Ich bin die Auferstehung – Buxtehude and His Copenhagen Connections
Ich bin die Auferstehung – Buxtehude and His Copenhagen Connections
The music from the Baltic region in the latter half of the 17th century is characterized by fearless innovation and bubbling creativity. Here, a glimpse into the sacred solo-cantata and chamber music of this period is presented by bass-baritone Jakob Bloch Jespersen and Concerto Copenhagen under the direction of Lars Ulrik Mortensen.
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Buxtehude and his Copenhagen Connections
by Jakob Bloch Jespersen
Our choice of works for this release reflects an attempt to provide a glimpse of the richness represented by the music from the Baltic region in the latter half of the 17th century. The so-called early Baroque ( Frühbarock) is normally overshadowed by both the breakthrough of the Baroque in Northern Italy around 1600 and the culmination of the style a century or so later, with the great German masters Telemann, Handel and Bach. As our selection of works confirms, the music of the 17th century is indeed a difficult entity to define. It is a period deeply characterised by fearless innovation, bubbling creativity, and an experimentation with form that only with the subsequent generation of composers develops into fixed conventions and a higher degree of conformity. It is in the middle Baroque that the elements which we know consider as definitive for Baroque music are developed and consolidated. Actually, the music of this period can be said both in a concrete and a metaphorical sense to form the very focal point or hub of the Baroque.
The Thirty Years’ War (1618-1648), along with plague epidemics and starvation, reduced central and southern Europe to a traumatic torpor that lasted long after the cessation of the war. During all this time, the ports of the Baltic enjoyed economic growth, which is why many musicians from the small princely courts of Mid-Germany moved northwards towards the Baltic and Scandinavia. The Baltic region was still strongly influenced by the formerly so dominant Hanseatic League and its commercial network. Close trading ties linked the major commercial cities: Stockholm in the north, Tallinn and Riga in the east, Danzig and Lübeck in the east and west North Germany, and in Denmark, they extended to Copenhagen and Elsinore. For decades, Denmark exploited the narrow strait between Elsinore and Helsingborg, imposing customs on cargoes being transported in and out of the Baltic, and Elsinore became a natural place to take provisions on board and do business on one’s way out into the world. The Sound Dues were a lucrative source of income for the Danish state. They provided Christian IV with plenty of free scope to realise his prestige buildings in Copenhagen and to attract some of the greatest international stars of the era to the capital, such as Heinrich Schütz, Johann Schop and John Dowland. With the dawning Atlantic trading, the Sound Dues developed over the years into an explosive political problem, since they restricted the access of the other Baltic countries to the oceans of the world. The dues were especially a thorn in the flesh to the go-ahead, ambitious Swedish monarch, Karl X Gustav. With the Swedish conquests in Poland and Northern Germany, the power balance in the Baltic radically changed in the space of a few years. In 1657, Denmark declared war on Sweden, which resulted in a catastrophic counter-attack. It led to three years of war which, after the Swedish occupation of Kronborg Castle in Elsinore and the siege of Copenhagen, culminated in a large naval battle in the Sound between the Swedish fleet and the Dutch, who had come to the rescue for Denmark. In 1660, the war finally ended, the result being that Denmark had to hand over Skåne, Halland and Blekinge to Sweden. But the power balance in the Baltic was only consolidated for a short time. International alliances against Sweden led in 1700 to military conflicts known as The Great Northern War, which lasted right up until 1721.
The Composers and Their Music
The historical events just mentioned and the commercial cities of the Baltic form a backdrop for the lives of the present composers. Their professional careers and personal connections seem to be as closely knit as the trading network of the age. Weckmann, Förster, Erben, and Kirchhoff belong to the generation that immediately precedes Buxtehude. Their music and lives, in their distinctive ways, are typical of the Baltic composers of this period. One salient common feature is the strong influence of Italian music. While Förster and Erben studied and worked in Italy for certain periods, Weckmann in Hamburg industriously copied music from the climes further south. In the encounter between the still young Protestant Church and the musical inspiration from Italy a new type of church music emerged, one with its own distinct identity. The Italian ‘blood transfusion’ became crucial to the development of the music of the Baltic composers. Buxtehude marks the culmination of this development, and his strong influence on the composers of the succeeding generation, such as Meder, Bruhns and J.S. Bach, places him as a key figure in the history of Protestant church music.
