BUXTEHUDE: Membra Jesu Nostri

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Dietrich Buxtehude (c.1637 -1707)

Membra Jesu nostri


Johann Rosenmuller (c.1619 -1684)

Sinfonia XI


The imperial free city of Lubeck, a member of the HanseaticLeague, had held a position second only to Hamburg, The development of thelatter during the seventeenth century was very considerable, Lubeck, on theother hand, fared less well, but remained, nevertheless, an importantcommercial centre. Much of the musical life of the city revolved around theMarienkirche, the church of the city council, where Franz Tunder had beenappointed organist in 1641. Tunder, a composer abie to further the synthesis ofthe Lutheran with the Italian influences exemplified in the music of Heinrich Schutz,established weekly Thursday organ recitals that grew into more elaborateconcerts, with other instrumental players, from among the seven official townmusicians, and with singers.


Dietrich Buxtehude, born, it is thought, in Oldesloeabout the year 1637 and claiming, it seems, Danish identity, was the son of anorganist and schoolmaster. His father moved briefly from Oldesloe, in the Duchyof Holstein, to Helsingborg as organist of the Marienkirche there, followingthis with removal to a similar position at the Olaikirche in the Danish city of Helsingborg, an appointment he heid for some thirty years, from 1641 or 1642until his retirement in 1671. Buxtehude himself had his musical education fromhis father and served as organist at the Marienkirche in Helsingborg from 1657or 1658 until 1660, when he returned to Helsingborg as organist at theMarienkirche there. In 1668 he was elected organist at the Marienkirche in Lubeck,succeeding Franz Tunder, who had died in the previous year, and marryingTunder's younger daughter, seemingly a condition or tradition of theappointment. Tunder's elder daughter had married Samuel Franck, Cantor of theMarienkirche and the Catharineum.


At the Marienkirche in Lubeck Buxtehude made some changesin the musical traditions of the church with the establishment of a series of Abendmusikconcerts, given now on five Sunday afternoons in the year, events thatattracted wide interest. As an organist Buxtehude represented the height ofNorth German keyboard traditions, exercising decisive influence over thefollowing generation, notably on Johann Sebastian Bach, who undertook the longjourney from Arnstadt to Lubeck to hear him play. Handel too visited Buxtehude,with his friend and colleague Mattheson, in 1703. By this time there wasquestion of appointing a successor to Buxtehude, who was now nearing the age ofseventy and had spent over thirty years at the Marienkirche. The condition ofmarriage to his predecessor's daughter that he had faithfully fulfilled provedunattractive, however, to the young musicians of the newer generation, and thesuccession eventually passed to Johann Christian Schieferdecker, who marriedhis predecessor's surviving daughter, predeceased by four others, three monthsafter Buxtehude's death on 16th May 1707.


Buxtehude left some 114 sacred vocal works and, amongsecular vocal music, eight wedding cantatas, the latter intended, it wouldseem, for the celebration of weddings of the leading citizens, since the natureof such performances was strictly regulated by social class. His survivinginstrumental music includes almost ninety compositions, preludes, toccatas, canzonettas,fugues and chorale preludes, with a number of other keyboard works, trio andsolo sonatas. His cycle of seven sacred cantatas Membra Jesu nostri waswritten in 1680 and dedicated to Gustaf Duben, conductor of the Swedish courtorchestra and organist of the German church in Stockholm. Duben, whose son waselevated to the Swedish nobility and became Master of the Royal Household,assembled an important collection of music by his contemporaries, including 105works by Buxtehude. The autograph of Membra Jesu nostril survives in theDuben collection, presented by his son Baron Anders von Duben to the University of Uppsala.


Membra Jesu nostri, a title that defies eleganttranslation, is a cycle of seven cantatas, each a meditation on Christ on theCross, his feet, knees, hands, side, breast, heart and face. The Latin text isdrawn from the Rhythmica oratio attributed to the twell1h-centuryCistercian St Bernard of Clairvaux or to the thirteenth-century Arnulf of Louvain,who belonged to the same religious order. From this he derived a three-versearia for each of the seven parts of the work,

in which the sequence of keys, C minor, E flat major, Gminor, D minor, A minor, E minor, C minor, provides an element of unity.


