Danish composer Dietrich Buxtehude is most famous as the organist-composer that Johann Sebastian Bach walked 250 miles, from Arnstadt to LÃ¼beck, to hear. Bach's stated purpose in taking such a long hike was "to comprehend some thing and another about (Buxtehude's) art" as an organist, and as he spent three months in LÃ¼beck, Bach most likely studied with Buxtehude as well.
Buxtehude: Chorale Prelude in G, "In Dulci jubilo," BuxWV 197
Buxtehude: Passacaglia in G minor, BuxWV 149
Posterity has long recognized Buxtehude as the most prominent North German organist in the years leading up to Bach; the first catalogue of Buxtehude's manuscripts appeared in 1889 and no less a scholar than Nobel Prize winner Dr. Albert Schweitzer noted that "he (was) the greatest organist between Scheidt and Bach." And for organists, his music has long been proven part of their bread and butter. Buxtehude's output cleaves easily into three parts: keyboard music, dominated by works for the organ; a smattering of chamber music; and vocal music. The vocal music, aside from his exquisite Passion cycle Membra Jesu Nostri (Limbs of our Lord Jesus, 1680), popular cantatas "Fried- und Freudenreiche Hinfarht," Jubilate Domino," and his Christmas setting of "In dulci jubilo," has lain fallow â€“- until now.
All of a sudden, there are three different recorded editions of Buxtehude in progress. The most prominent one is that led by veteran organist and early music specialist Ton Koopman for Challenge Classics, which promises to cover absolutely everything in Buxtehude's catalog; volume V is the newest release. Naxos, already in possession of Buxtehude's organ, harpsichord, and chamber music, is now venturing into the vocal music, starting with reissues of older recordings. Organist Bine Bryndorf got an early start on her edition of the organ music for the Danish label DaCapo; beginning it in 2004, a couple of the later volumes haven't yet arrived on U.S. shores, but all six are available in Europe.
Ton Koopman - Buxtehude: Benedictam Dominum
Bine Bryndorf - Buxtehude: Toccata in F, BuxWV 156
One can't help but wonder, why all the fuss? Buxtehude never held a position that required him to create vocal music for church use, although he did take over a series of concerts pioneered by his predecessor, Franz Tunder, called "Abendmusiken." Presented in lunchtime and evening concerts given for workers in the town of LÃ¼beck, Tunder's represented the first public concerts of music given in Germany, they usually consisted of a mixture of organ music and "sacred concertos," a predecessor to the sacred cantata. The texts were sacred as this reflected the taste of the pietistic community in LÃ¼beck for religiously oriented entertainment. (A good reference of such a community is Danish film-maker Carl Theodor Dreyer's film Vredens Dag [Day of Wrath, 1943], set in a post-reformation 17th-century town.)
The answer to the question as to why the welter of Buxtehude at this time is found merely in the date of his death; May 9, 1707, an even 300 years in relation to 2007. Important recordings of music related to Buxtehude and his world have made their bow in 2007, such as a recording of the sacred concerti of Franz Tunder on CPO, whose prevalence as a composer of Abendmusiken Buxtehude apparently did not exceed qualitatively. Likewise, the music of David Pohle, a slightly older contemporary of Buxtehude's who studied with Heinrich SchÃ¼tz himself, contains passages that strongly resemble Johann Sebastian Bach's music.
Franz Tunder: An WasserflÃ¼ssen Babylons
David Pohle: In te Domine speravi
Nevertheless, all of this exposure accorded to Buxtehude's vocal output almost seems to hurt his reputation more than help, as so much of it isn't very interesting. Previously it was accepted as canon that Buxtehude continued the form of Abendmusiken inherited from Tunder and raised it to such a plateau that its eventual extinction was inevitable; after Buxtehude died, the practice wasn't revived until 1926 by LÃ¼beck-based organist Walter Kraft. Hearing Buxtehude's sacred concertos and other works of this kind reveals that he simply understood the tastes of his echt-Lutheran audience and gave them the kind of light entertainment that wouldn't rattle the rafters.
Emma Kirkby - Buxtehude: Was mich auf dieser Welt betrÃ¼bt
Ton Koopman - Buxtehude: Ihr Lieben Christen
No doubt, the Koopman edition for Challenge, at least, will continue to its conclusion; and therefore anyone who wants to hear all of Buxtehude's vocal music will find satisfaction. Nevertheless, his one indispensable, "must hear" contribution to the genre of sacred vocal music is, and likely will remain, the Membra Jesu Nostri. Perhaps it's no accident what is probably the best recording ever made of this work, by Cantus CÃ¶lln under Konrad Junghanel, is one that appeared in 2007.
Konrad Junghanel, Cantus CÃ¶lln - Buxtehude: Membra Jesu Nostri