BUXTEHUDE: 7 Sonatas, BuxWV 259-265 (Jaap ter Linden/ John Holloway/ Lars Ulrik Mortensen) (Naxos: 8.557249)
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Dietrich Buxtehude (c.1637-1707): Complete Chamber Music 2
Seven Trio Sonatas, Op. 2
In 1668, when Buxtehude was about thirty years of age(neither the date nor the place of his birth are known), hewas appointed to the coveted post of organist at St Mary'sChurch in the free Hanseatic city of Lubeck on the Balticcoast of Germany. Up to that time the whole of hisupbringing, education, and musical career had taken placewithin the boundaries of the kingdom of Denmark. Hisfather had left the little town of Oldesloe in the duchy ofHolstein to serve as organist in Halsingborg, and fromthere he moved at the beginning of the 1640s toHelsingor; it was in those two cities on opposite sides ofthe Oresund that the younger Buxtehude took his firststeps as a professional organist, ultimately beingappointed in 1660 by the German congregation of StMary's in Helsingor. His early musical horizons,however, were not restricted to the immediate locality inwhich he lived: only forty kilometres south of Helsingorlay the Danish capital of Copenhagen, with its flourishingmusical environment both ecclesiastical and secular, andBuxtehude must have been familiar with developmentsthere. In the 1660s the Danish royal chapel was under thedirection of Kaspar Forster the Younger, and the organistsof the six churches in the city attracted pupils from allover Europe, including, for example, Johann Lorentz theYounger, who probably taught Buxtehude, and gavepublic recitals to large audiences in the church of StNicholas.
Buxtehude's new position in Lubeck far exceeded StMary's, Helsingor, in both prestige and remuneration.
Here he found a musical culture not far behind that ofCopenhagen; even courtly music was within his reach, fornot far away lay the palace of the Duke of Gottorp. StMary's, Lubeck, was the most important church in thecity by virtue of its status as the official place of worshipof the city council, and in the next forty years, until hisdeath in 1707, Buxtehude was to practice a range ofmusical activities there that went far beyond hisobligations as organist and book-keeper (Werkmeister).
While the Kantor of the church bore the mainresponsibility for the musical establishment, and inparticular for directing the choir, the organist had to playat services and on important feasts and holidays, but therewas also a vigorous tradition of secular music, and themunicipal musicians, the so-called Ratsmusik, forged aclose link between ecclesiastical and municipal music.
The Ratsmusik in Buxtehude's time comprised sevenhighly qualified musicians, retained, like the organisthimself, directly by the Senate. Their duties includedplaying in church when instruments were required there,as well as appearing at public and private functions at thecommand of the Senate and citizenry. The string playershad particularly proud traditions going back to thebeginning of the century; the violin and gamba virtuosi ofLubeck and Hamburg were famed throughout Europe.
Not far from Lubeck lay Hamburg, a major musicalcentre with an opera house and a concert society(collegium musicum) as well as its long-standing churchmusic traditions. Here lived a number of prominentcomposers, organists, choir directors, and othersbelonging to Buxtehude's circle of acquaintance, amongthem contemporary celebrities like Johann AdamReincken, Johann Theile, Christoph Bernhard, andMatthias Weckmann.
A great deal of the music of Buxtehude that has comedown to us, his cantatas, his big freely composed organworks, and his music for instrumental ensemble, was infact not written as part of his duties as organist. Much ofhis church music was probably the result of close andfruitful cooperation with the kantors of St Mary's, withwhom he seems to have shared the task of producingvocal music for the liturgy. Many works were also theresult of initiatives not in any way connected with hischurch appointment. This applies in particular to thefamous Abendmusiken that had been established by hispredecessor Franz Tunder; Buxtehude expanded these tofive annual church concerts with performances of bigoratorio-like works, word of which spread over the wholeof Northern Europe.
When he was quite old Buxtehude published twocollections of instrumental chamber music. Apart from afew occasional works, these are the only examples of hisart that were printed during his lifetime. Opus 1,containing seven sonatas for violin and viola da gambawith harpsichord continuo, is undated but probablyappeared in 1694. Opus 2, with seven more sonatas for thesame combination, followed two years later.
Though instrumental composition was not one ofBuxtehude's obligations as an organist, it was by nomeans uncommon at that time for organists, as amanifestation of artistic self-esteem and professionalpride, to exceed the limits of their ecclesiastical functionand publish music as free artists, without any particularoccasion or performance in mind. A few years earlierBuxtehude's senior friend and colleague in Hamburg,Johann Adam Reincken, had published a collection ofsonatas for two violins, viola da gamba, and continuounder the title Hortus musicus, and instrumental chambermusic could be used both in and out of church. It is likelythat sonatas were played in St Mary's on major feast daysand during the distribution of Holy Communion. In thesecular musical environment of L??beck there would, ofcourse, have been both professional and amateurmusicians who were interested in playing sonatas writtenby the organist to the Senate.
Buxtehude was nearly sixty when he published hissonatas, but he had been practising the genre for manyyears. One of the few compositions that can be attributedwith reasonable certainty to his Helsing?©r period is afragmentarily preserved sonata, and in 1684 it wasannounced that he would soon be publishing a collectionof sonatas for two and three violins, viola da gamba, andcontinuo \suitable for performance both as Tafelmusikand in church". This collection probably never came out,but eight unpublished sonatas survive, some of whichmay very well have been intended for it. Buxtehudededicated Opus 1 to his employers, the mayors andsenators of L??beck, and Opus 2 to his special patron,Johann Ritter. The dedication of the first volume refers toit as the 'first part' of his sonatas, and there are otherindications that he regarded the two volumes as a unit:they are written for the same instrumental combination,each contains seven works, and they are organizedaccording to key in such a way that between them theyencompass all the major and minor keys of a seven-tonediatonic scale beginning on F, omitting only F minor andB flat minor. The key sequence of Opus 1 is F major, Gmajor, A minor, B flat major, C major, D minor, E minor,and of Opus 2 B flat major, D major, G minor, C minor,A major, E major, F majorThe rediscovery of Buxtehude's music began morethan a century ago with his organ works. He was rightlyseen as an important source of inspiration for the youngJ.S. Bach, not only in the period of a few months that thelatter spent studying with him in L??beck. Later came thediscovery of more than a hundred cantatas by Buxtehudein the famous collection of Gustaf D??ben the Elder, theseventeenth-century Swedish organist and courtcomposer who was one of Buxtehude's great admirers.
Buxtehude's instrumental chamber music has, however,remained strangely neglected until recently. Apart fromunpublished sonatas, the D??ben Collection, now inUppsala University Library, contains the only intactcopies of his two books of sonatas. The personal contactbetween Buxtehude in L??beck and the D??ben family inSweden is just one among many lines of communicationthat existed between musical centres in the Baltic of thisperiod, from Stockholm in the North to the Southerncoastal cities, from Reval by way of Riga, Konigsberg,and Danzig