The first of the cycle, Ad pedes (To his feet)opens with a Sonata, a brief introductory instrumental movement for twoviolins, viol one and organ continuo. A five-part choir sings an imitativesetting of words from the prophet Nahum, with basso continuo accompaniment andthe briefest of other instrumental interventions, adding a five-part setting ofthe first verse of the Rhythmica oratio. There follows a soprano aria,with basso continuo, Salve mundi salutare

(Hail, Saviour of the world), with a final instrumental ritornello.

The second soprano aria, Clavos pedum (Nails in his feet) follows thesame pattern, succeeded by the bass Dulcis Jesu (Sweet Jesu), with adifferent melody on the same harmonic basis. The choir and instruments end thefirst part in a return to the biblical text.


Ad genua (To his knees) starts with aninstrumental Sonata in tremulo, the tremulous character provided by theundulating bowed groups of notes in the strings. The choir enters with theimitative entries of Ad ubera portabimini (Then shall ye suck). A tenoraria follows, Salve Jesu, rex sanctorum (Hail, Jesu, king of saints),with an instrumental ritornello, succeeded by the alto second verse, onthe same harmonic pattern, Quid sum tibi responsurus (What answer shallI give thee), leading to the third verse, Ut le quaeram (That I may seekthee), for two sopranos and bass, with basso continuo. The first chorus, Ad ubera,is repeated in conclusion.


The third part of the cycle, Ad manus (To hishands) opens with an instrumental sonata, followed by the choir's contrapuntal Quidsunt plagae istae (What are these wounds). The first soprano aria, SalveJesu, pastor bone (Hail, Jesu, good shepherd), with its concluding ritornello,leads to a second soprano verse, with the same musical material, Manus sanctae

(Sacred hands), with a third verse, In cruore tuo (In thy blood) for alto,tenor and bass. After the ritornello the chorus Quid sunt plagae istae

is repeated.


Ad latus (To his side) starts, as before, with ashort Sonata, an instrumental introduction, followed by the five-part settingof Surge, amica mea (Arise, my love), its alto opening leading to ahomophonic vocal texture, before the imitation of in caverna maceriae

(in the secret places of the stairs). The first aria, for soprano
Disc: 1
Membra Jesu nostri
1 Sinfonia XI
2 I. Ad pedes: Ecce super montes
3 I. Ad pedes: Salve mundi salutare
4 I. Ad pedes: Clavos pedum, plagas duras
5 I. Ad pedes: Dulcis Jesu, pie Deus
6 I. Ad pedes: Ecce super montes
7 II. Ad genua: Ad ubera portabimini
8 II. Ad genua: Salve, Jesu, rex sanctorum
9 II. Ad genua: Quid sunt tibi responsurus
10 II. Ad genua: Ut te quaeram mente pura
11 II. Ad genua: Ad ubera portabimini
12 III. Ad manus: Quid sunt plagae istae
13 III. Ad manus: Salve Jesu, pastor bone
14 III. Ad manus: Manus sanctae, vos amplector
15 III. Ad manus: In cruore tuo lotum
16 III. Ad manus: Quid sunt plagae istae
17 IV. Ad latus: Surge, amica
18 IV. Ad latus: Salve latus Salvatoris
19 IV. Ad latus: Ecce tibi appropinquo
20 IV. Ad latus: Hora mortis meus flatus
21 IV. Ad latus: Surge, amica
22 V. Ad pectus: Sicut modo geniti infantes
23 V. Ad pectus: Salve, salus mea, Deus
24 V. Ad pectus: Pectus mihi confer mundum
25 V. Ad pectus: Ave, verum templum Dei
26 V. Ad pectus: Sicut modo geniti infantes
27 VI. Ad cor: Vulnerasti cor meum
28 VI. Ad cor: Summi regis cor, aveto
29 VI. Ad cor: Per medullam cordis mei
30 VI. Ad cor: Viva cordis, voce clamo
31 VI. Ad cor: Vulnerasti cor meum
32 VII. Ad faciem: Illustria faciem tuam
33 VII. Ad faciem: Salve, caput cruentatum
34 VII. Ad faciem: Dum me mori est necesse
35 VII. Ad faciem: Cum me jubes emigrare
36 VII. Ad faciem: Amen
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