Organ Registrations (download)
by Kerala J. Snyder
Dieterich Buxtehude lived his entire life close to the shores of the Baltic Sea. He was most 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 an unknown time from Oldesloe, in Holstein. In the year 1641 Johannes Buxtehude was employed as the organist at St. Mary’s Church, Helsingborg, and soon after that he moved across the Øresund to become organist of St. Olai Church in Elsinore. The exact date of Dieterich’s birth is unknown, but at the time of his death on 9 May, 1707, he was said to be about seventy years old. Baptismal records do not extend back to 1637 in Helsingborg, Elsinore or Oldesloe. As a child in Elsinore, Dieterich Buxtehude must have been aware of both his German heritage and his Danish surroundings, and he appears to have grown up bilingual. In Elsinore and during his early years in Lübeck, Buxtehude 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. Other possible teachers in Denmark include Claus Dengel, organist at St. Mary’s, Elsinore, from 1650 to 1660, and Johann Lorentz, Jr., the famous organist at St. Nicholas’ Church, Copenhagen, from 1634 until his death in 1689. Lorentz was a pupil and son-in-law of Jacob Praetorius in Hamburg, and the 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 Heinrich Scheidemann in Hamburg or Franz Tunder in Lübeck.
In late 1657 or early 1658, Buxtehude assumed the same position as organist of St. Mary’s Church, Helsingborg, that his father had occupied before coming to Elsinore. He worked there until October, 1660, when he became organist of St. Mary’s, Elsinore, called the German church because it served foreigners of the community and the military garrison of Kronborg. In Elsinore, Buxtehude was expected to play at the beginning of the service while the pastor was robing himself; 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 5 November, 1667, and Dieterich Buxtehude was formally appointed the following April. This was a much more prestigious and well-paying position than the one he had held in Elsinore; Buxtehude was the most highly paid musician in Lübeck, and he earned nearly as much as the pastor of St. Mary’s.
Buxtehude swore the oath of citizenship 23 July, 1668, enabling him to marry and set up his household. He married Anna Margaretha Tunder, a daughter of his predecessor, on 3 August, 1668. Seven daughters were born into the family of Dieterich 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: 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 Lübeck society, the families of the wealthy wholesalers who lived in St. Mary’s parish and governed both the church and the city. Buxtehude himself belonged to the fourth social class, however, together with lesser wholesalers, retailers and brewers. In inviting his social superiors to serve as godparents – and in some cases naming his children after them – Buxtehude was also cultivating their patronage for his musical enterprises.
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 thirty-five years as organist of St. Mary’s; he was about sixty-six years old and he was no doubt concerned about the future of his three unmarried daughters, so he began to look for a successor who would marry Anna Margreta, the eldest, aged twenty-eight. The first prospective candidates of whom we know were Johann Mattheson and Georg Friederich Händel, both of whom were employed at the Hamburg opera at the time. They travelled to Lübeck together 17 August, 1703 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 9 May, 1707 and was succeeded by Johann Christian Schieferdecker, who married Anna Margreta 5 September, 1707.
Few documents survive to illuminate the details of Buxtehude’s life, but those that do reveal a multifaceted personality to match the broad stylistic range of the music that he composed. In addition to his varied activities as a musician – composer, keyboard player, conductor – he worked with both numbers and words as an accountant and a poet. He composed dedicatory poems for publications by his friends Johann Theile and Andreas Werckmeister, and he appears to have written the texts for several of his vocal works. He was both a dutiful employee of the church and a bold entrepreneur in his management of the Abendmusiken. His choice of texts for vocal music demonstrates deep Christian piety, while his portrait with Johann Adam Reinken in “Häusliche Musikszene”, painted in 1674 by Johann Voorhout, shows a man of the world. These two aspects of Buxtehude’s personality are neatly juxtaposed in the canon that he wrote for the Lübeck theological student Meno Hanneken; headed by Buxtehude’s motto, “Non hominibus sed Deo” (not to men but to God), its text celebrates worldly pleasure: “Divertisons-nous aujourd’hui, bouvons à la santé de mon ami” (Let us enjoy ourselves today and drink to the health of my friend).