Matthias Weckmann (1616-1674) is an example of the brain-drain from south to north which took place during and after The Thirty Years’ War. Weckmann was born in southern Germany and from 1627 onwards was a pupil of Heinrich Schütz in Dresden. With the decimation of cultural budgets in South Germany, Heinrich Schütz moved to the court of Christian IV in Copenhagen – and took his pupil Weckmann along with him. Weckmann was loaned out to the royal Danish court for five years, where he served under Crown Prince Christian in Nykøbing Falster until 1647. He returned for a short while to Dresden, but the following years visited Hamburg and Lübeck once more, where, with Franz Tunder as his best man, he married. After yet another period in Dresden, he moved definitively to the north in 1655 when he gained the appointment of organist at St. James’ Church in Hamburg. Here he established himself as a trend-setting composer and became a close friend of Johann Adam Reincken, Christoph Bernhard and Dietrich Buxtehude.
Weckmann never went to Italy. Nevertheless, his compositional style is to a great extent influenced by the new tendencies coming from North Italy. In Toccata in A minor Weckmann displays his knowledge of Frescobaldi’s and Froberger’s harpsichord music, which indeed he copied for his comprehensive collection of Italian and French keyboard music. In the characteristically free and imaginative form of the toccata, Weckmann explores the timbres of the harpsichord in bold chord sequences. It was the normal practice, up to the time of Bach, to begin with a short praeambulum before the concertante music in the church. As such we have also chosen to use Weckmann’s Toccata in A minor as a transition to his ecclesiastical concerto Kommet her zu mir.
During the 1640s, Weckmann copied several vocal works, mainly by northern Italian composers such as Fontana, Grandi, Merula and, in particular, Monteverdi, who is represented by no less than 20 works in Weckmann’s Lüneburg Collection. A whole series of contemporary Italian composers are also featured in the Bokemeyer Collection and theDüben Collection. Several works from Monteverdi’s collection Selva morale e spirituale, which was published in Venice in 1641, were copied by Weckman as early as 1647 for his own collection. This shows that the composers of North Germany and Scandinavia had access to the very latest Italian music, with a time-lag of only a few years. In his appointments in both Dresden and Copenhagen, Weckmann worked side by side with Italian musicians and singers and through this contact gained direct knowledge of the virtuoso Italian singing. This is highly evident in Kommet her zu mir, which in Monteverdian stile concitato displays by equilibristic leaps and bounds the full extent of the bass voice and the technical skill of the singer. The five-part string ensemble opens with a longish Sonata, introducing the bass singer who portrays Jesus to the text from Matthew XI, vv. 28.30. For the section “So werdet ihr Ruhe finden für eure Seele” (And ye shall find rest unto your souls), Weckmann developed a unique harmonic sequence with a soothing treatment of dissonance in the description of the rest which results from giving oneself up to Christ.
Kaspar Förster (the Younger) (1616-1673) grew up in the Hanseatic city of Danzig, and lived for most of his career in the Baltic region. He spent several periods of his life in Italy, and his knowledge of the Italian style made him a man in great demand in northern Europe. Johann Mattheson, in his musical encyclopedia Grundlage einer Ehren-Pforte (1740) devotes a quite large section to Förster, revealing that he was considered to be an important figure in the musical life of his age. In the years 1633-36, Förster was in Rome – probably as a bass-singer with Giacomo Carissimi – after which he went to Venice. He spent two periods as kapellmeister in Copenhagen, where his assignment under Frederik III was to reorganise The Royal Danish Orchestra according to the Italian fashion of the time. The first of the two periods, 1652-57, covers precisely the years when in all probability Buxtehude was being educated in Copenhagen, and it would be only natural for the young Buxtehude to have eagerly absorbed everything he could from the city’s greatest international capacity. Förster’s life shows us a colourful and much-travelled person who was not only a singer and composer but also a captain in the Venetian army. In addition Johann Mattheson mentions the war against Sweden (1657-60) as the direct reason why Förster left the Danish court for a while and returned to Venice.
