c.1637 - 1707
About Dieterich Buxtehude
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The only surviving portrait of Buxtehude, playing a viol, from A musical party by Johannes Voorhout, 1674
The only surviving portrait of Buxtehude, playing a viol, from A musical party by Johannes Voorhout (1674)
Born Diderik Hansen Buxtehude
Helsingborg, Scania, Denmark–Norway
Died 9 May 1707 (aged 70)
Free City of Lübeck, Holy Roman Empire
List of compositions
Dieterich Buxtehude (Danish pronunciation: [ˈtiðˀəʁek bukstəˈhuːðə]; German: [ˈdiːtəʁɪç bʊkstəˈhuːdə]; born Diderik Hansen Buxtehude; c. 1637 – 9 May 1707) was a Danish or German organist and composer of the Baroque period, whose works are typical of the North German organ school. As a composer who worked in various vocal and instrumental idioms, Buxtehude's style greatly influenced other composers, such as Johann Sebastian Bach. Historically, Buxtehude is among the important composers of the mid-Baroque period in Germany.
The bulk of Buxtehude's oeuvre consists of vocal music, which covers a wide variety of styles, and organ works, which concentrate mostly on chorale settings and large-scale sectional forms. Chamber music constitutes a minor part of the surviving output, although the only chamber works Buxtehude published during his lifetime were fourteen chamber sonatas. Unfortunately, many of Buxtehude's compositions have been lost. The librettos for his oratorios, for example, survive; but none of the scores do, which is particularly unfortunate, because his German oratorios seem to be the model for later works by Johann Sebastian Bach and Georg Philipp Telemann. Further evidence of lost works by Buxtehude and his contemporaries can be found in the recently discovered catalogue of a 1695 music-auction in Lübeck.
Gustaf Düben's collection and the so-called Lübeck tablature A373 are the two most important sources for Buxtehude's vocal music. The former includes several autographs, both in German organ tablature and in score. Both collections were probably created during Buxtehude's lifetime and with his permission. Copies made by various composers are the only extant sources for the organ works: chorale settings are mostly transmitted in copies by Johann Gottfried Walther, while Gottfried Lindemann's and others' copies concentrate on free works. Johann Christoph Bach's manuscript is particularly important, as it includes the three known ostinato works and the famous Prelude and Chaconne in C major, BuxWV 137. Although Buxtehude himself most probably wrote in organ tablature, the majority of the copies are in standard staff notation.
The nineteen organ praeludia (or preludes) form the core of Buxtehude's work and are ultimately considered his most important contributions to the music literature of the seventeenth century. They are sectional compositions that alternate between free improvisation and strict counterpoint. They are usually either fugues or pieces written in fugal manner; all make heavy use of pedal and are idiomatic to the organ. These preludes, together with pieces by Nicolaus Bruhns, represent the highest point in the evolution of the north German organ prelude, and the so-called stylus phantasticus. They were undoubtedly among the influences of J.S. Bach, whose organ preludes, toccatas and fugues frequently employ similar techniques.
The preludes are quite varied in style and structure, and are therefore hard to categorize, as no two praeludia are alike. The texture of Buxtehude's praeludia can be described as either free or fugal. They consist of strict diatonic harmony and secondary dominants. Structure-wise, there usually is an introductory section, a fugue and a postlude, but this basic scheme is very frequently expanded: both BuxWV 137 and BuxWV 148 include a full-fledged chaconne along with fugal and toccata-like writing in other sections, BuxWV 141 includes two fugues, sections of imitative counterpoint and parts with chordal writing. Buxtehude's praeludia are not circular, nor is there a recapitulation. A fugal theme, when it recurs, does so in a new, changed way. A few pieces are smaller in scope; for example, BuxWV 144, which consists only of a brief improvisatory prelude followed by a longer fugue. The sections may be explicitly separated in the score or flow one into another, with one ending and the other beginning in the same bar. The texture is almost always at least three-voice, with many instances of four-voice polyphony and occasional sections in five voices (BuxWV 150 being one of the notable examples, with five-voice structure in which two of the voices are taken by the pedal).