This recording offers an unusual selection of Dietrich Buxtehude’s vocal music performed by 2010 Grammy® Award winning ensemble Theatre of Voices conducted by Paul Hillier. Among these rarely heard works with texts in Swedish and Latin, we find cantatas in the form of virtuoso concertos, as well as arias and chorale settings and Buxtehude’s only work in the stile antico, the Missa alla brevis.
This ‘themed’ programme by Da Pacem derives from a series of concerts devoted to Bach’s infamous journey on foot to hear Buxtehude play. Did he have leave of absence from his employers? Did the four month absence change his style for ever? Buxtehude achieved a staggering synthesis of the polyphonic, numerical and rhetorical traditions of his predecessors with a very personal poetry, taking care to make his music accessible to everyone, from the specialist to the layman. It is not surprising that Bach took him as his model.
The latest volume of Christopher Herrick’s acclaimed series of Buxtehude’s complete organ works comes from Paris and the admired organ of St-Louis-en-l’Île – formally opened in 2005, and based on the work of Zacharias Hildebrant (1688-1757). As with previous discs, it includes a selection of the composer’s praeludia, ostinato works, canzonettas and canzonas, interspersed with chorale preludes, chorale fantasias and variations.
Although written for the configuration of two violins and continuo, Dietrich Buxtehude's Seven Sonatas, Op. 1, are not trio sonatas in the usual sense. They refer back to the older type of Italian ensemble sonata, with contrasting short sections following in rapid succession rather than the three- or four-movement sonata or dance suite types. Buxtehude came at the end of this tradition, which by 1694, when these sonatas were first published, was beginning to give way to newer Italian types in points further south. He treated the form in the free, rather fantastic style that was his trademark, emphasizing sudden shifts and using the full range of formal devices available to him; the music may, for example, break into an unexpected fugue.
The much-recorded set of seven Pietistic cantatas Fanfare 12:5) and the other (Weckmann’s) by Max van Egmond (16:4). In addition to the 17 versions of the main work listed earlier (31:5), Jörg Breiding has recently led a new version which, like this one, has generous fillers. The present version uses one voice to a part along with the Purcell Quartet (violins and organ) and Fretwork (a viol consort), almost exactly the makeup of the favored version under Harry Christophers (34:1). The new version is five minutes longer than that one, not counting the fillers, but neither one approaches the extremes of fast and slow that were noted in the earlier survey.
This latest addition to Christopher Herrick’s acclaimed Buxtehude catalogue is performed on the magnificent Organ of Trinity College Chapel, Cambridge. Everything heard on this disc was composed over three-hundred years ago when printed music was a rarity and organists were required to be highly proficient in the art of improvisation. Certainly none of Buxtehude’s organ works was printed in his lifetime, and it was not until 1875 that they first became available. Herrick’s communication is exceptional in these stimulating performances and his inspired interpretations are so vivid that they appear improvisatory in their approach.
By the end of his life, the fame of Dietrich Buxtehude as an organist was so great that in 1706 the young J.S. Bach took four weeks’ leave from his employment at Arnstadt and travelled on foot over 200 miles to Lübeck to hear him perform in concert. Ironically, the meteoric rise of the career of Bach himself as a composer meant that, until very recently, Buxtehude was primarily known simply as a forerunner to the great man, when in fact he was a major composer in his own right.
Dietrich Buxtehude (c.1637–1707) spent his career working as an organist in churches, but was also a prolific composer of secular instrumental music and wrote far more for harpsichord than most composers of his era. Buxtehude’s position in Lübeck and fame as an organist brought him into contact with many of the greatest musicians of his day, and his style demonstrates the variety of musical influences that he was exposed to, particularly from German and Italian repertoire, which he combined to create a unique personal style.
The music of Dietrich Buxtehude has gained increased recognition and popularity over the last few years, not in the least due to the invaluable work of pioneers like Ton Koopman (Complete Buxtehude Edition) and others.The great Johann Sebastian Bach valued his music highly, and considered him one of the most important composers before him (and from whom he learned the most!).