Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Dieterich Buxtehude

Born in either Denmark or Germany, and eventually settling in Elsinore, Dieterich Buxtehude was one of the most popular organ players of his time. Even though he was such a talented musician, he still had to pull a few strings to get work; to be the organist at St. Mary’s Church, Buxtehude had to marry his boss’s daughter. He was also a composer, however, and is remembered today not only for his organ works, but also for his instrumental and choral pieces. All of these pieces were composed because of his post at St. Mary’s because the works were written for the service. One of his most influential career moves was starting public concerts at the St. Mary’s Church called Abendmusiken. These concerts were so influential because as Jaime mentioned in her journal, Bach, who rarely traveled far distances, journeyed to hear this music.

This particular album of Buxtehude’s music features just his organ pieces, which include preludes, chorale settings, ciaconas and others. The chorale settings outnumber all the other pieces, but the preludes were my favorite. I agree with Jaime’s statement that says the album does not get boring because the instrument of the organ is capable of sounding completely different when different stops are pulled. Sometimes, like in the piece Puer Natus in Bethlehem, the organ seems to be accompanying the flute, and in others, a low contrabassoon seems present. In reality, however, only the organ is playing and it is able to make plenty of voices, which adds variety to this album. Never having played organ music myself, I do not know if the composer calls for certain voices, or the performer gets to choose them, but in either case Bine Bryndorf does a wonderful job playing the pieces. Sometimes the counterpoint and pedals seem almost impossible, but Bryndorf plays flawlessly. She makes it seem as if we are in St. Mark’s listening to Buxtehude himself performing for a concert. After hearing this, I wish I had been around in the late 1600s in Germany so I could attend these performances.

Before listening to this album, I must admit that really the only organ piece I was familiar with was JS Bach’s Tocatta and Fugue in D minor. Upon first hearing Buxtehude’s music, that is what instantly came to my head. I knew this was not the correct approach to listening to this music, however, so I tried to clear my head and hear with fresh ears. I was able to appreciate this music on its own. Also the fact that the organ seemed to imitate other instruments made it easier for this realization to happen. One track, however, just seemed extremely similar to this Bach piece and the title of it was Passacaglia in D minor. This was my favorite piece and I really liked the range of the organ on this because it got incredibly low. It sounds like Bach took some measures exactly from this piece, but perhaps it sounds like that because both used scales and arpeggios greatly in their writing. Jaime briefly touched on the Buxtehude’s influence on Bach, but I feel she neglected to fully connect these ideas. She mentioned that Bach had some pieces by the same name as Buxtehude’s pieces, and since they were both using chorale settings for the Church for organ, that was only natural. The fact that Buxtehude was a huge influence on Bach only makes that less of a coincidence. I liked this opportunity to learn more about both Buxtehude and Bach and the life of a German musician during the Baroque era.

In the end, I think Jaime did a great job analyzing the music and looking at the structure of the songs. Her journal was obviously well researched and well written. She provided information that caused me to go look up more about the structure of the pieces, because she herself had analyzed that so well. In spite of this, I still wish she had included more subjective opinions on the piece so I could compare my opinions with hers. We seem to have thought about a lot of the same matter concerning the concerts and other things, so I think I really would have benefitted to see her opinions, to see if those matched as well.


Big said...

You should listen to Bach's Passacaglia and fugue in C minor - it sounds to me clearly inspired by Buxtehude's Passacaglia. (and it's gorgeous).

As far as choosing stops, most organ music does not indicate specific stops and the organist gets to choose. Often the score doesn't even indicate whether the piece is quiet or loud. Obviously, the choices can have a tremendous impact of the character of the piece. Most composers for organ were church organists, so it's possible to at least find out about the type of instrument the pieces were written for.

Kepler said...

Sorry, but i´m afraid the portrait image is from Pergolesi, not Buxtehude !