The writers of his own and the succeeding generation made only scant mention of Buxtehude; nonetheless, he was honored, both in his own century and in the one that followed, in a manner that was ultimately of far greater significance than any number of verbal accolades might have been: by the copying of his music, more of which survives, and in a greater number of genres, than from any of his North German contemporaries. His vocal music is found chiefly in copies made by or for his friend Gustav Düben, chapel master to the King of Sweden. Many copies of his free organ works stem from the circle of J.S. Bach, while the surviving manuscripts of his chorale-based organ works were copied mainly by Johann Gottfried Walther. Buxtehude’s only major publications during his lifetime were two collections of sonatas for violin, viola da gamba, and harpsichord (Dacapo 8.224003 and 8.224004).
Buxtehude’s Keyboard Music
Buxtehude’s keyboard music can be divided into those works that require the use of the pedal and those that do not. The North German organs had the most developed pedal division of any in Europe, and Buxtehude almost certainly intended his pedaliter works for the organ, although they could also have been played on a clavichord or harpsichord equipped with pedals. Those for manuals alone can be performed on harpsichord, clavichord, or organ. Among Buxtehude’s manualiter works, the dance suites and variations on secular tunes are almost all contained in a single manuscript and are most often performed on the harpsichord, as recorded for this series by Lars Ulrik Mortensen. The others are mainly transmitted in sources that also contain the pedaliter works, and they appear in modern editions of Buxtehude’s organ music. This body of works, whether manualiter or pedaliter, falls into two main categories: freely composed works that do not draw on preexisting melodies and settings of traditional Lutheran chorales. In his free organ works titled praeludium, praeambulum, or toccata, Buxtehude combined a variety of styles and textures, consisting mainly of an extremely free style idiomatic to the keyboard and more highly structured styles, such as fugue, which maintain a fixed number of voices in contrapuntal texture. The unpredictability of the manner in which Buxtehude combined these elements was a hallmark of the stylus phantasticus, a term coined by Athanasius Kircher in 1650 to denote “the most free and unrestrained method of composing.”
VOLUME 1 – Buxtehude left three great independent ostinato works: the ciaconas in C minor (BuxWV 159) and E minor (BuxWV 160) and the passacaglia in D minor (BuxWV 161). All three are preserved in a single manuscript, known as the “Andreas Bach Buch”, which was copied by Johann Sebastian Bach’s older brother Johann Christoph (1671-1721). These genres originated in Spain at the beginning of the seventeenth century, and they soon appeared in a wide variety of Italian instrumental and vocal music, including the keyboard music of Frescobaldi. Buxtehude appears to have been the first to require the use of pedals in a ciacona or passacaglia; with the repeating ostinato melody carried mainly by the pedal, the hands become free to play complex variations above it. Buxtehude makes little distinction between the two related terms, although the fact that his passacaglia is notated in 3/2 while the ciaconas are in 3/4 could suggest that the passacaglia should be played more slowly. The D‑minor passacaglia is also notable for its very clear formal and tonal plan: four sections, in D minor, F major, A minor, and D minor, each consisting of seven variations on the four-measure bass melody.
Buxtehude also occasionally incorporated ostinato passages into his great multi-sectional praeludia; the final section of his C major praeludium (BuxWV 137, at 03:57) is in fact labeled ciacona. The wide octave leaps of its three-measure ostinato are announced in the opening virtuosic pedal solo of the first section. Here we meet the stylus phantasticus, so idiomatic to keyboard music, with its constantly shifting textures and number of voices, from fast-moving scales to block chords, from homophonic figuration to suggestions of fugues – one never knows what to expect. The real fugue that follows (at 01:50), by contrast, works its way systematically from one to four voices with statements of the subject followed by answers in the dominant, and it continues in this way until each voice – easily identified as soprano, alto, tenor, and bass – has stated both subject and answer twice.
