Dieterich Buxtehude: The “world famous organist and composer”
Dieterich Buxtehude belongs among the great European musicians of the Baroque era. A city guide from 1697 with the illustrious title “Die Beglückte und geschmückte Stadt Lübeck” [The Blessed and Resplendent City of Lübeck] describes Buxtehude as a “world famous organist and composer” and praises his Abendmusiken [musical vespers] as an event “found nowhere else”.
The sixty-year-old organist of St. Marien was indeed famous far beyond the gates of the Hanseatic city. As organist and Werkmeister [secretary and accountant] of St. Marien church Buxtehude had taken up an office which highly exceeded his former posts in Helsingborg and Helsingør in terms of remuneration and possibilities for professional development. Buxtehude built his career as a virtuoso in a manner unequaled by any other North German organist, bringing to life many projects which, unencumbered by the restrictions of normal liturgical practice, made use of hitherto unknown expressive possibilities in the performance of music. Starting in 1678 he presented in the “Abendmusiken”, established by his predecessor Franz Tunder, sacred dramatic works which became known throughout Northern Europe. Buxtehude’s multifaceted musical personality was the main point of attraction for the young Johann Sebastian Bach, which drew him to Lübeck in the fall of 1705 in order to “apprehend there one thing and another of his art.” The organist of St. Marien maintained many contacts in Hamburg during the four decades of his Lübeck employment. A number of eminent composers, organists, cantors, and music directors there belonged to his circle of friends, among them such well-known contemporaries as Johann Adam Reincken, Johann Theile, Christoph Bernhard, and Matthias Weckman. The famous painting of a domestic musical scene by Johannes Voorhout from 1674 is an impressive document of these relationships.
The rediscovery of Buxtehude resulted by way of a detour through Bach. Since the first volume of Spitta’s biography of Bach (1873), and through the discovery of many works of Buxtehude by Carl Stiehl in 1889 (the Düben Collection in Uppsala), the interest in Buxtehude’s music has focused mainly on organ and vocal music. Only in more recent years have musical practice and research also highlighted Buxtehude’s music for instrumental ensembles.