Förster’s works display his close acquaintance with the North Italian instrumental sonata as well as with Carissimi’s vocal music. His Sonata á 7 is written in the Venetian style, with sections alternating between fanfare motifs, contrapuntal developments and changing tempi and time signatures. Conversely, his motet for two violins, bass singer and continuo Jesu dulcis memoria shows evident traces of Förster’s stay with Carissimi in Rome. The return of the opening music at the conclusion of the motet creates an arch over the work and can be seen as a precursor of the da capo form that was to become a fixed convention later on in the Baroque. The text of the motet is by the medieval monk Bernard de Clairvaux, whose mysticism appealed to the emotional basis of faith that became so central to the development of the prevailing Protestant conception of faith. Not only Förster but other contemporary northern German composers such as Weckmann, Tunder and Buxtehude also set Bernard de Clairvaux’s Latin poetry to music.
Johann Balthasar Erben (1626-1686) is the only composer in this programme who does not have any direct link to either Buxtehude or Copenhagen. Nevertheless, he belongs to this circle of composers who lived and worked in the cities around the Baltic. Like Förster, the ten-year-younger Erben was born in Danzig. In 1652, he applied for the post of kapellmeister at the city’s St. Mary’s Church after the death of Förster the Elder. The city wished to appoint the son of the former kapellmeister, Kaspar Förster the Younger, but since he was already engaged at the court in Copenhagen, they had to offer an unusually high salary to Förster, who was persuaded by this and apparently held both positions for a transitional period. As a consolation, Erben was awarded a travelling scholarship, which according to his own account first brought him to Johann Jakob Froberger (1616-67) in Regensburg and from there on a grand tour to South Germany, the Netherlands, England, France and Italy. In 1657, while in Rome, he heard that Förster had given up his post to settle in Venice. Erben returned to Danzig and this time gained the position of kapellmeister. Weckmann copied several Erben’s dance pieces in the French style for harpsichord in the so-called Hintze Manuscript alongside music by, among others, Froberger.
Sonata sopra ut, re, mi, fa, sol, la for two violins and basso continuo from the Düben Collection shows the Italian style which Erben acquired during his educational journey. The six notes Ut (Do), Re, Mi, Fa, Sol, La comprise the recurring hexachord which forms the basis of the piece. The Ut, Re, Mi, Fa, Sol, La hexachord can be traced back to the Middle Ages and the Latin hymn to John the Baptist, the initial letters of each line of verse forming the scale: Ut queant laxis/Resonare fibris/Mira gestorum/Famuli tuorum/Solve polluti/ Labii reatum/Sancte Iohannes! (Release the sinful link of the infected lip, let thy servant with a clear and pure throat praise thy great wonders in song, Saint John!). The hexachord was used by several prominent composers, such as Palestrina, Byrd, Sweelinck, Frescobaldi and Erben’s own teacher Johann Jakob Froberger. In Erben’s Sonata the equilibristic runs of the two violins are interwoven with the shuttle thread of the bass. As the piece develops, Erben varies not only the harmonics but also allows the violins to form cadences on various notes in the scale, thereby shifting in a refined way the harmonic structure from the rising and falling bass ostinato.