The two praeludia in G minor on this disk also contain ostinato sections. BuxWV 149, justifiably one of Buxtehude’s most frequently performed works, combines ostinato and stylus phantasticus in its opening section. The opening flourish in the manuals could lead anywhere, but it turns out to be the figuration above an ostinato when the pedal finally makes its appearance. This praeludium is further notable for its two fugues with related subjects: the first in a sober, archaic, ricercar style; the second an affective fuga pathetica in slow triple meter, one of Buxtehude’s finest. The ostinato section that concludes the other G minor praeludium (BuxWV 148, at 04:51) is totally different. Here the two-measure theme is first announced in the pedal without accompaniment, and thereafter it migrates quite regularly into the upper voices.
The chorale settings included on this CD are all of the type that Buxtehude cultivated most extensively, or perhaps that were most useful to Johann Gottfried Walther, whose manuscript copies provide the only sources for them. Each of these works states the chorale melody just once, in the soprano voice, designated in the manuscripts to be performed on a separate manual, with the middle two voices to be played on another manual and the bass on the pedal. They probably represent written-out versions of the introductions to hymns that Buxtehude improvised as a church organist. The melodies are often highly ornamented; in fact the ministers of St. Mary’s Church in Lübeck, where he served from 1668 until his death in 1707, decided in 1701 to hang boards with the hymn numbers in the church, because “from the organ playing beforehand, the hymns can be recognized by only a few.”
The chorale melodies printed here come from a manuscript written for the use of the choir of St. Mary’s Church in Lübeck, probably some time during the early part of Buxtehude’s tenure there, and certainly before the cantor Jacob Pagendarm prepared a manuscript with new settings in 1705. These are all traditional chorales for the great feasts of the church year – Christmas, Easter, Pentecost, Trinity and the Advent season – and they date from the first years of the Reformation or even earlier. Any member of the congregation would have recognized the chorales “Lobt Gott, ihr Christen allzu Gleich” and “Gott der Vater wohn uns bei” from Buxtehude’s settings of them, but some might have lost their way during his exuberant chorale prelude on “Komm, Heilger Geist, Herre Gott” (BuxWV 199), where he ornaments the hymn melody far more than he does in its companion setting, BuxWV 200. His style of ornamentation for all these pieces comes originally from vocal practice, and while the chorale is present the organ emulates the texture of a singer accompanied by continuo. In the interludes between each line, however, Buxtehude draws upon the contrapuntal tradition to introduce the next line with imitation. Even in these very short pieces, we see Buxtehude’s compositional art in his seamless joining of these two styles.
VOLUME 2 – All five praeludia on this CD begin with an opening section in free style, followed by two or three fugues, combined in various ways with further free material. The opening section typi cally begins with a single voice and then moves to a highly ornamented chordal structure, decorated either by a short figure that passes from voice to voice or by scales and trills in a display of virtuosity. The fugues that follow are usually quite short, and their subjects are often related. The subject of the second fugue of BuxWV 152 has exactly the same melody as that of the first, transformed into triple time. The subjects of the two fugues of BuxWV 153 are similarly related, but Buxtehude added a chromatic note to the second. The relationship of the three fugues of BuxWV 142 is much more complex: all three subjects feature the descent from b to e and the skip of an octave, but Buxtehude used these simple elements to create three fugues of remarkably different character. The first is playful, with just a touch of chromaticism; the second, in slow triple time, is a full-blown fuga pathetica with its descending chromatic line; and the third seizes upon the octave leaps to create a macabre dance in gigue rhythm. Buxtehude’s fugues usually conform to Mattheson’s definition of a proper fugue by giving a statement of both subject and answer in each voice, but they often do not maintain their contrapuntal texture to the end; this, too, is a characteristic of the stylus phantasticus and is particularly striking in the case of the gigue fugues that conclude BuxWV 136 and BuxWV 142. The first fugue of BuxWV 153, by contrast, is cast in a learned style, with alternating expositions of the subject in inversion and just a short flourish in free style to conclude it. The free sections between the fugues often contain dissonances and suspensions (durezze e ligature) and harmonic excursions, in either unadorned form (BuxWV 151) or highly ornamented (BuxWV 142).
