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8.554543 - BUXTEHUDE: Organ Music, Vol. 1

Dietrich Buxtehude (c.1637-1707)

Organ Music Vol. 1

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 center. 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 three-manual organs. The larger instrument was on the West wall of the nave of the church and the smaller was sited in the Totentonz chapel, so called from the painting displayed there of The Dance of Death, by the fifteenth-century 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 G major, BuxWV 147, is a fine example of this type of composition, opening, as it does, with a passage for the pedals and an imitative section that leads to the fugal part of the work, to which the earlier passages had served as a quasi-improvisatory prelude. The Praeludium in D major, BuxWV 139, opens with an exchange of arpeggios between the two manuals, before the pedals make their entry, now in dialogue with the manuals. The first fugal subject enters with a repeated note, to be followed by a chordal Adagio and a concluding passage in toccata style, leading to final bars over a sustained tonic pedal. The Praeludium in A minor, BuxWV 152, is relatively conventional. Its inclusion by Handel's Hamburg companion Johann Mattheson in his 1739 Der vollkommene Capellmeister of 1739, where it is wrongly attributed to Froberger, is discussed by Kerala J. Snyder in her authoritative study of Buxtehude (Dietrich Buxtehude: Organist in Lübeck, New York, 1987). In the Phrygian mode, the work opens with a freely composed section, followed by two fugues, one immediately following the other. The second of these is in 3/2 metre and leads to a short freely composed passage. The final example of the form here included, the Praeludium in G minor, BuxWV 149, is unusual in its inclusion of a ciaconna (chaconne), the foundation of which is heard in the pedals in the freely composed opening, leading to a fugal treatment of the ground. There is an Allegro, followed by a Largo, again treating the chaconne bass fugally, combining fugal texture with the traditional variation form.

The chorale, the hymn of German Lutheran worship, provided a thematic repertoire for extension and ornamentation in the organ Chorale Fantasia and in Chorale Preludes, the latter a possible introduction to the hymn itself, although congregations occasionally found the theme that they were supposed to take up elusive.

Buxtehude's Magnificat primi toni, BuxWV 203, seems to take part of a Magnificat chant as its basis. It offers four fugal sections, introduced by freely composed passages, in this respect in a form similar to that of the Praeludium. A slower chordal passage leads to the second fugue, in lively gigue rhythm, linked to a third and then a fourth fugue, before the emphatic conclusion. Magnificat noni toni, BuxWV 205, as presented in the Sämtliche Orgelwerke (Collected Organ Works) by Klaus Beckmann, includes two verses, based on the tonus peregrinus. The fact that the two sections are numbered suggests that they may have been used in alternation with the sung verses, as was the custom elsewhere, but Kerala J. Snyder points out that this was likely to have been with the chorale version of the Magnificat rather than with the Latin chant.

BuxWV 191 and BuxWV 192 present two preludes based on the chorale Herr Christ, der einig Gottes Sohn (‘Lord Christ, the only Son of God’), with the ornamented melody in the upper part. The same procedure is followed in Ach Herr, mich armen Sünder, BuxWV 178, (‘Ah Lord, me, a poor sinner’), its melody more familiar, perhaps, as that of O Haupt voll Blut und Wunden (‘O sacred head sore wounded’). Wir danken dir, Herr Jesu Christ, BuxWV 224, (‘We thank thee, Lord Jesus Christ’) anticipates the chorale melody in its first bars and Jesus Christus, unser Heiland, der den Tod überwand, BuxWV 198, (‘Jesus Christ, our Saviour, who overcame death’) can be performed on manuals alone. Gott der Vater wohn uns bei, BuxWV 190, (‘God the Father, dwell with us’) offers a slightly more extended chorale, with varied repetitions of succeeding phrases, again in the upper part.

Keith Anderson

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