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ClassicsOnline Home » BUXTEHUDE: Organ Music, Vol. 2
By William Whitehead
BBC Music Magazine
Dietrich Buxtehude (c.1637-1707)
Organ Music Vol. 2
The imperial free city of Lübeck, a member of the Hanseatic League, had held a position second only to Hamburg. The development of the latter during the seventeenth century was very considerable. Lübeck, on the other hand, fared less well but remained, nevertheless, an important commercial centre. Much of the musical life of the city centred on the Marienkirche, the church of the city council, where Franz Tunder had been appointed organist in 1641. Tunder, a composer able to further the synthesis of the Lutheran with the Italian influences exemplified in the music of Heinrich Schütz, established weekly Thursday organ recitals that grew into more elaborate concerts, with instrumental players from among the seven official town musicians and others, and with singers.
Dietrich Buxtehude, who identified himself as Danish, was seemingly born in Oldesloe about the year 1637, the son of an organist and schoolmaster. His father moved briefly from Oldesloe, in the Duchy of Holstein, to Helsingborg as organist at the Mariekirke there and soon after to the Danish city of Helsingør, Hamlets Elsinore, as organist at the St Olai Kirke, a position he held for some thirty years, until his retirement in 1671. Buxtehude was taught by his father and from 1657 or 1658 until 1660 was organist at the Mariekirke in Helsingborg, a city separated from Helsingør by a narrow stretch of water. His next appointment was at the Mariekirke in the latter city. In 1668 he was elected organist at the Marienkirche in Lübeck, where he succeeded Franz Tunder, who had died the previous year, following custom by marrying Tunders younger daughter. Tunders elder daughters security had already been assured by her marriage to Samuel Franck, Cantor of the Marienkirche and the Catherineum Lateinschule, the choir-school that provided singers for the services of the Marienkirche.
At the Marienkirche in Lübeck Buxtehude made some changes in the musical traditions of the church, establishing a series of Abendmusik concerts given now on five Sunday afternoons in the year, events that attracted wide interest. As an organist Buxtehude represented the height of North German keyboard traditions, exercising a decisive influence over the following generation, notably on Johann Sebastian Bach, who undertook the long journey from Arnstadt to Lübeck to hear him play, outstaying his leave, to the dissatisfaction of his employers. Handel too visited Lübeck in 1703, with his Hamburg friend and colleague Mattheson. By this time there was a question of appointing a successor to Buxtehude, who was nearly seventy and had spent over thirty years at the Marienkirche. The condition of marriage to his predecessors daughter that Buxtehude had faithfully fulfilled proved unattractive, however, to the young musicians of the newer generation and the succession eventually passed to Johann Christian Schieferdecker, who married Buxtehudes surviving daughter, predeceased by four others, three months after Buxtehudes death in 1707.
In the Marienkirche in Lübeck there were two three-manual organs. The larger instrument was on the West wall of the nave of the church and the smaller was sited in the Totentanz chapel, so called from the painting displayed there of The Dance of Death, by the fifteenth-century Lübeck painter Bernt Notke, a reminder of an earlier epidemic of the plague. Both instruments accorded with current North German practice, with a particularly impressive array of pedal stops, the principal organ including a 32-foot pedal Principal.
The Praeludium or Praeambulum, a prelude, is a free form and one in which Buxtehude excelled. The Praeludium in C major, BuxWV 137, a fine example of this type of composition, opens with a passage for the pedals and an imitative section starting in dotted rhythms that leads to the four-voice fugal part of the work. The fugue leads in turn to a Ciaccona, the opening bars of the ground ornamented in shorter notes. The variations end with a final flourish.
The chorale, the hymn of German Lutheran worship, provided a thematic repertoire for extension and ornamentation in the organ Chorale Fantasia and in Chorale Preludes, the latter a possible introduction to the hymn itself, although congregations occasionally found the theme that they were supposed to take up elusive.