Six of the chorale settings included on this CD (BuxWV 178, 180, 206, 220, 222, and 224) are of the type that Buxtehude cultivated most extensively, in which the chorale melody appears just once, in the soprano voice. A comparison of Buxtehude’s two settings of the chorale “Von Gott will ich nicht lassen” will illustrate the difference between his normal procedure (BuxWV 220) and his departure from it (BuxWV 221). Although the chorale strophe consists of eight lines, the Lübeck tradition divides its melody into four phrases of unequal length: the first two are identical and set the first four lines; the third, ending with a fermata, includes just one line, and the fourth contains the last three lines of the strophe. Buxtehude’s composition in BuxWV 220 follows this phrase division exactly, giving the chorale melody to the right hand on a separate manual and dividing its phrases with rests. The chorale melody is easily recognizable in the first phrase but is highly ornamented in the other three. The inner voices, consistently in the alto and tenor range, provide interludes between phrases and accompaniment when the upper voice is present; the pedal functions as a bass line most of the time but drops out occasionally, further articulating the phrase structure, and holds a pedal point during the final cadential flourish of the upper voice. In Buxtehude’s other setting of “Von Gott will ich nicht lassen” (BuxWV 221) the voices are not so consistently divided according to function. Short figures consisting of four sixteenth notes (or three sixteenths leading to a longer note) dominate the piece; in the first phrase the chorale is hidden in the soprano voice as the figures run through all four parts, while in the second phrase the pedal takes the chorale as a cantus firmus in quarter notes beneath the figuration. Compositional variety continues in the second half, where almost every line is treated differently. For the sixth line of the text, all four voices participate in imitative counterpoint on an ascending chromatic line in eighth notes, but otherwise the sixteenth-note figures lend the piece cohesion despite the variety of compositional techniques. The final phrase of the chorale (lines 6-8) is set a second time.
The Lübeck hymnal designated the chorales on this CD for a variety of purposes: feasts in the Church year, such as New Year’s Day (“Von Gott will ich nicht lassen”) and Ascension (“Wir danken dir”); sacraments and teachings of the Church, such as baptism (“Christ unser Herr zum Jordan kam”) and the ten commandments (“Mensch, wiltu leben seliglich”); and more general themes: the Church (“Wär Gott nicht mit uns diese Zeit”), thanksgiving (“Nun lob, mein Seel’), and penitence (“Ach Herr, mich armen Sünder”), the latter melody better known with the text “Herzlich tut mich verlangen”. While the organist introduced the hymns, it was the responsibility of the cantor with his choir to lead the congregation in the singing, which the organist did not usually accompany at this time. Two manuscript chorale books now in the Lübeck city archives that were written for the choir of St. Mary’s Church provide the versions of the chorales given here. The later one (MS #14), prepared by the cantor Jacob Pagendarm in 1705 for use with the new Lübeck hymnal of 1703, supplies the melodies for “Ach Herr, mich armen Sünder” and “Wär Gott nicht mit uns diese Zeit”. The others come from the earlier manuscript (MS #13), which was probably copied during the late 1660s or early 1670s.
VOLUME 3 presents two splendid examples of the stylus phantasticus, one pedaliter – the Toccata in F (BuxWV 156) – and one manualiter – the Praeludium in g (BuxWV 163). Both contain two short fugues, but the chief emphasis is on the lengthy free sections, in which Buxtehude “hits first upon this idea and then upon that one”, as Johann Mattheson described this style in 1739. Among the ideas on display in the free sections are opening flourishes with scales and arpeggios, figuration over pedal points (in BuxWV 156), meter changes, and passages that at first appear to be fugues but then dissolve into homophonic texture. The Praeludium in C (BuxWV 138), which opens this CD, resembles the F major Toccata in its use of pedal points in the opening free section, but it strikes a close balance between free and fugal elements. Although it has only one central fugue, its opening free section is much more unified, and there is only a short toccata-like flourish at the end. Fugal elements predominate, on the other hand, in the Praeambulum in a (BuxWV 158), which is quite archaic in style and probably dates from Buxtehude’s Helsingør days. Its second fugue is a variation on the first. The subjects of all three fugues are related in the Praeludium in g (BuxWV 150). It, too, is dominated by fugal procedure, and its texture occasionally expands to five voices, with two taken by the pedal. But free style once again prevails in the manualiter Toccata in G (BuxWV 164), as its name implies.
