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Hyperion Records

CDA67236 - Buxtehude: Seven Sonatas Op 1

Recording details: October 2000
St Michael's Church, Highgate, London, United Kingdom
Produced by Martin Compton
Engineered by Julian Millard
Release date: April 2002
DISCID: 400E2E18
Total duration: 59 minutes 31 seconds

‘Invigorating playing’ (BBC Music Magazine)

‘Needless to say, the performances are excellent’ (Early Music Review)

‘Wallfisch, Tunnicliffe and Paul Nicholson are highly proficient Baroque musicians’ (International Record Review)

‘Intimate, incisive and sometimes abrasively invigorating playing … Their interpretations are always imaginative and intelligent, their sense of style matches their technical command and their enthusiasm for the music is infectious’ (The Strad)

‘[The] players make much of both Buxtehude’s deeply expressive moments and brilliant passage work’ (Goldberg)

‘This is a truly exceptional recital, enthusiastically performed, and which finally realise the full potential of these extraordinary compositions’ (Hi-Fi Plus)

‘The three performers who make up the ensemble in Convivium are all excellent musicians in their own right, and work very well together. They present a fluid, unified sound, and their playing is very tight’ (MusicWeb International)

Seven Sonatas Op 1
Vivace – Lento  [1'49]
Allegro  [2'52]
Andante  [2'24]
Presto  [1'51]
Lento – Vivace  [3'30]
Allegro  [1'20]
Arioso  [2'11]
Adagio  [2'01]
Allegro  [1'59]
Lento – Vivace  [4'38]
Presto  [2'10]
Vivace  [5'06]
Vivace  [1'45]
Solo  [2'01]
Allegro  [4'44]
Con discretione  [2'46]
Vivace  [1'30]
Poco presto  [2'09]
Allegro  [2'21]
Presto  [0'53]
Vivace  [1'30]
Poco presto  [2'30]

The rediscovery of the works of the great Danish organist and composer Dietrich Buxtehude occurred as a byproduct of the Bach revival that began in the nineteenth century. At the age of twenty, Bach made his legendary 200-plus mile journey on foot to meet and hear Buxtehude. This evident admiration inspired the Bach revivalists to investigate Buxtehude's organ works, but much of his other music remains almost unknown, although the chamber and clavier music has at last begun to circulate more widely in recent years.

Of Buxtehude's twenty-one extant chamber works, seven are presented on this disc. The scoring for violin, viola da gamba and harpsichord identifies these works as belonging to the north German chamber tradition. In Italy, two violins and continuo was the norm for trio writing, but German composers often preferred the contrast of timbre and range that violin and gamba provided. These attractive works were the avant-garde of their day, written in the new stylus phantasticus with emphasis on expression, virtuosity and excitement, incorporating otherwise unusual progressions, hidden ornaments, ingenious turns and embellishments within the music.

Performed with Convivium’s customarily high standard of grace and expertise, for which they are so renowned.

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Introduction  EnglishFrançaisDeutsch
The rediscovery of the works of the great Danish organist and composer Dieterich Buxtehude occurred as a by-product of the Bach revival that began in the nineteenth century. At the age of twenty, Bach made his legendary 200-plus mile journey on foot to hear and meet Buxtehude in Lübeck, being castigated by his Arnstadt employers for returning three months late; scholars examining and editing Bach’s works reasoned that Buxtehude’s music too must be worth reviving, if Bach admired it so. Monographs by André Pirro (1913) and Carl Stahl (1937) followed Spitta’s edition of the organ works (1875/6). Yet the composer’s other music has had to wait until the last few decades for revival, whether as editions, subjects for scholarly enquiry or recordings. While many of the hundred-plus cantatas remain almost unknown, the chamber and clavier music has at last begun to circulate more widely in recent years; the Opp 1 and 2 sonatas have in fact been available in a modern edition for many years (Denkmäler deutscher Tonkunst, 1903, later superseded by volume XIV of the collected edition, 1994).

