Buxtehude, Master and Pupil - Douglas hollick (RVRCD67)

Notes on the music and organ:

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, also an organist, had moved to Helsingborg from Oldesloe in Holstein. Dieterich grew up in Helsingør, where his father was by then organist, and held posts as organist in Helsingborg S Mariae (c1657 - 60) and Helsingør S Mariae (1660 - 68). In 1668 he was appointed to the most prestigious position in North Germany, succeeding Franz Tunder as Organist and Werckmeister at St Marien in Lübeck. This great church, with a vault 38.5 metres high, was where he developed the famous Abendmusiken which had been started by his predecessor, and it was to this church that the young Bach came in the Advent of 1705. Much of the music of Buxtehude has been lost, including all of that for the Abendmusiken, and his rich corpus of organ music mainly survives through copies made by Bach and his circle of family, friends and pupils - there are no surviving autographs. It is perhaps because we actually know so little of Buxtehude's music that he is so often seen simply as a predecessor of Bach, rather than the individual genius he quite obviously was!

The organs Buxtehude is known to have played, and those of the three churches where he was organist, are all typical of the 17th century North German/Scandinavian type, with a wide variety of colour, and sometimes as many as four manuals and pedal. His own instruments in Lübeck were the large west end organ, and the smaller instrument in the so-called Totentanz chapel at the east end of the church. Both were 3 manual and pedal, the main organ being of 54 stops including two 32 foot registers on the pedal, and containing a large variety of reed stops. Indeed, the reed stops of the northern organs were something remarked on very appreciatively by Bach, in whose own home area of Thuringia organs had few reeds. In Lübeck the only organ from Buxtehude's time to survive the wartime bombing is the small organ by Stellwagen in the Jacobikirche, whilst in Helsingør S Mariae Kirke the organ of Buxtehude has been reconstructed in 1997. Here only the case and the original Lorentz front pipes from the RückWerk Principal had survived. The organ has been recreated as it was in Buxtehude's time as organist, from extensive researches by the consultant Cor Edskes into the work there of Lorentz and Frietzsch, although retaining a Brustwerk as in the previous organ in the old case by Frobenius. One of the characteristics of the Danish organs of this time is the narrow scaling of the Principals, particularly in the bass, which gives them a gentle singing character quite different from, say, those of a Schnitger. The choruses are bold and strongly characterised between the ManualWerk and RückWerk, but are not particularly loud, and the flutes and reeds create an almost endless palette of colour remarkable for such a relatively modest size of organ. It is possible that the brickwork of the church interior was plastered in Buxtehude's time, but otherwise it is largely unaltered.

With Buxtehude's music it is to earlier composers we should look for influence - from the Netherlands comes the influence of Sweelinck, via many pupils who included Heinrich Scheidemann (Reinken's predecessor at the Katharinenkirche in Hamburg) and Samuel Scheidt, whose Tabulatora Nova of 1624 exerted tremendous influence. Italian influence comes through Heinrich Schütz and Matthias Weckmann (both pupils of Giovanni Gabrieli), and Johann Jacob Froberger (a pupil of Frescobaldi) amongst others. French influence was also to be found, through Froberger's connection with Louis Couperin in Paris, through the Danish Court during Buxtehude's youth, and the Hamburg Opera during his maturity.

The Danish organ builder Johann Lorentz was working on the organ of Buxtehude's father's church of Sct Olai in Helsingør when he died in 1650. Lorentz's son, also Johann, was the famous organist of St Nicholas in Copenhagen, and whilst there is no proof, it seems very likely in view of the friendship between the families that the young Buxtehude was taught by him. It has also been suggested that Buxtehude might have studied with Scheidemann in Hamburg - this is where Lorentz sent his own son Jacob - and the music of Buxtehude certainly owes much to the style of Scheidemann.

This programme opens with a splendid example of the Stylus Phantasticus from Scheidemann, with a powerfully chromatic central section. This is followed by two chorale settings by Lorentz the first of which is played using the RückWerk Principal whose façade pipes are known to be by Lorentz senior. In the following two verse setting of Vater unser his indebtedness to Sweelinck is very apparent in both the textures and the florid solo line in the second verse.