The three canzonas presented here (BuxWV 172, 173, 225) are more modest manualiter works, each consisting of one fugue with a lively subject in a distinctly instrumental idiom, moving mainly in sixteenth-notes with repeated notes, disjunct intervals, and sequential patterns. It seems quite likely that Buxtehude composed these works as teaching materials, both as models for composition and to develop finger dexterity in performance.
With this third volume Bine Bryndorf’s survey of Buxtehude’s short chorale preludes comes to a close; subsequent volumes feature chorale fantasies and variation sets. The chorale preludes are among Buxtehude’s most characteristic works, and they probably represent written-out versions of his improvised introductions to the congregational singing of the great hymns of the Lutheran Church. As identified in the Lübeck hymnal, they are devoted to the main festivals of the Christian year (volume 1), to the Christian life, and to the chief tenets of Lutheran theology. Of these last, none is more important than the doctrine of justification by faith, which is expounded in three chorales in this volume: “Es ist das Heil uns kommen her”, “Herr Christ, der einig Gottes Sohn” (with two settings), and “Durch Adams Fall ist ganz verderbt”. Buxtehude’s treatment of this last chorale is particularly interesting. Although the nine verses of Lazarus Spengler’s text (1524) outline the entire history of salvation, its first verse focuses on the original sin of Adam and Eve, and it is from this theme that Buxtehude draws the sorrowful affect of his setting, as manifested most noticeably in the chromatic countermelodies to the second and third lines of the chorale. He presents the chorale melody in the uppermost voice in a vocal style that Christoph Bernhard described as “cantar d’affetto”, employing very little coloratura passage work but rather concentrating on the main notes, filling in the gaps between them with expressive ornaments such as anticipations and cercar della nota. As in most of his chorale preludes, the middle two voices are played on a separate manual, but in the first part of this piece he departs from his normal practice of casting the pedal in the role of continuo bass, preferring to engage it in the counterpoint of the upper voices or to let it drop out completely. Buxtehude’s exuberant setting of Martin Luther’s “Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott”, which the Lübeck hymnal assigns to the topic “The Church”, offers a strong affective contrast, with its jubilant coloratura in the upper voice.
The chorale melodies given here are all drawn from a manuscript chorale book now in the Lübeck city archives (MS #13) that was written for the choir of St. Mary’s Church and was probably copied during the late 1660s or early 1670s. Although sometimes highly ornamented, the structural notes of the soprano voice in Buxtehude’s chorale preludes remain remarkably true to these classic melodies.
VOLUME 4 – The North German praeludium of the later seventeenth century evolved from smaller works that probably served a true preludial function of introducing vocal music, such as the praeludia of Jacob Praetorius and Heinrich Scheidemann, influenced by the multipartite Italian toccata, such as those of Girolamo Frescobaldi. Buxtehude’s Toccata in d (BuxWV 155) bears an Italian name, but it takes its place within his pedaliter works as an outstanding representative of the German stylus phantasticus and one of his most frequently performed works. Its opening section contains all the hallmarks of the style: sweeping scales, a pedal solo, various figures to decorate chord progressions, and a brief fugato. Its two fugues have related subjects, the second a triple-time variation of the first, and both quickly dissolve into fantastic passage work after two brief expositions. The single fugue of the Toccata in F (BuxWV 157) that opens this CD, by contrast, is sustained longer, and it is tightly integrated with the opening free section, which anticipates the repeated notes of the fugue subject. Like the praeludia, Buxtehude’s canzonas can contain one, two, or three fugues, and one of each is presented here (BuxWV 167, 171, and 168 respectively). In the third fugue of BuxWV 168 Buxtehude presents the subject both upright and inverted, a fact noted by Friedrich Wilhelm Marpurg in his treatise on fugue (Abhandlung von der Fuge, 1753). All the canzonas are manualiter works, and they do not contain the toccata-style passage work that is characteristic of the praeludia.