In the Düben Collection there are three works by an Andreas Kirchhoff (d. 1691): a Sonata á 4, a Suite á 4 and a Sonata á 6 . The Kirchhoff family branched from central Germany to Scandinavia during the 17th century with leading musical members in both Copenhagen and Stockholm. The question, however, is which Andreas Kirchhoff is the composer of the instrumental works in the Düben Collection. All three works have been entered by an unknown hand in 1664. For a long time it was assumed that they were the work of the Stockholm court violinist Andreas Kirchhoff, who was employed by Gustav Düben himself. But he died in 1648 and it seems unlikely that they would have been added to the collection sixteen years after his death. Furthermore, the compositional style of the works suggests that they were written in the years just before 1664. The Stockholm Andreas Kirchhoff’s son of the same name has also be mentioned, but he was only 17 years old in 1664 and must therefore be excluded. So it seems more likely that we are dealing with the Andreas Kirchhoff who became a civic musician in Copenhagen with royal confirmation in 1679. He is mentioned in the encyclopedic part of Mathias Schacht’s Musicus Danicus (1687) as “Copenhagen’s excellent musicus instrumentalis, who has composed much which even is excellent, but unprinted.” That is, unfortunately, the only thing we know about the Copenhagen Andreas Kirchhoff, so we can only guess at how his works have ended up in hofkapellmeister Düben’s comprehensive collection of music by his contemporaries.
Kirchhoff’s Sonata á 6 has several shared features with his other sonata from the Düben Collection. But where the Sonata á 4 only has a single virtuoso violin part, accompanied by two violas and a continuo, Kirchhoff has enlarged the ensemble to three equally important violin parts in the Sonata á 6. The three violin parts interact in certain sections, gesticulating with each other, but in other sections, they enter into a close-knit harmonic texture with the ensemble as a whole. The division into no less than nine sections each with its own character, results in the free and varied expression that is so characteristic of the stylus phantasticus of this period. The formal alternation between concertante solo sections and homophonous tutti sections can also be regarded as a precursor of the later Concerto Grosso.
Dietrich Buxtehude (1637-1707) was probably born in Helsingborg, where his father, Hans Jensen Buxtehude, is thought to have been organist in the years in question. In 1642, Hans Jensen Buxtehude took over the position of organist at St. Olaf’s Church in Elsinore, moving with his family to the other side of the Sound. Here Buxtehude grew up in a cosmopolitan cultural and commercial environment with a strong German influence. We do not know much about Buxtehude’s early years, but without a doubt some of his apprenticeship must have been spent in Copenhagen, which lies only 40 kilometres south of Elsinore. Kaspar Förster, who was Royal Court Kapellmeister in Copenhagen during those years, had in all probability a considerable influence on Buxtehude’s musical development. In 1657-58, Buxtehude took over his father’s former position in St. Mary’s Church in Helsingborg. As mentioned in the introductory section, these were years during the war between Denmark and Sweden – a tumultuous period in the history of Helsingborg and Skåne. The Swedish assumption of power in Skåne was probably the direct reason why Buxtehude chose to return to Elsinore in 1660. Here he was given the position of organist at St. Mary’s Church, the church in which he had sung as a boy, and he moved in with his parents in his childhood home in Sct. Anna Gade.
At the age of 31, Buxtehude had behind him an education at the grammar school in Elsinore, had avidly absorbed all he could from the international musical life of Copenhagen and, for twelve years, had experience from his positions as organist in Helsingborg and Elsinore. It is probably via the German traders in Elsinore that the rumour of the virtuoso young Danish organist had reached Lübeck. On 16 March 1668, St. Mary’s Church in Elsinore announced: “that we after the humblest application and request have graciously appointed and ordained Johan Radeck to be organist in The German Church in our royal borough of Elsinore, to replace the former organist, who has been called to Lübeck.”
Buxtehude quickly established himself in Lübeck as one of the trend-setting composers of North Germany, and in particular, his concert series Abendmusiken in November and December attracted considerable attention at the time. Apart from the cantorei of St. Mary’s Church, Buxtehude included all 11 of the civic musicians, thereby creating a large ensemble at the highest level. At the evening concert festival, Buxtehude made use of all his qualities as both a composer and an entrepreneur. It was Buxtehude himself who wrote the music, brought together and led the musicians and singers, and laid out the money for financing the performances, which were later refunded by the wealthy merchants of the city. The works that comprised Buxtehude’s Abendmusiken have unfortunately been lost, but programmes, textbooks and descriptions bear witness to large-scale semi-theatrical oratorios, in which the young J.S. Bach also participated during his three-month stay with Buxtehude in 1705.
