About this Recording
8.226008 - BUXTEHUDE: Organ Works (Complete), Vol. 2
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 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 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, such as the second setting of “Nun lob, mein Seel, den Herren” (BuxWV 215) on this CD, 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 combined a variety of styles and textures, consisting mainly of an extremely free style idiomatic to the keyboard and more highly structured styles, such as fugue, which maintains a fixed number of voices in contrapuntal texture. The unpredictability of the manner in which Buxtehude combined these elements was a hallmark of the stylus phontasticus, a term coined by Athanasius Kircher in 1650 to denote “the most free and unrestrained method of composing”. When Johann Mattheson discussed this style In Der Vollkommene Capellmeister (1739), he gave as a printed musical example the beginning of Buxtehude's praeludium in e (BuxWV 152), believing, however, that it was a work of Froberger.

All five praeludia on this CD begin with an opening section in free style, followed by two or three fugues, combined in various ways with further free material. The opening section typically begins with a single voice and then moves to a highly ornamented chordal structure, decorated either by a short figure that passes from voice to voice or by scales and trills in a display of virtuosity. The fugues that follow are usually quite short, and their subjects are often related. The subject of the second fugue of BuxWV 152 has exactly the same melody as that of the first, transformed into triple time. The subjects of the two fugues of BuxWV 153 are similarly related, but Buxtehude added a chromatic note to the second. The relationship of the three fugues of BuxWV 142 is much more complex: all three subjects feature the descent from b to e and the skip of an octave, but Buxtehude used these simple elements to create three fugues of remarkably different character. The first is playful, with just a touch of chromaticism; the second, in slow triple time, is a full-blown fuga pathetica with its descending chromatic line; and the third seizes upon the octave leaps to create a macabre dance in gigue rhythm. Buxtehude's fugues usually conform to Mattheson's definition of a proper fugue by giving a statement of both subject and answer in each voice, but they often do not maintain their contrapuntal texture to the end; this, too, is a characteristic of the stylus phantasticus and is particularly striking in the case of the gigue fugues that conclude BuxWV 136 and BuxWV 142. The first fugue of BuxWV 153, by contrast, is cast in a learned style, with alternating expositions of the subject in inversion and just a short flourish in free style to conclude it. The free sections between the fugues often contain dissonances and suspensions (durezze e ligature) and harmonic excursions, in either unadorned form (BuxWV 151) or highly ornamented (BuxWV 142).

Six of the chorale settings included on this CD (8uxWV 178, 180, 206, 220, 222, and 224) are 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. A comparison of Buxtehude's two settings of the chorale "Von Gott will ich nicht lassen" will illustrate the difference between his normal procedure (BuxWV 220) and his departure from it (BuxWV 221). Although the chorale strophe consists of eight lines, the Lübeck tradition divides its melody into four phrases of unequal length: the first two are identical and set the first four lines; the third, ending with a fermata, includes just one line, and the fourth contains the last three lines of the strophe. Buxtehude's composition in BuxWV 220 follows this phrase division exactly, giving the chorale melody to the right hand on a separate manual and dividing its phrases with rests. The chorale melody is easily recognizable in the first phrase but is highly ornamented in the other three. The inner voices, consistently in the alto and tenor range, provide interludes between phrases and accompaniment when the upper voice is present; the pedal functions as a bass line most of the time but drops out occasionally further articulating the phrase structure and holds a pedal point during the final cadential flourish of the upper voice. This type of setting may represent a written-out version of the introductions to hymns that Buxtehude most frequently improvised as a church organist, the position he held for his entire career.

In Buxtehude's other setting of “Von Gott will ich nicht lassen” (BuxWV 221) the voices are not so consistently divided according to function. Short figures consisting of four sixteenth notes (or three sixteenths leading to a longer note) dominate the piece; in the first phrase the chorale is hidden in the soprano voice as the figures run through all four parts, while in the second phrase the pedal takes the chorale as a cantus firmus in quarter notes beneath the figuration.  Compositional variety continues in the second half, where almost every line is treated differently. For the sixth line of the text, all four voices participate in imitative counterpoint on an ascending chromatic line in eighth notes, but otherwise the sixteenth-note figures lend the piece cohesion despite the variety of compositional techniques. The final phrase of the chorale (lines 6-8) is set a second time.

The Lübeck hymnal designated the chorales on this CD for a variety of purposes: feasts in the Church year, such as New Yea(s Day (“Von Gott will ich nicht lassen”) and Ascension (“Wir danken dir”); sacraments and teachings of the Church, such as baptism (“Christ unser Herr zum Jordan kam") and the ten commandments ("Mensch, wiltu leben seliglich"); and more general themes. the Church ("War Gott nicht mit uns diese Zeit"), thanksgiving ("Nun lob, mein Seel"), and penitence ("Ach Herr, mich armen Sunder”), the latter melody better known with the text "Herzlich tut mich verlangen. While the organist introduced the hymns, it was the responsibility of the cantor with his choir to lead the congregation in the singing, which the organist did not usually accompany at this time. Two manuscript chorale books now in the Lübeck city archives that were written for the choir of St. Mary's Church provide the versions of the chorales given here. The later one (MS #14), prepared by the cantor Jacob Pagendarm in 1705 for use with the new Lübeck hymnal of 1703, supplies the melodies for "Ach Herr, mich armen Sünde”) and "Wär Gott nicht mit uns diese Zeit." The others come from the earlier manuscript (M5 #13), which was probably copied during the late 1660s or early 1670s.

Kerala J. Snyder, 2004


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