Buxtehude’s chorale settings on this CD differ markedly from the chorale preludes heard in the previous three volumes. Here we have a rich selection of chorale fantasias, much more extensive works in which the chorale melody appears multiple times, either intact or fragmented, and in various voices. The difference between these two genres can easily be heard by comparing Buxtehude’s setting of the chorale “Gelobet seist du, Jesu Christ” as a chorale prelude in volume 1 with the chorale fantasia in this volume. The chorale prelude (BuxWV 189) contains 27 measures, lasting scarcely more than a minute and a half; the chorale fantasia (BuxWV 188) has 155 measures and a duration of eight minutes. Furthermore, the fantasia is divided into five discrete sections, each corresponding to one phrase of the chorale. In the first section and the first part of the second section (beginning at 1:49) the melody is developed in fugal style; then it appears fragmented in the pedal, with figuration above it. The third section (beginning at 3:19) returns to fugal style, with a chromatic countersubject, while the fourth (beginning at 5:04) switches to the texture and rhythm of a dance, the gigue, perhaps reflecting the joy of the angels in this line of the text. It contains several echoes between the two manuals, a frequent characteristic of the chorale fantasia. The final section (at 6:55) offers a toccatalike finale on the last four notes, “Kyrieleis”. Buxtehude presents an even wider selection of techniques, worked out more extensively, in his masterpiece of this genre, “Nun freut euch, lieben Christen g’mein” (BuxWV 210), whereas he concentrates on echoes in “Nun lob mein Seel den Herren” (BuxWV 212). In his “Magnificat Primi Toni” (BuxWV 204) the incipit of the first Magnificat tone (in the version published by Franz Eler [Hamburg, 1588]) lies buried in an opening flourish, while the remainder of the tone provides the melodic material for the three following fughette. The chorale melodies given here are drawn from a manuscript chorale book now in the Lübeck city archives (MS #13) that was written for the choir of St. Mary’s Church and was probably copied during the late 1660s or early 1670s.
The works on this CD have been carefully chosen to exploit the beauty of the pure quarter- comma meantone tuning of the “Düben organ” on which they were recorded. This tuning system, which was widely used during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, has the advantage of eight perfect major thirds, coupled with the disadvantage that one cannot play in every key. It is achieved by tuning each fifth ¼ syntonic comma flat, beginning with E-flat and ending with G-sharp. But the circle does not close; the final G-sharp is not an A-flat, and when played with an E-flat it sounds more like the howl of a wolf (which it is in fact called) than the interval of a fifth. Thus there are no enharmonic equivalents, although on this organ split black keys enable the playing of both E-flat and D-sharp. Many of Buxtehude’s works call for notes that are not available in pure meantone tuning, and the organs in Helsingør and Helsingborg on which the first three volumes of this series were recorded are tuned in unequal circulating temperaments in which it is possible to play in every key. But works such as those presented in this volume, in keys requiring few accidentals, sound their best in meantone tuning.
VOLUME 5 – The three pedaliter praeludia on this CD, in D major (BuxWV 139, track 1), F sharp minor (BuxWV 146, track 6) and D minor (BuxWV 140, track 11), number among Buxtehude’s best loved works and demonstrate well the wide variety of styles that he employed in this genre. The D major praeludium that opens the CD presents one extreme, with its bright tonality, light textures, and emphasis on its free sections containing arpeggios, scales, and variously ornamented chords. It has but one fugue, whose contrapuntal texture is exceedingly thin. Its subject, consisting only of six repeated notes followed by a decorated descending third, articulated by rests, meshes with a similar countersubject, and when these voices are doubled at the third, sixth, or tenth, a concertato effect is produced that is not at all typical of fugal texture. By contrast, the D minor praeludium that closes the program is a weighty work with a five-part overall form, alternating three free sections with two fugues. The bold subject of its first fugue is quintessentially Buxtehudian, combining three elements often found separately in his fugue subjects: octave leaps, rests, and repeated notes. This fugue is worked out in triple counterpoint with two simultaneous countersubjects that bridge the rests, providing continuity and density. The subject of the second fugue, in 3/4 meter, maintains the intervallic structure of the first while dropping the rests and the repeated notes. The F-sharp minor praeludium provides one of Buxtehude’s most stunning examples of the stylus phantasticus, with extensive free sections and a pair of fugues, the first stately with an affect of extreme sadness, the second more light-hearted and freer in its counterpoint. Its extensive final closing section begins hesitatingly with a chordal-rhapsodic passage full of harmonic excursions. It then erupts into a virtuosic tour de force including an ostinato that appears in various forms and keys, increasing in excitement as it becomes compressed toward the end.