One can vividly imagine the musical spectacle of the Abendmusiken, as it finds expression here in the bass cantata Ich bin die Auferstehung und das Leben. Here Jesus is portrayed in the form of the bass singer in the St. John’s Gospel’s narrative of The Raising of Lazarus (Chap. XI, vv. 25-26), which is the reading for the 16th Sunday after Trinity. Bearing in mind the Resurrection, this church concert may very well have been used to celebrate Christ’s victory over death on Easter Sunday, as Buxtehude’s use of the military instruments zink and trumpet could imply. Christ’s words about the believer’s life after death: “der wird leben, ob er gleich stürbe” (though he were dead, yet shall he live) is delivered rhetorically as recitative, after which the contrast between death and life is presented with imaginative dramatics in the following instrumental section. Ich bin die Auferstehung und das Leben, like the great majority of Buxtehude’s vocal music, has been preserved in the Düben Collection, into which it was copied in 1683. It was via Lübeck merchants and Baltic traders that the Swedish court kapellmeister Gustav Düben was supplied with manuscripts of music by, among others, Buxtehude to the court of Stockholm.
Johann Valentin Meder (1649-1719) grew up in a musical family in Thüringen in Central Germany. He studied theology in Leipzig and Jena in the 1660s, but was soon hired as a bass singer at the courts of Gotha, Bremen and Hamburg. Meder’s autograph book reveals that he passed through Copenhagen in 1674; in it, the Copenhagen organists Martin Radeck and Michael Zachaeus have both written their greetings and added a fugue and a canon on 4 and 13 June respectively. It was possibly Radeck who encouraged Meder to visit Buxtehude in Lübeck, where Meder stayed during the summer. Buxtehude inserted a canon (BuxWV 123) in Meder’s album on 25 June, with an appreciative greeting in Latin, and on the day of the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin on 2 July, Meder – according to the account books of St. Mary’s Church – was paid for singing from the organ. It is a fascinating thought that Meder could have sung Buxtehude’s Ich bin die Auferstehung und das Leben if he had stayed in Lübeck right up until 18 September, which was the day of the 16th Sunday after Trinity that year. From 1674 to 1680, Meder was a cantor at the Swedish Gustav Adolf Gymnasium in Tallinn, followed by a period in Riga. In 1686, Meder took over the position of kapellmeister at St. Mary’s Church in Danzig, after the deceased Johann Balthasar Erben. In 1698, the city council in Danzig forbade a performance of Meder’s opera Die wiederverehligte Coelia, and when he had it performed in the nearby town of Schottland, it led to his dismissal. After a short period as cantor in Königsberg (Kaliningrad), he was made cantor in Riga in 1700, where he stayed until his death in 1719. Johann Mattheson asserts in his Grundlage einer Ehren-Pforte (1740) that Meder was in line to take over the position of kapellmeister at the Royal Swedish court, but that this was prevented by the conflicts that arose with The Great Northern War (1700-1721).
Apart from several operas and a St. Matthew’s Passion, Meder’s son notes in his list of Meder’s works no less than 37 pieces of vocal church music. Of these, only 13 have been preserved via the Düben Collection in Uppsala. Gott hilf mir was probably written for a Vesper, where concertante arrangements of psalms were a common part of divine service. The ecclesiastical concerto Gott hilf mir is based on Psalm 69, vv. 1-4 and vv. 13-18. Its image of a sinking human desperately calling out for help has inspired Meder to produce one of his finest vocal works. Already in the introductory Sinfonia Meder sets the mood with a sequence of dissonant suspensions in the four violins, which he indicates are to be played con affetto (with feeling and tenderness). In his portrait of the anguished soul, Meder pushes the singer out into all the far corners of the bass voice, and each piece of text is reflected in new, dramaticising musical ideas. The unusual ensemble, made up of four violins who in several sections play in unison, it one of the earliest examples of unison violin playing and as such a precursor of the tutti orchestra that was to become common in music by the next generation of composers. Gott hilf mir also offers striking similarities with both Buxtehude’s cantata of the same name (BWV 34) and Johann Christoph Bach’s Lamentation Wie bist du denn, o Gott with its use of tremolo in the strings and semiquaver sextolets in the bass singer.
