Buxtehude and his Circle
20 July 2016
Toronto Early Music News
Recorded in Garnisonskirken, Copenhagen in August-September 2013, these seven sacred works represent an overview of the intimate circle of Dietrich Buxtehude (c.1637-1707) and his composer relatives/students/friends: Christian Geist (c.1650-1711), Nicholaus Bruhns (1665-1697), Franz Tunder (1614-1667), Kasper Förster (1616-1673). Geist, Tunder and Förster are almost unknown today. Bruhns and Buxtehude’s reputation in our own generation are principally known as organ composers. So this disc is an window on their abilities as sacred vocal creators, a very fine project by Hillier and his group Theatre of Voices.
“The idea behind the programme has been to provide insight into the circle Buxtehude - a circle of time, place and personal relations; a network of composers from norther German musician families, all of whom worked in or migrated to Scandinavia in the course of the 1600’s, and left their mark on the musical life in the cities of the Baltic region like Danzig, Lübeck, Hamburg, Elsinore, Copenhagen, Gothenburg and Stockholm.” This by Jakob Bloch Jespersen who penned the essay and sings the Bass parts in the recording. The seven texts themselves are in Latin and German, with English translations.
Grammy Award winner Theatre of Voices, (The Little Match Girl Passion 2010) founded in California by Paul Hillier, is now based in Denmark. Hillier himself a Grammy winner, is one of the leading members of the early music movement and this project reflects his world-class standards of excellence. The focus on the composers in the artistic circle around Buxtehude not only shines a light on unknowns like Geist and Tunder, but parallels a recent upsurge in new recordings of 17th c. forgotten works from all the national schools.
Tunder about whom we know little is a very Italianate composer, he is steeped in their styles. His single offering Dominus illuminato mea is a strikingly beautiful work (9:04). Tunder had died by the time Buxtehude arrive in the city of Lübeck. The younger composer not only took over his organ post but married his daughter and finally lived in Tunder’s house. Tunder initiated the Abendmusiken in the city, which became the most important platform for Buxtehude’s musical expressions and made him famous in the entire region. “Abendmusiken were church concerts funded by the rich merchants of the city, with free admission for the public…In Lübeck [they] were held at the end and the beginning of the liturgical year, that is the five weeks beginning with the last Sunday after Trinity, as well as the four Sundays in Advent.” writes Jespersen. J.S. Bach was deeply influenced by Buxtehude’s Abendmusiken and probably participated in the performances as a musician in the famous journey he made by foot, to meet the elder composer at the end of his life, during 1705 season.