Buxtehude’s chorale settings on this CD offer a selection of chorale variations and chorale fantasias, each of them quite different. The variation sets (BuxWV 181, 205, 177, and 213) generally present the chorale melody with little ornamentation and may represent Buxtehude’s alternatim practice, in which he improvised interludes between the verses that the congregation sang. The ninth tone for the Magnificat was sung in German in Lübeck, and the pedal part of the first verset of BuxWV 205 (track 4) contains exactly the same number of syllables as the first verse. Its second verset is a fugue on just the first three notes of the intonation. The chorale fantasias range from the most retrospective to the most extravagant in style. Ich dank dir schon (BuxWV 195, track 9) might rather be called a chorale ricercar; as in his other chorale fantasias, Buxtehude develops each chorale line separately, but in this case he uses the same dense imitative counterpoint for each section. Two of his most extensive fantasias are based not on German chorales but on Latin chant with reciting tones. The Magnificat primi toni (BuxWV 203, track 5) resembles a praeludium in its juxtaposition of free sections and fugues, although its eight sections are shorter and its fugues less well developed than is the case in most of Buxtehude’s praeludia. At first hearing it hardly seems to be related to the first Magnificat tone, but upon closer examination one can find two complete statements of the entire formula. Buxtehude’s fantasia on the Te Deum (BuxWV 218, track 7) is his longest and one of his grandest keyboard works. It consists of a praeludium, which establishes the Phrygian mode, and extended settings of four named verses – “Te Deum laudamus”, “Pleni sunt coeli et terra”, “Te martyrum”, and “Tu devicto mortis” – of this ancient hymn. In them we hear many of the styles associated with the German chorale fantasias, including echo effects, fugal developments, ostinatos, and the cantus firmus set in long notes.
The chorale melodies given here are drawn from a variety of sources. “Ach Gott und Herr”, “Danket dem Herren”, and the ninth Magnificat tone come from a manuscript chorale book now in the Lübeck city archives (MS #13) that was written for the choir of St. Mary’s Church and was probably copied during the late 1660s or early 1670s. The first Magnificat tone and the Te Deum were published in Hamburg by Franz Eler in 1588. “Ich dank dir schon” and “Ich dank dir lieber Herre’ do not appear in the Lübeck sources of Buxtehude’s time, but the latter was included in the Danish hymnal of Hans Thomissøn (1569) from which Buxtehude sang as a youth, and it appears here in that version.
VOLUME 6 – This CD contains a rich selection of those free manualiter works, which, perhaps because they could be played on instruments found in the home, offer some of Buxtehude’s lightest and most playful music. A small positive organ, such as the Richborn reconstruction on which we hear BuxWV 166, 170, 174, and 175, could have been found in a home as well as in a church during the seventeenth century. Among Buxtehude’s free manualiter works, the canzona stands out as the most characteristic genre. Also called canzonetta or fuga, it consists of one to three fugues, usually with lively, thematically related subjects in short note values or gigue rhythm. The Canzona in C (BuxWV 166), with three fugues, provides a good example. The counterpoint here is quite loose, as is typical, tending toward a chordal accompaniment of the fugue subject. The Fuga in C (BuxWV 174), consisting of just one fugue in gigue rhythm, has a similarly light texture. Contrapuntal artifice is by no means absent from the canzonas, however. The Fuga in G (BuxWV 175) begins in a disarmingly simple manner, but a second section treats the subject in contrary motion, and the third section combines the two forms of the subject. The Canzonetta in E minor (BuxWV 169), despite its diminutive name, departs markedly from the light-hearted character of most of the canzonas, with its E minor tonality, more vocal character of its subject, and the introduction of a prominent countersubject in its second section.
