About this Recording
8.224062 - BUXTEHUDE: Vocal Music, Vol. 1


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).


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.


With only two exceptions (BuxWV 76 and 105), all the works presented here are preserved in manuscripts that were copied at the Swedish royal court during the early 1680s and now form part of the Düben Collection at the University Library in Uppsala.

[1] Buxtehude set his jubilant Easter aria O fröhliche Stunden, O fröhliche Zeit (BuxWV 84) to a sacred song that Johann Rist had published in 1655. Although its through-composed form and many instrumental interjections suggest the concerto, its consistent 618 meter imbues it with a high degree of unity. Note the jubilant cries of exultation on the opening syllable "O" and the trumpet-like melodic style of the militaristic verse 3, "Es fand sich kein Krieger."

[2] In O dulcis Jesu (BuxWV 83) Buxtehude matches an emotionally-charged Latin devotional text, enflamed with the love of Jesus, with equally affective music. The text contains a fluid mixture of prose and poetry, and Buxtehude's setting reflects it closely, with the prose portions in recitative, arioso, or concertato style and the poetry in aria style. In this respect it resembles an Italian secular cantata, but in Germany it would still have been considered a sacred concerto. Italian castrati made occasional guest appearances at St. Mary's Church in Lübeck, and the combined virtuosity and Italianate style of this work suggest that Buxtehude might have composed it for a visiting castrato.

[3] [5] [7] [9] [11] Buxtehude published his Fried- und Freudenreiche Hinfahrt (BuxWV 76) upon the occasion of his father's death in 1674. It consists of two parts, an elaborate and learned instrumental setting of Martin Luther's chorale "Mit Fried und Freud ich fahr dahin" in four-part invertible counterpoint, probably for organ, and a strophic song of mourning set for soprano. He had actually composed the chorale setting three years earlier for the funeral of the Lübeck church superintendent, Meno Hanneken. The "Klag-Lied" is new, however; its text, which Buxtehude most likely wrote himself, is deeply personal in tone, and the sombre music reflects its grief.

[4] Was mich auf dieser Welt betrübt (BuxWV 105) is one of Buxtehude's simplest arias. With its pure strophic form, syllabic text setting, absolutely regular phrase structure, and continuo accompaniment, it approaches the style found in numerous collections of sacred songs, such as Ahasverus Fritzsch's Himmels-Lust und Welt-Unlust (1679), from which its text is drawn. But its instrumental sinfonia and ritornello, the repetition of the last three lines of text, and its elegant vocal line distinguish it as an aria, as it is designated in its manuscript source. Its simplicity does not indicate that it is an early work; in fact it may be the latest work in this album. Its manuscript was probably copied in Lübeck in 1692 and taken back to Stockholm by Anders Düben (Gustav's son) after his visit with Buxtehude that year.

[6] Butehude divides his sacred concerto Schaffe in mir; Gott (BuxWV 95) into two large and contrasting sections, each set to a verse or two of this familiar psalm text. In the first section, he employs typical concertato style, paying careful attention to each word of the text, endowing verbal phrases with apt musical phrases that are declaimed by the voice and then echoed by the instruments; this is particularly obvious with the words "verwirf mich nicht" (cast me not away). In the second section, comfort and joy appear not so much as individual words but as keys to the affect conveyed by the entire section, with its dance-like triple meter.

[8] The text of Gen Himmel zu dem Vater mein (BuxWV 32) consists of the final two verses from Martin Luther's chorale "Nun freut euch lieben Christen g'mein," which recounts the entire story of Jesus' coming to earth. Buxtehude selected only the portion describing Christ's ascension and set it as a chorale concerto, using the same melody that provided the material for one of his most famous chorale fantasias for organ (BuxWV 210). This vocal concerto, with its extensive instrumental participation, is also reminiscent of Buxtehude's sonatas for violin, viola da gamba, and harpsichord. He spins an intricate contrapuntal web around the chorale, ending with a final "Alleluia" section in three-part invertibe counterpoint.

[10] The sacred concerto Singet dem Herrn ein neues Lied (BuxWV 98) is Buxtehude's only vocal work scored with solo violin. Lübeck was a center for violin playing in northern Germany, and this violin part was probably originally played either by Hans Iwe, a municipal musician who regularly performed from the large organ in St. Mary's, or Peter Bruhns (uncle of the composer Nicolaus Bruhns), another municipal musician who excelled at the violin. In his setting of this most musical psalm text, Buxtehude seems in fact to be pointing to violin playing as one of the wonders of God; he introduces a virtuosic interlude with the words "denn Er macht Wunder."

[12] Sicut Moses exaltavit serpentem (BuxWV 97) is a sacred concerto based on the gospel reading appointed for Triniry Sunday. It is particularly noteworthy for its high degree of instrumental participation; the scoring - two violins and viola cia gamba - replicates that of three Buxtehude sonatas, its opening sonata contains a short fugue reminiscent of many in his instrumental works, and the instruments enjoy expansive interludes within the vocal portion. Only in the final two sections ("ut omnis qui credit" and 'Amen") do we hear the typical concertato exchange of short motives between voice and instruments.

[13] Based on its biblical text, scoring, texture, and text-generated musical motives, Herr, wenn ich nur dich hab (BuxWV 38) can be considered a sacred concerto, but Buxtehude might have called it a ciaccona, for he composed the entire piece over a simple three-measure ostinato bass: g f# / e B / c d. Over this scaffold he expounds the psalm text, rising to heaven, descending to earth, and gently dancing to triplets at the thought of the comfort God offers to the heart. The two violins pick up the voice's motives with various imitative devices: canons, fugal entries, and strettos.

Kerala J. Snyder, 1996

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