Buxtehudes chorale prelude Komm, Heiliger Geist, Herre Gott, BuxWV 199, (Come, Holy Ghost, Lord God), one of two such based on the same chorale, offers the melody in an ornamented form, treating the material with due elaboration. The prelude on Von Gott will ich nicht lassen, BuxWV 221, (From God shall I not part), presents an ornamented version of the melody, making use in all parts of a figure drawn from this and introducing a chromatic element as it proceeds.
The chorale variations on Vater unser im Himmelreich, BuxWV 207, (Our Father, which art in Heaven), a melody otherwise used for the words Nimmt von uns, Herr, du treuer Gott (Take from us, Lord, thou true God), may have been intended for use in alternation with sung verses. The first verse, on the manuals, offers the melody in the upper voice, and the second in still more transparent form, with a single accompanying part in a livelier rhythm. The third verse, now also using the pedals, is much more elaborate, while the final version returns to the simpler texture of the second, accompanying the melody with a single-line counterpoint.
BuxWV 208 and BuxWV 212, preludes on Nun bitten wir den Heiligen Geist (Now beseech we the Holy Ghost) and Nun lob, mein Seel, den Herren (Now praise the Lord, my soul), both follow Buxtehudes general practice of presenting the chorale melody in ornamented form in the upper part. The first of these gives a more highly decorated version of the chorale, while the second makes use of echo effects, with specified changes of manual for the purpose. The prelude on In dulci jubilo, BuxWV 197, otherwise known as Nun singet und seid froh (Now sing and be glad) follows the composers general procedure, with an ornamented chorale melody in the upper part, to which three contrapuntal parts are added below.
Buxtehudes Toccata in G major, BuxWV 164, is for manuals only. The introductory section leads to a brief three-voice fugue and a suggestion of improvisation in the conclusion. The Fugue in
C major, BuxWV 174, seemingly for manuals only, has an extended gigue subject in 12/8 metre, stated first in the upper voice, answered by the three other voices in descending order. The notable Ciaccona in E minor, BuxWV 160, is in 3/4 metre, building at once on the ground in the pedals, four descending notes. This is occasionally varied by embellishment, while above the composer weaves a series of impressive variations.
Mit Fried und Freud ich fahr dahin, BuxWV 76, (With peace and joy I pass away) was written in 1671 for the funeral of Meno Hanneken, superintendent in Lübeck since 1646, exercising the highest supervisory office in the Lutheran church establishment in the city.
Three years later he played the same music at his fathers funeral, adding the Klag-Lied and publishing the work. The title page from 1671 describes the work as Simeons Abschied (Simeons Farewell) in honour of Hanneken, in zween Contrapunctis abgesungen von Dieterico Buxtehude (performed in two counterpoints by Dietrich Buxtehude). Seemingly following the example of the Hamburg organist Christoph Bernhards 1669 funeral Prudentia prudentiana in its skilled contrapuntal treatment, Buxtehude first presents the chorale melody in the upper part. In Evolutio I it is transposed down a compound fourth and given in the pedals, while the other voices of Contrapunctus I are transposed, the alto now in the tenor, the original tenor in the alto and the bass in the upper part. Contrapunctus II sets the third verse of the chorale with the melody in the upper part, while the following Evolutio II has the transposed melody inverted in the pedals, tenor moved to alto and alto to tenor and bass to soprano, all inverted. Words of each verse are given. The additional Klag-Lied is a sincere and simple tribute to the composers father.
The chorale fantasia on Wie schön leuchtet der Morgenstern, BUXWV 223, (How brightly shines the morning star) gives the melody first in the bass and then in the top part, going on, after a flourish, to a triplet accompanying counterpoint, further developed in two fugal sections.
The Praeludium in A minor, BuxWV 153, opens with a figure in the left hand, imitated in the right and, after a cadence, followed by the pedals. The opening section ends over a long dominant pedal-note, to be followed by a fugue in which the four voices enter in descending order. The subject is later inverted, before the introduction of a second fugue in 6/4 metre on a related subject and a final quasi-improvisatory section.
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BUXTEHUDE: Organ Music, Vol. 2