About this Recording
8.226002 - BUXTEHUDE: Organ Works (Complete), Vol. 1
English 

DIETRICH BUXTEHUDE

Dietrich 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 Eisinore. The exact date of Dietrich'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, Eisinore or Oldesloe. As a child in Eisinore, Dietrich Buxtehude must have been aware of both his German heritage and his Danish surroundings, and he appears to have grown up bilingual. In Eisinore and during his early years in Lübeck, Buxtehude normally spelled his name "Diderich", but later he regularly signed it "Dieterich" 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 information concerning his teachers is totally lacking. Other possible teachers in Denmark include Claus Dengel, organist at 5t. Mary's, Elsinore, from 1650 to 1660, and Johann Lorentz, Jr., the famous organist at 5t. Nicholas' Church, Copenhagen, from 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 5cheidemann in Hamburg or Franz Tunder in Lübeck.

In late 1657 or early 1658, Buxtehude assumed the same position as organist of St. Mary's Church, Helsingborg, that his father had occupied before coming to Elsinore. He worked there until October, 1660, when he became organist of 5t. Mary's, Elsinore, called the German church because it served foreigners of the community and the military garrison of Kronborg. In Elsinore, 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 Dietrich Buxtehude was formally appointed the following April. This was a much more prestigious and well-paying position than the one he had held in Elsinore; 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 Dietrich 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. Mary'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 regularly 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 ofSt. 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 hear Buxtehude play the organ, and in his report to the Arnstadt consistory upon his return the following February, Bach stated 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 Johanli 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 Deou" (not to men but to God), its text celebrates worldly pleasure: "Divertisons-nous aujourd'hui, bouvons à 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 ORGAN MUSIC

Buxtehude's keyboard music can be divided into those works that require the use of the pedal and those that do not. The North German organs had the most developed pedal division of any in Europe, and Buxtehude almost certainly intended his pedaliter works for the organ, whereas those for manuals alone can be performed on harpsichord, clavichord, or organ. Buxtehude's organ music in turn falls into two main categories: freely composed works that do not draw on preexisting melodies, and settings of traditional Lutheran chorales. In his free organ works, mostly titled praeludium, Buxtehude usually combined a variety of styles and textures: an extremely free style, also known as stylus phantasticus, and more highly structured styles, such as fugue or the bassa-ostinata genres known as ciacona and passacaglia.

Buxtehude left three great independent ostinato works: the ciaconas in C minor (BuxWV 159) and E minor (BuxWV 160) and the passacaglia in D minor (BuxWV 161). All three are preserved in a single manuscript, known as the "Andreas Bach Buch," which was copied by Johann Sebastian Bach's older brother Johann Christoph (1671-1721 ). These genres originated in Spain at the beginning of the seventeenth century, and they soon appeared in a wide variety of Italian instrumental and vocal music, including the keyboard music of Frescobaldi. Buxtehude appears to have been the first to require the use of pedals in a ciacona or passacaglia; with the repeating ostinato melody carried mainly by the pedal, the hands become free to play complex variations above it. Buxtehude makes little distinction between the two related terms, although the fact that his passacaglia is notated in 3/2 while the ciaconas are in 3/4 could suggest that the passacaglia should be played more slowly. The D-minor passacaglia is also notable for its very clear formal and tonal plan: four sections, in D minor, F major, A minor, and D minor, each consisting of seven variations on the four-measure bass melody.

Buxtehude also occasionally incorporated ostinato passages into his great multi-sectional

praeludia; the final section of his C major praeludium (BuxWV 137, at 03:57) is in fact labeled ciacona. The wide octave leaps of its three-measure ostinato are announced in the opening virtuosic pedal solo of the first section. Here we meet the stylus phantasticus, so idiomatic to keyboard music, with its constantly shifting textures and number of voices, from fast-moving scales to block chords, from homophonic figuration to suggestions of fugues -one never knows what to expect. The real fugue that follows (at 01:50), by contrast, works its way systematically from one to four voices with statements of the subject followed by answers in the dominant, and it continues in this way until each voice - easily identified as soprano, alto, tenor, and bass -has stated both subject and answer twice.

The two praeludia in G minor on this disk also contain ostinato sections. BuxWV 149, justifiably one of Buxtehude's most frequently performed works, combines ostinato and stylus phontasticus in its opening section. The opening flourish in the manuals could lead anywhere, but it turns out to be the figuration above an ostinato when the pedal finally makes its appearance. This praeludium is further notable for its two fugues with related subjects: the first in a sober, archaic, ricercar style; the second an affective fuga pathetica in slow triple meter, one of Buxtehude's finest. The ostinato section that concludes the other G-minor praeludium (BuxWV 148, at 04:51) is totally different. Here the two-measure theme is first announced in the pedal without accompaniment, and thereafter it migrates quite regularly into the upper voices.

The chorale settings included on this CD are all of the type that Buxtehude cultivated most extensively, or perhaps that were most useful to Johann Gottfried Walther, whose manuscript copies provide the only sources for them. Each of these works states the chorale melody just once, in the soprano voice, designated in the manuscripts to be performed on a separate manual, with the middle two voices to be played on another manual and the bass on the pedal. They probably represent written out versions of the introductions to hymns that Buxtehude improvised as a church organist, the position he held for his entire career. The melodies are often highly ornamented; in fact the ministers of St. Mary's Church in Lübeck, where he served from 1668 until his death in 1707, decided in 1701 to hang boards with the hymn numbers in the church, because "from the organ playing beforehand, the hymns can be recognized by only a few".

The chorale melodies printed here come from a manuscript written for the use of the choir of St. Mary's Church in Lübeck, probably some time during the early part of Buxtehude's tenure there, and certainly before the cantor Jacob Pagendarm prepared a manuscript with new settings in 1705. These are all traditional chorales for the great feasts of the church year - Christmas, Easter, Pentecost, Trinity and the Advent season - and they date from the first years of the Reformation or even earlier. Any member of the congregation would have recognized the chorales "Lobt Gott, ihr Christen allzu Gleich" and "Gott der Vater wohn uns bei" from Buxtehude's settings of them, but some might have lost their way during his exuberant chorale prelude on "Komm, Heilger Geist, Herre Gott" (BuxWV 199), where he ornaments the hymn melody far more than he does in its companion setting, BuxWV 200. His style of ornamentation for all these pieces comes originally from vocal practice, and while the chorale is present the organ emulates the texture of a singer accompanied by continuo. In the interludes between each line, however, Buxtehude draws upon the contrapuntal tradition to introduce the next line with imitation. Even in these very short pieces, we see Buxtehude's compositional art in his seamless joining of these two styles.

@ Kerala J. Snyder 2003


Close the window