About this Recording
8.557195 - BUXTEHUDE: Organ Music, Vol. 4
English  German 

Dietrich Buxtehude (c.1637–1707)
Organ Works Volume 4

The imperial free city of Lübeck, a member of the Hanseatic League, had held a position second only to Hamburg. The development of the latter during the seventeenth century was very considerable. Lübeck, on the other hand, fared less well, but remained, nevertheless, an important commercial centre. Much of the musical life of the city centred on the Marienkirche, the church of the city council, where Franz Tunder had been appointed organist in 1641. Tunder, a composer able to further the synthesis of the Lutheran with the Italian influences exemplified in the music of Heinrich Schütz, established weekly Thursday organ recitals that grew into more elaborate concerts, with instrumental players from among the seven official town musicians and others, and with singers.

Dietrich Buxtehude, who identified himself as Danish, was seemingly born in Oldesloe about the year 1637, the son of an organist and schoolmaster. His father moved briefly from Oldesloe, in the Duchy of Holstein, to Helsingborg as organist at the Mariekirke there and soon after to the Danish city of Helsingør, Hamlet’s Elsinore, as organist at the St Olai Kirke, a position he held for some thirty years, until his retirement in 1671. Buxtehude was taught by his father and from 1657 or 1658 until 1660 was organist at the Mariekirke in Helsingborg, a city separated from Helsingør by a narrow stretch of water. His next appointment was at the Mariekirke in the latter city. In 1668 he was elected organist at the Marienkirche in Lübeck, where he succeeded Franz Tunder, who had died the previous year, following custom by marrying Tunder’s younger daughter. Tunder’s elder daughter’s security had already been assured by her marriage to Samuel Franck, Cantor of the Marienkirche and the Catherineum Lateinschule, the choir-school that provided singers for the services of the Marienkirche.

At the Marienkirche in Lübeck Buxtehude made some changes in the musical traditions of the church, establishing a series of Abendmusik concerts given now on five Sunday afternoons in the year, events that attracted wide interest. As an organist Buxtehude represented the height of North German keyboard traditions, exercising a decisive influence over the following generation, notably on Johann Sebastian Bach, who undertook the long journey from Arnstadt to Lübeck to hear him play, outstaying his leave, to the dissatisfaction of his employers. Handel too visited Lübeck in 1703, with his Hamburg friend and colleague Mattheson. By this time there was a question of appointing a successor to Buxtehude, who was nearly seventy and had spent over thirty years at the Marienkirche. The condition of marriage to his predecessor’s daughter that Buxtehude had faithfully fulfilled proved unattractive, however, to the young musicians of the newer generation and the succession eventually passed to Johann Christian Schieferdecker, who married Buxtehude’s surviving daughter, predeceased by four others, three months after Buxtehude’s death in 1707.

In the Marienkirche in Lübeck there were two threemanual organs. The larger instrument was on the West wall of the nave of the church and the smaller was sited in the Totentanz chapel, so called from the painting displayed there of The Dance of Death, by the fifteenthcentury Lübeck painter Bernt Notke, a reminder of an earlier epidemic of the plague. Both instruments accorded with current North German practice, with a particularly impressive array of pedal stops, the principal organ including a 32-foot pedal Principal.

The Praeludium or Praeambulum, a prelude, is a free form and one in which Buxtehude excelled. The Praeludium in D minor, BuxWV 140, is a considerable work, in five parts, with free sections framing two fugues, the first of which is in triple counterpoint, with two countersubjects, while the second fugue is in triple metre. The Praeludium in E major, BuxWV 141, has three fugues, the second in 12/8, and the third, after a brief Adagio section, is capped by a short coda. The third example of the form included here, the Praeludium in E minor, BuxWV 143, opens with a passage for the pedals, followed by a sustained pedal note as the upper parts enter on the manuals. The final figuration on the pedals leads to the first fugal subject, answered by voices in descending order, with a second subject more fully worked out. A further fugal subject in triple metre is followed by a final impressive Adagio.

The Canzona or Canzonetta is a contrapuntal composition. The first of three included here, the Canzonetta in G major, BuxWV 171, opens with a fugal subject, the other three voices answering in descending order. In a second fugue, on a related subject, in 12/8, with dotted notes in the manner of a siciliano, the voices at first appear in ascending order. The Canzonetta in D minor, BuxWV 168, again starts with a fugal subject, the four voices entering in descending order. A second related subject, based first on the contrapuntal answer of the first fugue, is in triple metre, returning to the 4/4 of the opening with a third fugal subject, answered by a version of it in contrary motion, with voices overlapping, using the device of stretto, as in the second fugue. The Canzonetta in E minor, BuxWV 169, starts with a fugal subject in the alto, with a tonal answer in the soprano, before the entry of the other voices. A second related subject, not further elaborated, is answered by the opening theme in a final fugal texture.

Two examples of Buxtehude’s Chorale Variations are included here. The first, Ach Gott und Herr, wie groß und schwer, BuxWV 177, (Ah, God and Lord, how great and heavy my sins), has the chorale melody first presented on the pedals, followed by a variation. The second example, Danket dem Herrn, denn er ist sehr freundlich, BuxWV 181, (Thank ye the Lord, for he is very gracious), gives the chorale melody to the upper part, to be heard on the pedals in the first variation and in the lowest part in the second variation.

The chorale, the hymn of German Lutheran worship, provided a thematic repertoire for extension and ornamentation also in the organ Chorale Preludes, a possible introduction to the hymn itself, although congregations occasionally found the theme that they were supposed to take up understandably elusive, a failing that necessitated some form of hymn-board, to aid recognition. Nun bitten wir den heiligen Geist, BuxWV 208, (Now let us beg true faith of the Holy Ghost), has the ornamented melody in the top part, and Komm, heiliger Geist, Herre Gott, BuxWV 200, (Come, Holy Ghost, Lord God), follows the same procedure, leading to a fugal texture. Herr Jesu Christ, ich weiß gar wohl, BuxWV 193, (Lord Jesus Christ, I know full well), has the melody in relatively simple form in the top part, and Gelobet seist du, Jesu Christ, BuxWV 189, (Praised be thou, Jesus Christ), again has the chorale theme, now decorated, in the top part, while Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland, BuxWV 211, (Now come, Saviour of the Gentiles) follows the same pattern. Puer natus in Bethlehem, BuxWV 217, (A boy is born in Bethlehem), is simpler in form, preserving the usual triple metre of the chorale on which it is based. Lobt Gott, ihr Christen allzugleich, BuxWV 202, (Praise God, ye Christians, all together), opens in fugal style, and Es spricht der unweisen Mund wohl, BuxWV 187, (The lips of the foolish say), has the melody in the upper part, reflected fragmentarily in other parts.

The present recording ends with an extended Toccata in D minor, BuxWV 155. The opening free section leads to a fugal passage in which the voices enter in stretto, overlapping, followed by two other fugal subjects, duly explored, and then a more elaborate triple fugue, the work ending with a final flourish with triplet rhythms over a sustained pedal note.

Keith Anderson


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