BUXTEHUDE: Vocal Music, Vol. 1
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Dietrich Buxtehude (1637–1707)
Vocal Music • 1
Dietrich Buxtehude was probably born in 1637 in the Danish town of Helsingborg, now part of Sweden. His father Johannes (Hans), also an organist, had immigrated to Denmark from Oldesloe, in Holstein and in 1641 was employed as the organist at St Mary's Church, Helsingborg. Soon after that he moved across the Øresund to become organist of St Olai Church in Helsingør. The exact date of Dietrich's birth is unknown, but at the time of his death on 9 May 1707, he was said to be about seventy years old. As a child in Helsingør, Dietrich Buxtehude must have been aware of both his German heritage and his Danish surroundings, and he appears to have grown up bilingual. In Helsingør and during his early years in Lübeck, he normally spelled his name "Diderich", but later he regularly signed it "Dieterich" or "Dietericus".
The knowledge of Latin that Buxtehude displayed in later life indicates that he must have attended a Latin school as a boy. Although he undoubtedly began his organ studies with his father, further information concerning his teachers is totally lacking. In late 1657 or early 1658, he assumed the position his father had once held as organist of St Mary's Church, Helsingborg. He worked there until October 1660, when he became organist of St Mary's, Helsingør, called the German church because it served foreigners of the community and the military garrison of Kronborg. In Helsingør Buxtehude was expected to play at the beginning of the service; he and the cantor were to provide instrumental and vocal music for the church on feast days and at other times at the pastor's request.
The position of organist and Werkmeister at St Mary's, Lübeck, became vacant upon the death of Franz Tunder on 5 November 1667, and Dietrich Buxtehude was formally appointed the following April. This was a much more prestigious and well-paid position than the one he had held in Helsingør; Buxtehude was the most highly paid musician in Lübeck, and he earned nearly as much as the pastor of St Mary's. On 23 July 1668 he swore the oath of citizenship, enabling him to marry Anna Margaretha Tunder, a daughter of his predecessor. Seven daughters were born into the family of Dietrich and Anna Margaretha Buxtehude and baptized at St Mary's. Three died in infancy, a fourth survived to early adulthood, and three remained in the household at the time of Buxtehude's death.
As organist of St Mary's, Buxtehude's chief responsibility lay in playing the organ for the main morning and afternoon services on Sundays and feast days. He also held the position of Werkmeister of St Mary's, the administrator and treasurer of the church, a position of considerable responsibility and prestige. The account books that he kept in this capacity document the life of the church and its music in considerable detail. The cantor of St Mary's, also a teacher at the Catharineum, held the responsibility for providing the liturgical music, using his school choir of men and boys. They performed together with most of the Lübeck municipal musicians from a large choir loft in the front of the church, over the rood screen. Two municipal musicians, a violinist and a lutenist, regularly performed with Buxtehude from the large organ.
Buxtehude inherited a tradition established by Franz Tunder of performing concerts from the large organ of St Mary's at the request of the business community. Tunder had gradually added vocalists and instrumentalists to his organ performances, which are said to have taken place on Thursdays prior to the opening of the stock exchange. Within a year of his arrival in Lübeck, Buxtehude had greatly expanded the possibilities for the performance of concerted music from the large organ by having two new balconies installed at the west end of the church, each paid for by a single donor. These new balconies, together with the four that were already there, could accommodate about forty singers and instrumentalists. Buxtehude called his concerts Abendmusiken and changed the time of their presentation to Sundays after vespers. In time these concerts took place regularly on the last two Sundays of Trinity and the second, third and fourth Sundays of Advent each year. By 1678 he had introduced the practice of presenting oratorios of his own composition in serial fashion on these Sundays. He also directed performances of concerted music from the large organ during the regular church services, although this activity, like the presentation of the Abendmusiken, lay outside his official duties to the church.
By 1703 Buxtehude had served for 35 years as organist of St Mary's; he was about 66 years old and, no doubt concerned about the future of his three unmarried daughters, began to look for a successor who would marry Anna Margreta, the eldest, aged 28. The first prospective candidates of whom we know were Johann Mattheson and Georg Frideric Handel, both of whom were employed at the Hamburg opera at the time. They travelled to Lübeck together and listened to Buxtehude "with dignified attention," but since neither of them was at all interested in the marriage condition, they returned to Hamburg the following day. Johann Sebastian Bach made his famous trip to visit Buxtehude in the fall of 1705, coinciding with the Abendmusik season, and he remained in Lübeck for nearly three months. Bach, too, may have been interested in obtaining the succession to Buxtehude's position, but there is no evidence that this was the case. The account of the trip in Bach's obituary states unambiguously that its purpose was to hear Buxtehude play the organ, and in his report to the Arnstadt consistory upon his return the following February, Bach stated that he had made the trip "in order to comprehend one thing and another about his art". Buxtehude died on 9 May 1707 and was succeeded by Johann Christian Schieferdecker, who duly married Anna Margreta on 5 September 1707.
Although Buxtehude never held a position that required him to compose vocal music, he left over 120 vocal works in an extremely wide range of texts, scorings, genres, compositional styles, and length. Texts, almost entirely sacred, are found in four languages, and performing forces range from one voice with one instrument and continuo to nine voices with fifteen instruments and continuo, divided into six choirs. Few of these works can be considered liturgical music for the Lutheran church, which was in any event the responsibility of the cantor. They were probably performed under Buxtehude's direction from the large organ at St Mary's in Lübeck during the distribution of communion at the morning service, during vespers, or perhaps in concerts, such as the Abendmusiken.
Buxtehude inherited well-established traditions regarding the musical settings of the texts that he chose. German composers of the seventeenth century typically transformed biblical prose into sacred concertos and strophic poetry into songs or arias. If the poetry was a church hymn associated with a well-known melody, however, they usually incorporated this chorale melody into a sacred concerto.
With only two exceptions (BuxWV 76 and 105), all the works presented here are preserved in manuscripts that were copied at the Swedish royal court during the early 1680s and now form part of the Düben Collection at the University Library in Uppsala.