Nicolaus Bruhns (1665-1697), along with J.S. Bach, is the most important of Buxtehude’s many pupils who later had an important career. Bruhns came to Lübeck at the age of 16 to study composition and organ-playing under Buxtehude, and violin and gamba under his uncle, the city musician Peter Bruhns, who for many years was Buxtehude’s permanent violinist. In his section on Bruhns, Mattheson describes in his Grundlage einer Ehren-Pforte (1740) how he is said to amused others by playing both the violin and the organ pedals simultaneously:
“In piano and composition, he especially tried to imitate the famous Dieterich Buxtehude, the Lübeck organist at St. Mary’s Church. He brought this to such perfection that he (Buxtehude) at his request recommended him to Copenhagen, where he stayed for several years, and after that, he was appointed organist in the church in Husum. Because he was so proficient on the violin and knew how to play double stoppings so that it sounded as if there were three or four, he had the habit from time to time to sit at the organ and for a change and all on his own, allow the violin in the pleasantest way to be heard along with a suitable pedal accompaniment.”
Mein Herz ist bereit could very well be exactly the work that Mattheson is describing. With the small fugettas and recurring double stoppings, a pedal bass could certainly be sufficient to create a meaningful harmonic structure. The virtuoso violin part plays, in general, a bearing role in the work. The images from The Book of Psalms, Psalm 57, vv. 8.12, of harp and cither and of the mercy of God that reaches the heavens are recreated in the extended prelude and interludes on the violin. That Bruhns merely “imitated” Buxtehude, as Mattheson writes, is a belittlement of Bruhns’ talent. Today, Bruhns is especially known for his organ works, which were also greatly appreciated by the Bach family, but the ten or so ecclesiastical concerts that have survived until the present day testify to a unique talent for composition. Bruhns stayed in Copenhagen for three years. Here he earned a living as a violinist before returning to his home town of Husum in Schleswig, where he died at the young age of 32. We can therefore only guess at how this enormous talent could have developed had he lived longer.
Chorton Pitch – and the Italian Baroque Organ in Trinitatis Church
Concert pitch has changed recurrently during the history of music, with many local variants. In North Germany and Scandinavia, two main tunings were used in the Baroque period: Chorton pitch A = approx. 465 Hz (also called cornet pitch or organ pitch) and concert pitch A = 415 Hz. This meant that concert pitch was precisely one tone below chorton pitch. Chorton pitch was the pitch that organs were traditionally tuned in. As the name implies, it was linked to ecclesiastical vocal music, just as cornets, trumpets and trombones were designed for the high tuning. Concert pitch, on the other hand, was linked to chamber music, i.e. the concertante music played by string ensembles at court. With the entrance of concertante music into the churches, a way had to be found in which the two different tunings, chorton pitch and concert pitch, could become harmonious bedfellows. In the period after Buxtehude, it became normal to transpose the organ part one tone down, so it fitted the concert pitch of the other instruments. But in the period we are dealing with here, the practice was the opposite, i.e. for the strings to adapt themselves to the instruments of the church, and tune one tone higher, from concert pitch to chorton pitch. So there is no doubt whatsoever that this repertoire was conceived to be performed in chorton pitch A = approx. 465 Hz. For this purpose, it was natural to make use of the original Baroque organ from Lombardy which was acquired in 2013 by Trinitatis Church in Copenhagen and placed in the eastern organ loft of the church. The Baroque organ was bought as an antique in Italy in 1970 by the organ-builder Gerald Woehl from Marburg, and since stood in storage in his workshop. It is in its original state and a very fine representative of an archetype of Italian organs that were retained from the end of the 16th century until the Romantic period in the mid-19th century. So even though the organ was built in 1770, it is perfect for the 17th-century repertoire.