Dietrich Buxtehude (c.1637-1707)
Organ Music Volume 3
The imperial free city of L??beck, a member of the HanseaticLeague, had held a position second only to Hamburg. The development of thelatter during the seventeenth century was very considerable. L??beck, on theother hand, fared less well, but remained, nevertheless, an importantcommercial centre. Much of the musical life of the city centred on theMarienkirche, the church of the city council, where Franz Tunder had beenappointed organist in 1641. Tunder, a composer able to further the synthesis ofthe Lutheran with the Italian influences exemplified in the music of HeinrichSch??tz, established weekly Thursday organ recitals that grew into moreelaborate concerts, with instrumental players from among the seven officialtown musicians and others, and with singers.
Dietrich Buxtehude, who identified himself as Danish, wasseemingly born in Oldesloe about the year 1637, the son of an organist andschoolmaster. His father moved briefly from Oldesloe, in the Duchy of Holstein,to Helsingborg as organist at the Mariekirke there and soon after to the Danishcity of Helsing?©r, Hamlet's Elsinore, as organist at the St Olai Kirke, aposition he held for some thirty years, until his retirement in 1671. Buxtehudewas taught by his father and from 1657 or 1658 until 1660 was organist at theMariekirke in Helsingborg, a city separated from Helsing?©r by a narrow stretchof water. His next appointment was at the Mariekirke in the latter city. In1668 he was elected organist at the Marienkirche in L??beck, where he succeededFranz Tunder, who had died the previous year, following custom by marryingTunder's younger daughter. Tunder's elder daughter's security had already beenassured by 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 inthe musical traditions of the church, establishing a series of Abendmusikconcerts given now on five Sunday afternoons in the year, events that attractedwide interest. 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 provedunattractive, however, to the young musicians of the newer generation and thesuccession eventually passed to Johann Christian Schieferdecker, who marriedBuxtehude's surviving daughter, predeceased by four others, three months afterBuxtehude's death in 1707.
In the Marienkirche in L??beck there were two three-manualorgans. The larger instrument was on the West wall of the nave of the churchand the smaller was sited in the Totentanz chapel, so called from the paintingdisplayed there of The Dance of Death, by the fifteenth-century L??beck painterBernt Notke, a reminder of an earlier epidemic of the plague. Both instrumentsaccorded with current North German practice, with a particularly impressivearray of pedal stops, the principal organ including a 32-foot pedal Principal.
The Praeludium or Praeambulum, a prelude, is a free form andone in which Buxtehude excelled. The Praeludium in F sharp minor, BuxWV 146,presents obvious questions as to the tuning system used for the work, writtenin a key that calls for D sharp and E sharp. It starts with a toccata-likesection, built over an F sharp pedal, leading to a chordal section. Therefollows a fugue marked Grave, with a wide-spaced subject and voices entering indescending order. A second less formal fugal section is marked Vivace, leadingin turn to a free final section marked con discretione and moving to remoterkeys, the whole prelude an example of the so-called Stylus phantasticus.
The chorale, the hymn of German Lutheran worship, provided athematic repertoire for extension and ornamentation in the organ ChoraleFantasia and in Chorale Preludes, the latter a possible introduction to thehymn itself, although congregations occasionally found the theme that they weresupposed to take up elusive.
Buxtehude's chorale prelude Christ unser Herr zum Jordankam, BuxWV 180 (Christ Our Lord to Jordan came), presents the melody in anornamented form in the upper part. The prelude on Der Tag der ist sofreudenreich, BuxWV 182, (The day that is so joyful), again offers anornamented version of the melody in the upper part, closing over a sustainedpedal note.
The Ciacona in C minor, BuxWV 159, is one of two such worksby Buxtehude. Between the baroque variation forms of the chaconne andpassacaglia he seems to have made no real distinction, although his Passacagliain D minor, BuxWV 161, keeps the theme on which it is based in the bass, whiletransposing it when necessary. Both forms were rare at the time in NorthGermany and the three examples by Buxtehude reflect southern influence. TheChaconne in C minor has a wide-spaced ostinato heard in the pedals for thefirst seven variations built on it, before a passage for manuals only. There isa varied version of the ostinato for the pedals in what follows, with further variationsof the ostinato and of texture and rhythm. This leads to a 9/8 section,syncopation and a final solemn statement of the ostinato.
The chorale melody is well concealed from the congregationin the elaborate ornamentation of the familiar Martin Luther hymn Ein festeBurg ist unser Gott, BuxWV 184, (A firm stronghold our God is), offered in thecustomary four-part texture. Erhalt uns Herr bei deinem Wort, BuxWV 185, (Keepus, Lord, true to thy word) is one of two such works based on this chorale, withthe decorated melody in the upper part.
The liturgical purpose of Buxtehude's Te Deum, BuxWV 218, isnot clear, as it is apparently based on the Latin version of the chant,seemingly not used in L??beck, however familiar it may have been in majorLutheran churches elsewhere in North Germany. The Praeludium opens with the twoupper voices in canon, followed by a fugal section. The Te Deum is representedby the incipit, heard first in long notes in the lower part, returning invarious parts thereafter and forming an essential part of the texture. Thethird part of the work, Pleni sunt coeli et terra (Heaven and earth are full ofthy glory) has the cantus firmus first suggested in an upper part, continuingwith elements of fugal texture. This extended work proceeds to Te Martyriumcandidatus laudat exercitus (The noble army of martyrs praise thee), opened bythe pedals, which have the cantus firmus. The work ends with Tu devicto mortisaculeo (When thou hadst overcome the sharpness of death), which is fugal andbased on the opening recurrent figure.
The chorale prelude Durch Adams Fall ist ganz verderbt,BuxWV 183, (Through Adam's fall man was completely corrupted), suggests Adam'sfall in the descending fifths of the pedal part, although not as dramatically asBach was later to do. It seems, in its conventionally major key ending, toreflect the later verse of the chorale, which promises redemption.
Buxtehude's Passacaglia in D minor, BuxWV 161, keeps theground in the bottom part, with occasional tran