much less sophisticated than even the most straightforward of Buxtehude's authentic works; compare, for example, its opening ritornello with the ritornello of the aria in Alles was ihr tut (BuxWV 4). Furthermore, although the Magnificat was regularly performed as part of Sunday vespers at St. Mary's in Lübeck, these performances fell within the responsibilities of the cantor, and the choir library contained 36 settings of the Magnificat by German and Italian composers. Buxtehude had little reason to compose liturgical vocal music, but he left two magnificent organ settings, the Magnificat Primi Toni (BuxWV 203) and re

Deum (BuxWV 218).

Kerala Snyder, 2001


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