The fugues of Buxtehude’s canzonas sometimes dissolve into toccata-like free sections, as we hear at the end of the first fugue of the Fuga in B-flat major (BuxWV 176). Here the close relationship of Buxtehude’s canzonas to his praeludia and toccatas becomes clear. These two genres share thematically related fugues, but the praeludia and toccatas always open with a free section, whereas the canzonas never do. Also, the praeludia and toccatas usually have a richer, more complex texture, requiring the use of the pedal. The manualiter Praeludium in G (BuxWV 162) clearly demonstrates its roots in the canzona with its lighter texture and two closely related fugues, the second in gigue rhythm. The single fugue of the manualiter Toccata in G major (BuxWV 165) dissolves not into a completely free section but into a quasi-ostinato passage, with the repeated pattern varying between six and eight beats. Irregularities such as this are a mark of the stylus phantasticus.
Buxtehude’s pedaliter praeludia tend toward a more serious tone with weightier fugues, but this is not always the case, as we can hear in the single fugue of the Praeludium in F (BuxWV 145) that opens this CD. In her performance, Bine Bryndorf highlights the repeated figures and pauses of its playful subject by incorporating echoes into her registration. Buxtehude’s Praeludium in E minor (BuxWV 143) , with its persistent pedal points at beginning and end, stands at the opposite emotional pole. Chromatic motion in the subjects of its two fugues lends a note of despair, which even the triple meter of the second fugue cannot dissipate. The E major Praeludium (BuxWV 141) that closes the program strikes a fine balance between its rhapsodic free sections and three thematically related fugues, with the middle one in gigue rhythm.
The light-hearted nature of most of the works on this CD finds its counterbalance in the funeral music for his father that Buxtehude published in 1674 (BuxWV 76). His setting of Martin Luther’s chorale “Mit Fried und Freud ich fahr dahin” represents his most extended essay in learned counterpoint. He set all four verses as two pairs of four-part invertible counterpoint, with the chorale melody appearing in the soprano voice of verses 1 and 3. In verse 2, the soprano and bass of verse 1 are exchanged, as well as the alto and tenor; the same occurs in verse 4 with respect to the music of verse 3, except that here the four voices are also in contrary motion. Although Buxtehude provided the texts for all four verses in his print, the upside-down quality of verse 4 makes it somewhat inappropriate for vocal performance, and Johann Gottfried Walther considered “Mit Fried und Freud” a keyboard piece in his Lexicon entry on Buxtehude. The Klaglied that follows it, on the other hand, is in the modern style and scored for soprano voice, two instruments (probably viols) played tremolo, and basso continuo. With its vocal quality, Stellwagen’s Prinzipal 4’ stop on the Rückpositiv of the St. Jakobi organ offers a fitting replacement for the human voice in this song. Buxtehude set his melody to seven strophes of his own poem; its first verse expresses the grief of the bereaved son:
- Must death then pull apart
- what cannot otherwise be parted?
- Must he who is attached to my heart
- be wrested from me?
- Oh! the sad departure of our fathers
- causes much too bitter suffering.
- When the heart is torn from the breast,
- it is more painful than death itself.
Buxtehude’s choice of E minor for this lament links it to the two other E minor works on this CD (BuxWV 143 and 169), which also display a sorrowful mood. Buxtehude’s four variations on the chorale “Nimm von uns, Herr, du treuer Gott” (BuxWV 207; an alternate text for the tune “Vater unser in Himmelreich”) contrast strongly in style with the four verses of “Mit Fried und Freud”. The third variation, for two manuals and pedal, has an ornamented version of the chorale in the uppermost voice, in the manner of the short chorale preludes heard on CDs 1-3 of this set. The other three variations contain more straightforward presentations of the chorale in manualiter settings.
© Kerala J. Snyder, 2003-2007