Music of Dietrich Buxtehude (ca. 1637–1707)
Magnificat Primi Toni (BuxWV 203)
Canite Jesu nostro (BuxWV 11)
Schaffe in mir, Gott (BuxWV 95)
Sonata à 3 (BuxWV 271)
Adagio à 3—Allegro
Te Deum laudamus (BuxWV 218)
Te Deum Laudamus
Pleni Sunt Coeli et terra
Jesu meine Freude (BuxWV 60)
Shannon Canavin & Teresa Wakim, soprano
Eric Rice, tenor
Ulysses Thomas, baritone
Karen Burciaga & Abigail Karr, violin
Zoe Weiss, cello & viola da gamba
Elizabeth Hardy, dulcian
Bálint Karosi, organ
Sunday, September 28 at 5:30pm
First Lutheran Church of Boston, 299 Berkeley Street, Boston, MA
Notes on the Program
To those who do not know his music, an oft-related anecdote about Dietrich Buxtehude (ca. 1637–1707) helps place him in the pantheon of great Baroque composers. The story is not about Buxtehude, but about Johann Sebastian Bach, who was said to have walked from Arnstadt to Lübeck—a distance of more than 200 miles—to hear Buxtehude’s music. The story may stretch the truth in some of its particulars, though it is clear that Bach greatly admired Buxtehude’s music and in particular his organ playing.
But Buxtehude should not be regarded simply as a precursor to Bach, for he was a wonderful composer in his own right. His reputation has grown steadily since the 1970s, when performers began taking an interest in his music. His output can be grouped into three categories: organ music, instrumental chamber music, and vocal music. Music in all three categories was composed for his work at the Marienkirche in Lübeck, one of the most important Lutheran churches in Northern Germany. He was responsible for playing the organ for the main morning service and the afternoon service on Sundays and feast days, and for Vespers on the preceding afternoon; many of his organ compositions fulfilled these functions. In addition, he was to provide music during Communion, and his instrumental and vocal chamber music served this purpose. Much of his fame during his lifetime, however, is associated with the Sunday evening concerts known as Abendmusiken, a series that existed before Buxtehude began his work at the Marienkirche, in 1668, but that he expanded greatly afterwards. In 1669, four additional balconies were built in the Marienkirche to accommodate 40 additional performers, and by the 1680s, when Buxtehude regularly included dramatic sacred works, the Abendmusiken were held to be equivalent to operas.
It is fitting that our first concert in this new Baroque Series presents music by Buxtehude, as the series is modeled after his Abendmusiken (albeit on a more modest scale). All three of the aforementioned categories are represented. Canite Jesu nostro and Schaffe in mir, Gott are relatively modest examples of music that could have been performed at Communion in Sunday services, while Jesu meine Freude, a piece that was clearly a model for Bach’s motet of the same name, is a much more elaborate, chorale-based work. The Sonata à 3 exemplifies Buxtehude’s instrumental chamber music. The Magnificat primi toni is an organ setting of the recitation of the Canticle of Mary (the Magnificat) in the Dorian mode, which is the “first mode” or primus tonus in the modal system. The Te Deum for organ at the end of the program alternates Buxtehude’s settings with sung portions of the original chant, a practice that extends back many centuries in the German liturgical tradition. Both of these organ works present Buxtehude’s distinct style rooted in the art of improvisation. Recently discovered receipts of organ blowers at the Marienkirche in Lübeck have led scholars to conclude that the main performance practice at that time was improvisation rather than the performance of written-out pieces. The receipts show that Buxtehude hardly ever practiced on the main organ at his church; the organ blowers were simply too expensive. Rather, he must have improvised almost exclusively for concerts and church services. He seems to have worked out some of his best ideas on paper for the sole purpose of exemplifying good improvisations.
In Buxtehude’s music, ties to the Bible and the good news of the Gospel can be clearly heard in his use of rhetorical forms. One of the main subjects of the Latin schools in Germany was rhetoric, or the art of speech. In the Lutheran church, when an organist played an organ prelude or postlude, he was essentially engaged in the act of preaching, which is to say spreading the Gospel through music, albeit in a different, yet fully valid, language. Buxtehude’s music is full of references to the rhetorical figures of speech. These references can be clearly heard in his organ chorale preludes, in which the composer often does intensive text painting with imaginative techniques, such as heavy chromatic lines under the word “crucifixion” or joyful major triads under “hosanna.” The lack of appreciation for Buxtehude’s chorale preludes in the modern era is probably due to the fact that a thorough familiarity with the underlying chorale melodies and their texts is essential to their appreciation.