A number of the forms in which Buxtehude wrote for organ are represented. The Magnificat is in a distinct sectional form which exploits different registrations and divisions of the organ and is similar in many ways to the style of the Toccatas or Praeludia. The A minor Praeludium has a rhapsodic free opening section, two fugal episodes and a daring final section with audacious harmonies. The other free work, the little Fugue in C, is a manualiter work in the style of a gigue which ends with a curious upward scale in the bass under a repeated chord pattern, a feature which fits the short octave bass of the 17th century keyboard perfectly.

Together with these comes a selection of chorale preludes - part of the everyday working material of a Lutheran organist. In the two verse setting of Ach Gott the pedal plays the melody in the first verse on a 4 foot stop which sounds out in the alto of the texture with the bass in the left hand, rather like one often finds in Scheidt; the second verse has a rhapsodic treble line somewhat reminiscent of the Lorentz Vater unser. The ending of Gelobet seist du might be the inspiration for the end of the first section of the Bruhns Nun komm, while the coloratura solo line in Nun bitten wir BuxWV 208 is a supremely beautiful example of this type of prelude. The Baptismal prelude on Christ unser Herr concludes with a fine example of word painting, where at the words 'es galt ein neues Leben' (He gives a new life) the music suddenly changes texture and feels as though it has become exalted and serene. This chorale is registered as a reed consort, whilst in the Christmas prelude on In dulci jubilo the bells of the Cymbelstern are heard. A distinctive idea used quite a lot by Buxtehude and very characteristic of the 17th century is heard in the prelude on Ich ruf zu dir, where the solo line migrates through the musical texture, sometimes in the bass and sometimes in the treble, rather like a dialogue. In the final prelude of Buxtehude, Herr Christ, we return to the same chorale as the first Lorentz, here again using the Lorentz Principal, but down an octave as an 8 foot solo stop on its own.

Between the two groups of Buxtehude's music comes a set of chorale variations on Von Gott will ich nicht lassen by his pupil Georg Leyding. Buxtehude's own setting of this chorale is a powerful statement of confidence, with a striking chromatic second section. The six verses of Leyding's setting provide a variety of musical styles, from rather old-fashioned bicinia in verses two and three to a more modern trio texture in verse four. Verse five is an example of the strong influence of the virtuoso violin school of North Germany, whilst the final verse uses double pedals in a splendidly exuberant display of colour and technical confidence. Leyding was a pupil of Jacob Boelsche, an organist in Brunswick, and traveled to Lübeck in 1684 to study with Buxtehude. He was not there for long, however, and later the same year returned to Brunswick when Boelsche's died, subsequently being appointed to his teacher's church posts.

Bruhns was born near Husum, and returned there as organist of the Stadtkirche after his time in Lübeck. With him we come to one of Buxtehude's most talented pupils, although sadly very little of his music has survived. What we do have is of consistently high quality, and the Fantasia on Nun komm is a splendid example of this style from the late 17th century. These long chorale fantasias were often improvised to show off the artistry and virtuosity of the player, and the five sections of this work display many facets of this art. The penultimate section in particular is very beautiful, with chromaticism which is almost painful in its intensity. This section can be played by a violinist double stopping accompanied by continuo, and with Bruhns there is the added twist that he was also a virtuoso violinist - we know that he came to Lübeck to study with his violinist uncle Peter Bruhns as well as with Buxtehude. From Mattheson comes the story of how he would go to the organ loft and play his violin, double stopping so that it sounded like several players, and accompanying himself with his feet on the organ pedals! The G major Praeludium is one of the greatest works of the Stylus Phantasticus, with extended free sections surrounding two fugal episodes, the first of which in six parts with double pedal is a virtuoso tour de force, whilst the second is in five parts.

What stands out about this music is not only the sheer variety, the improvisatory freedom, and the way the works use the size and colour of the Northern European organs so wonderfully, but above all the quality of invention so consistently shown.

Douglas Hollick

Disposition of the organ of Sct Mariae, Helsingør as reconstructed in 1997 by Marcussen & Søn

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