Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Buxtehude - Prelude, Fugue and Chaconne For Organ BuxWV 137

Dieterich Buxtehude (1637? - 1707) was born in a part of Germany that was under Dutch rule, or perhaps he was born in Denmark that is now under Swedish rule. No one is sure, nor is the exact date of his birth known.  Although he considered himself a Dutch composer, he spent much of his career in Germany and did eventually Germanize his name in adulthood.

After studying music with his father (an organist himself) and serving as organist in several churches, Buxtehude moved to Lübeck in 1668 and became the organist for the Marienkirche (St. Mary's Church) there until his death. As Lübeck was a free imperial city, Buxtehude had a great deal of freedom in his career. He became well-known in Germany for his organ playing and compositions and he had many composers visit to hear him, among them George Handel and J.S. Bach. Bach got a leave of absence from his post in Arnstadt and traveled two hundred miles by foot to Lübeck. Bach extended his leave of absence and stayed in Lübeck for several months in 1705 -1706 and got into trouble with his employers in Arnstadt for it. He heard, met and studied with Buxtehude during that time, and like Handel, could have had the organist job as Buxtehude wished to retire, but it required marrying Buxtehude's daughter.  The word has not come down through history as to the reasons why, but Handel and Bach both refused.

Buxtehude wrote vocal music, sacred and secular, as well as organ and other keyboard music. He is considered one of the founders of the northern German organ playing tradition.  The Prelude,  Fugue and Chaconne in C major for organ begins with the prelude opening for pedals alone:

and is expanded upon with the manuals in a free fashion until a fugal section begins.  The fugue proper begins directly after the prelude. There is a freely written section after the fugue with a few runs and flourishes then the chaconne begins:

Buxtehude wrote much of his music in tablature, a type of music notation that doesn't use staves and notes. It was used by northern German organists especially, including J.S. Bach. There are many types of tablature for different instruments and different areas of Europe. A sample of Buxtehude's tablature:

This type of music notation can be slightly ambiguous as to what exact note is to be played, which evidently didn't bother many musicians then, for it is all part of the improvisatory nature of organ playing in the era.  Many composers of the time wrote music that left much to the discretion of the performer.  

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