BUXTEHUDE: Organ Works, Vol. 1
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DietrichBuxtehude lived his entire life close to the shores of the Baltic Sea. He wasmost 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 anunknown time from Oldesloe, in Holstein. In the year 1641 Johannes Buxtehudewas employed as the organist at St. Mary's Church, Helsingborg, and soon afterthat he moved across the ?ÿresund to become organist of St. Olai Church inEisinore. The exact date of Dietrich's birth is unknown, but at the time of hisdeath on 9 May, 1707, he was said to be about seventy years old. Baptismalrecords do not extend back to 1637 in Helsingborg, Eisinore or Oldesloe. As achild in Eisinore, Dietrich Buxtehude must have been aware of both his Germanheritage and his Danish surroundings, and he appears to have grown upbilingual. In Eisinore and during his early years in L??beck, Buxtehude normallyspelled his name "Diderich", but later he regularly signed it"Dieterich" or "Dietericus".
Theknowledge of Latin that Buxtehude displayed in later life indicates that hemust have attended a Latin school as a boy. Although he undoubtedly began hisorgan studies with his father, further information concerning his teachers istotally lacking. Other possible teachers in Denmark include Claus Dengel, organistat 5t. Mary's, Elsinore, from 1650 to 1660, and Johann Lorentz, Jr., the famousorganist at 5t. Nicholas' Church, Copenhagen, from 1634 until his death in1689. Lorentz was a pupil and son-in-law of Jacob Praetorius in Hamburg, andthe 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 Heinrich5cheidemann in Hamburg or Franz Tunder in L??beck.
In late1657 or early 1658, Buxtehude assumed the same position as organist of St. Mary'sChurch, Helsingborg, that his father had occupied before coming to Elsinore. Heworked there until October, 1660, when he became organist of 5t. Mary's,Elsinore, called the German church because it served foreigners of thecommunity and the military garrison of Kronborg. In Elsinore, Buxtehude wasexpected to play at the beginning of the service while the pastor was robinghimself; he and the cantor were to provide instrumental and vocal music for thechurch on feast days and at other times at the pastor's request.
Theposition of organist and Werkmeister at St. Mary's, L??beck, became vacant uponthe death of Franz Tunder 5 November, 1667, and Dietrich Buxtehude was formallyappointed the following April. This was a much more prestigious and well-payingposition than the one he had held in Elsinore; Buxtehude was the most highlypaid musician in L??beck, and he earned nearly as much as the pastor of St.
Buxtehudeswore the oath of citizenship 23 July, 1668, enabling him to marry and set up hishousehold. He married Anna Margaretha Tunder, a daughter of his predecessor, on3 August, 1668. Seven daughters were born into the family of Dietrich and AnnaMargaretha Buxtehude and baptized at St. Mary's. Three died in infancy, afourth survived to early adulthood, and three remained in the household at thetime 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 L??becksociety, the families of the wealthy wholesalers who lived in St. Mary's parishand governed both the church and the city. Buxtehude himself belonged to thefourth social class, however, together with lesser wholesalers, retailers andbrewers. In inviting his social superiors to serve as godparents - and in somecases naming his children after them - Buxtehude was also cultivating their patronagefor his musical enterprises.
As organistof St. Mary's, Buxtehude's chief responsibility lay in playing the organ forthe main morning and afternoon services on sundays and feast days. He also heldthe position of Werkmeister of St. Mary's, the administrator and treasurer ofthe church, a position of considerable responsibility and prestige. The accountbooks that he kept in this capacity document the life of the church and itsmusic in considerable detail. The cantor of St. Mary's, also a teacher at theCatharineum, held the responsibility for providing the liturgical music, usinghis school choir of men and boys. They performed together with most of the L??beckmunicipal musicians from a large choir loft in the front of the church, overthe rood screen. Two municipal musicians, a violinist and a lutenist, regularlyperformed with Buxtehude from the large organ.
Buxtehudeinherited a tradition established by Franz Tunder of performing concerts from thelarge organ of St. Mary's at the request of the business community. Tunder hadgradually added vocalists and instrumentalists to his organ performances, whichare said to have taken place on Thursdays prior to the opening of the stockexchange. Within a year of his arrival in L??beck, Buxtehude had greatlyexpanded the possibilities for the performance of concerted music from thelarge organ by having two new balconies installed at the west end of thechurch, each paid for by a single donor. These new balconies, together with thefour that were already there, could accommodate about forty singers andinstrumentalists. Buxtehude called his concerts Abendmusiken and changed thetime of their presentation to Sundays after vespers. In time these concertstook place regularly on the last two Sundays of Trinity and the second, thirdand fourth Sundays of Advent each year. By 1678 he had introduced the practiceof presenting oratorios of his own composition in serial fashion on theseSundays. He also directed performances of concerted music from the large organduring the regular church services, although this activity, like the presentationof the Abendmusiken, lay outside his official duties to the church.
By 1703Buxtehude had served for thirty-five years as organist ofSt. Mary's; he wasabout sixty-six years old and he was no doubt concerned about the future of histhree unmarried daughters, so he began to look for a successor who would marryAnna Margreta, the eldest, aged twenty-eight. The first prospective candidatesof whom we know were Johann Mattheson and Georg Friederich Handel, both of whomwere employed at the Hamburg opera at the time. They travelled to L??beck together17 August, 1703 and listened to Buxtehude "with dignified attention,"but since neither of them was at all interested in the marriage condition, theyreturned to Hamburg the following day. Johann Sebastian Bach made his famoustrip to visit Buxtehude in the fall of 1705, coinciding with the Abendmusikseason, and he remained in L??beck for nearly three months. Bach, too, may havebeen interested in obtaining the succession to Buxtehude's position, but thereis no evidence that this was the case. The account of the trip in Bach'sobituary states unambiguously that its purpose was to hear Buxtehude play theorgan, and in his report to the Arnstadt consistory upon his return thefollowing February, Bach stated that he had made the trip "in order tocomprehend one thing and another about his art". Buxtehude died 9 May,1707 and was succeeded by Johann Christian Schieferdecker, who married AnnaMargreta 5 September, 1707.
Fewdocuments survive to illuminate the details of Buxtehude's life, but those thatdo reveal a multifaceted personality to match the broad stylistic range of themusic that he composed. In addition to his varied activities as a musician-composer, keyboard player, conduc