Buxtehude spent his childhood and early youth in Elsinore.
His father, Johannes Buxtehude, in Elsinore called Hans Jensen Buxtehude, had
come to this neighbourhood from Oldesloe in Holstein around 1639. Times were hard here during the
later phase of the Thirty Years’ War, and many moved north. Johannes
Buxtehude became organist at the Olai
Church after having worked for a
short period in Helsingborg, today in sweden.
Dietrich – or Diderik as he called himself in
Elsinore – probably went to grammar school and was taught organ playing by
his father at the same time. Nothing is known about his further education,
but already at the age of 20 he was appointed organist at the Maria Church in
Helsingborg, In 1660 he returned to Elsinore as organist at the German church
in Elsinore, the Maria Church, an appointment for which he was well
qualified, speaking German as well as Danish.
During the 1660’s
he must have acquired a reputation as organist and composer, and in 1668 at
the age of 30, he took up the position as organist at the Maria Church – the
third Maria Church of his life - in the Hanseatic town of Lübeck.
This was one of the most distinguished organist jobs in northern Europe, and judging by this and by his work there he
was already an experienced composer at this time. He married – this was a
condition for getting the post – his predecessor Franz Tunder’s
daughter, Anna Margerethe.
He remained in this position until his death in 1707 as one of the most
important composers of his age. Among his official duties were of course
organ playing for religious ceremonies, but also the composition of cantatas
for both singers and musicians. About 120 of these works are extant today.
His “Abendmusiken” concerts, held in the afternoons
of the five Sundays before Christmas, were well known at that time. His
predecessor had started this tradition, but Buxtehude extended it
His music was
famous at that age and was studied by the later composers of the baroque
period. Many will have heard the story of J.S.Bach
being granted 4 weeks leave to go to Lübeck in
order to “learn a thing or two about his art”, and staying for almost three
Since printing was difficult, especially of works with many beams on the
notes, and handwriting often more easily readable, only few of his works were
printed during his lifetime, and so the knowledge of Buxtehude’s works is
very much due to contemporary copying, among others by the circle around the
Bach family. Unfortunately, the music, written for his “Abendmusiken”
is no longer extant. Many other works may have been lost, and he has probably
composed much more than the c. 275 works known today.
The Ryge Family Book.
In 1939 a considerable number
of harpsichord works by Buxtehude were found in Nykobing
Falster in a family book belonging to postmaster Ryge.
This find was extremely fortunate, for the music was notated in German organ
tablature, which to most people looks like a mysterious code or just some
squiggle. One page of the manuscript is
shown on the cover of this CD. But the organist Svend-Ove
Møller in Nykobing, to
whom the book was shown, identified the writing as music, mainly by
Buxtehude. He contacted Emilius Bangert,
the cathedral organist in Roskilde,
who transcribed the music and published it in 1942. Today the family book is
in the Royal Library in Copenhagen.
All these works
were unknown apart from the suite in e-minor, BuxWV
236, which is also found in manuscript in the Thomas Ihre
Collection in the University Library of Uppsala, and these works are almost
all the harpsichord music by Buxtehude known today. It was well known that
the music had existed, for Johann Mattheson writes
in “Der vollkommene Capellmeister” that the harpsichord music forms an
important part of Buxtehude’s work, but it was considered lost. It is not the
composer himself who has notated the music – his hand is well known – but the
diligent copyer is unknown. The book contains 17
suites and 6 variation works by Buxtehude. Besides, there are 2 suites by
N.-A. Lebègue, which Bangert
looked on and published as being by Buxtehude, music by Pachelbel
and Reinken already known, as well as some single
movements, some of which may be by Buxtehude.
It is not clear
whether the Buxtehude works in the book are written during his time in Elsinore or after the appointment in Lübeck. It has been adduced, by Bangert
among others, that the keys of the movements would indicate that they were
written for an instrument in unequal temperament, which micht
suggest an early date, but as stated by Finn Viderø
this argument is rather thin, since different temperaments must have been in
use alongside each other for a long time.
is of high quality and characterized by great melodious ingenuity. Compared
to Bach’s music the movements are generally shorter and less strictly worked
out. On the other hand they show an ease of expression and much ingenuity,
often they have a surprising turn which afterwards seems quite natural. The Ryge suites often have an atmosphere of cheerful and kind
All the suites in
the Ryge book are of the traditional German type
with the movements allemande – courante – sarabande – gigue. The allemande movements can be
considered the most important, very well worked out and well disposed, and
from these the other movements spring, thus e.g. the
courante may begin with material from the beginning of the allemande. These
stylized dance suites carry French designations, being usually in the style
of the French clavecinists characterized by broken
chords (Stile Brisé) and polyphonic music in which
the number of parts changes as required. These stylistic traits have their
origin in lute music. Also, the movements have overlapping parts. When one
part pauses the other will play, a phenomenon called complementary rhythmic.
Bangert says, mistakenly, that the above mentioned
e-minor suite in Uppsala
is written in German Lute tablature. This is a strange error since it is
written in the same type of organ tablature as the pieces in the Ryge book. But this error may have resulted in this suite
having been met with interest by lute players and guitarists. The lute player
Walter Gerwig has recorded it, and the guitarist
Julian Bream has published a transcription known by many guitarists and used
by many guitarists as the basis of recordings. Many other guitar players,
among these Erling Møldrup,
have made transcriptions. It is a suite of great musical value, and its being
known in two versions means that there are many possibilities of finding
solutions to the problems of transcribing keyboard music for the guitar.
The 6 suites I
have recorded on this CD are those best suited for the guitar out of
Buxtehude’s 17. They can be played without changing the key and
without many changes all together. Sometimes a part has to be moved an
octave, but they can be played almost as on the sheet.
It has been a
great experience to penetrate into such good music, and here I have had great
and invaluable help from Viggo Mangor,
who besides being an excellent producer is also an excellent lute player and
well-informed about all relevant topics, from Cicero’s rhetorics
to the writings of Johann Mattheson and the lute
music of Silvius Leopold Weiss.
I am also very
grateful for being allowed to use the Boholte Church in Køge
for the recording.
Per Dybro Sørensen.
Translation: Anne Marie Dybro Sørensen