BUXTEHUDE: Organ Music, Vol. 1 (Volker Ellenberger/ Wolfgang Rubsam) (Naxos: 8.554543)
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Organ Music Vol. 1
The imperial free city of L??beck, a member of the Hanseatic League, hadheld a position second only to Hamburg. The development of the latter duringthe seventeenth century was very considerable. L??beck, on the other hand, faredless well, but remained, nevertheless, an important commercial center. Much ofthe musical life of the city centred on the Marienkirche, the church of thecity council, where Franz Tunder had been appointed organist in 1641. Tunder, acomposer able to further the synthesis of the Lutheran with the Italianinfluences exemplified in the music of Heinrich Sch??tz, established weeklyThursday organ recitals that grew into more elaborate concerts, withinstrumental players from among the seven official town musicians and others,and with singers.
Dietrich Buxtehude, who identified himself as Danish, was seemingly bornin Oldesloe about the year 1637, the son of an organist and schoolmaster. Hisfather moved briefly from Oldesloe, in the Duchy of Holstein, to Helsingborg asorganist at the Mariekirke there and soon after to the Danish city ofHelsing?©r, Hamlet's Elsinore, as organist at the St Olai Kirke, a position heheld for some thirty years, until his retirement in 1671. Buxtehude was taughtby his father and from 1657 or 1658 until 1660 was organist at the Mariekirkein Helsingborg, a city separated from Helsing?©r by a narrow stretch of water.
His next appointment was at the Mariekirke in the latter city. In 1668 he waselected organist at the Marienkirche in L??beck, where he succeeded FranzTunder, who had died the previous year, following custom by marrying Tunder'syounger daughter. Tunder's elder daughter's security had already been assuredby her marriage to Samuel Franck, Cantor of the Marienkirche and theCatherineum Lateinschule, the choir-school that provided singers for theservices of the Marienkirche.
At the Marienkirche in L??beck Buxtehude made some changes in the musicaltraditions of the church, establishing a series of Abendmusik concertsgiven now on five Sunday afternoons in the year, events that attracted wideinterest. As an organist Buxtehude represented the height of North Germankeyboard traditions, exercising a decisive influence over the followinggeneration, notably on Johann Sebastian Bach, who undertook the long journeyfrom Arnstadt to L??beck to hear him play, outstaying his leave, to thedissatisfaction of his employers. Handel too visited L??beck in 1703, with hisHamburg friend and colleague Mattheson. By this time there was a question ofappointing a successor to Buxtehude, who was nearly seventy and had spent overthirty years at the Marienkirche. The condition of marriage to hispredecessor's daughter that Buxtehude had faithfully fulfilled proved unattractive,however, to the young musicians of the newer generation and the successioneventually passed to Johann Christian Schieferdecker, who married Buxtehude'ssurviving daughter, predeceased by four others, three months after Buxtehude'sdeath in 1707.
In the Marienkirche in L??beck there were two three-manual organs. Thelarger instrument was on the West wall of the nave of the church and thesmaller was sited in the Totentonz chapel, so called from the paintingdisplayed there of The Dance of Death, by the fifteenth-century L??beckpainter Bernt Notke, a reminder of an earlier epidemic of the plague. Bothinstruments accorded with current North German practice, with a particularlyimpressive array of pedal stops, the principal organ including a 32-foot pedalPrincipal.
The Praeludium or Praeambulum, a prelude, is a free formand one in which Buxtehude excelled. The Praeludium in G major, BuxWV 147, is a fine example of this type ofcomposition, opening, as it does, with a passage for the pedals and an imitativesection that leads to the fugal part of the work, to which the earlier passageshad served as a quasi-improvisatory prelude. The Praeludium in D major,BuxWV 139, opens with an exchange of arpeggios between the two manuals, beforethe pedals make their entry, now in dialogue with the manuals. The first fugalsubject enters with a repeated note, to be followed by a chordal Adagio anda concluding passage in toccata style, leading to final bars over a sustainedtonic pedal. The Praeludium in A minor, BuxWV 152, is relativelyconventional. Its inclusion by Handel's Hamburg companion Johann Mattheson inhis 1739 Der vollkommene Capellmeister of 1739, where it is wronglyattributed to Froberger, is discussed by Kerala J. Snyder in her authoritativestudy of Buxtehude (Dietrich Buxtehude: Organist in L??beck, 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 ofthese is in 3/2 metre and leads to a short freely composed passage. The finalexample of the form here included, the Praeludium in G minor, BuxWV 149,is unusual in its inclusion of a ciaconna (chaconne), the foundation ofwhich is heard in the pedals in the freely composed opening, leading to a fugaltreatment of the ground. There is an Allegro, followed by a Largo, againtreating the chaconne bass fugally, combining fugal texture with thetraditional variation form.
The chorale, the hymnof German Lutheran worship, provided a thematic repertoire for extension andornamentation in the organ Chorale Fantasia and in Chorale Preludes, thelatter a possible introduction to the hymn itself, although congregationsoccasionally found the theme that they were supposed to take up elusive.
Buxtehude's Magnificatprimi toni, BuxWV 203, seems to take part of a Magnificat chant asits basis. It offers four fugal sections, introduced by freely composedpassages, in this respect in a form similar to that of the Praeludium. Aslower chordal passage leads to the second fugue, in lively gigue rhythm,linked to a third and then a fourth fugue, before the emphatic conclusion. Magnificatnoni toni, BuxWV 205, as presented in the Samtliche Orgelwerke (CollectedOrgan Works) by Klaus Beckmann, includes two verses, based on the tonusperegrinus. The fact that the two sections are numbered suggests that theymay have been used in alternation with the sung verses, as was the customelsewhere, but Kerala J. Snyder points out that this was likely to have beenwith the chorale version of the Magnificat rather than with the Latinchant.
BuxWV 191 and BuxWV192 present two preludes based on the chorale Herr Christ, der einig GottesSohn ('Lord Christ, the only Son of God'), with the ornamented melody inthe upper part. The same procedure is followed in Ach Herr, mich armenS??nder, BuxWV 178, ('Ah Lord, me, a poor sinner'), its melody morefamiliar, perhaps, as that of O Haupt voll Blut und Wunden ('Osacred head sore wounded'). Wir danken dir, Herr Jesu Christ, BuxWV 224,('We thank thee, Lord Jesus Christ') anticipates the chorale melody in itsfirst bars and Jesus Christus, unser Heiland, der den Tod ??berwand,BuxWV 198, ('Jesus Christ, our Saviour, who overcame death') can be performedon manuals alone. Gott der Vater wohn uns bei, BuxWV 190, ('God theFather, dwell with us') offers a slightly more extended chorale, with variedrepetitions of succeeding phrases, again in the upper part.