Buxtehude’s date and place of birth have not been recorded, but it is known that his father Johannes was organist of the St Maria Kyrka, Helsingborg, Denmark, in 1641, and Dieterich was probably born there in about 1637. By the mid-1650s son had succeeded father in that post, and the young Dieterich moved successively to organist’s jobs in Elsinore (1660) and Lübeck (1668). This latter post, at the Marienkirche, had been occupied by the eminent Franz Tunder. Buxtehude was not the first-choice candidate for this important job, and married his predecessor’s daughter Anna Margarethe some ten days after his appointment (evidently a condition of the role, and one which persisted: both Handel and Mattheson declined the Marienkirche post – and hand of Buxtehude’s 28-year old daughter – when they visited Lübeck to meet the composer in 1703). Buxtehude died in 1707, and was succeeded by his assistant (and posthumous son-in-law) Johann Christian Schieferdecker. He was accorded a high reputation in his day, numbering among his friends, pupils or admirers Reincken, Theile, Bruhns and Pachelbel. Bach’s obituary claims Buxtehude as one of his models in organ playing, and the influence of the older man is often apparent in Bach’s early organ works.

Buxtehude’s twenty-one extant chamber works fall neatly into three groups of seven: the set of sonatas Op 1 (c1694), a further set Op 2 (1696), and others found only in manuscript, principally the Düben collection now at Uppsala University in Sweden. A further collection was apparently advertised in 1684, but either never appeared or has been lost – some of the manuscript sonatas may be survivals from this. Both published sets are scored for violin, viola da gamba and harpsichord, while the remainder are for more miscellaneous forces. The Op 1 works, VII Suonate á doi, Violino & Violadagamba, con Cembalo, di Dieterico Buxtehude, Organista della Chiesa della Beat. Virg. N.S. in Lubeca, Opera Prima, were printed in Hamburg by Nicolaus Spiering, and dedicated to the mayor and senators of Lübeck; as it was listed in the Book Fair catalogues of 1694 it was very likely then newly published. However, some of these works at least may be older, and the Sonata in B flat BuxWV273, which exists in a manuscript from the 1680s, was heavily reworked and shortened to appear as Op 1 No 4.

The scoring of these works for violin, viola da gamba and harpsichord (the latter specified as such, rather than by the vaguer term continuo) identifies these works as belonging to the north German chamber tradition. In Italy, two violins and continuo was the norm for trio writing, but German composers (Becker 1674, Erlebach 1694) often preferred the contrast of timbre and range that violin and gamba provided. In addition, the wide compass of the gamba enabled it to function both as a continuo instrument, doubling or elaborating the bass (see the Lento of BuxWV255), and as a solo instrument in the tenor range.

Buxtehude’s Opp 1 and 2 sonatas are freely multi-sectional; unlike contemporary Italian works, they do not use fixed dance and other suite forms, comprising instead a sequence of three to fourteen movements, which could range in length from three bars to one-hundred or more; fast and slow movements alternate. Although some strict fugal writing appears, Buxtehude was evidently more drawn by the new stylus phantasticus, with its emphasis on expression, virtuosity and excitement. The Hamburg theorist Mattheson described it thus (1739):

The most free and unrestrained manner of composing, singing and playing that one can imagine … all kinds of otherwise unusual progressions, hidden ornaments, ingenious turns and embellishments are brought forth without actual observation of the measure or the key, regardless of what is placed on the page, without a formal theme or ostinato, without theme or subject that are worked out; now swift, now hesitating, now in one voice, now in many voices, now for a while behind the beat, without measure of sound, but not without the intent to please, to overtake and to astonish. Quoted in Kerala J Snyder: Dietrich Buxtehude: Organist in Lübeck (New York, 1987), p 250.

One example of this freedom can be found in the ground bass that opens the B flat Sonata BuxWV255: the theme itself is (unusually) three-and-a-half bars long, and Buxtehude uses a three-note repeated figure in the violin at unexpected places to further confuse the stress pattern of the phrases. And falling chromatic passages, as in the Largo section of the A minor Sonata BuxWV254, seem to belong to the world of Passion settings rather than the chamber sonata. Here, Buxtehude takes contemporary German chamber music into new territory.

The great majority of late-seventeenth century chamber publications group works by the half-dozen or dozen (collections by Buxtehude’s contemporaries Reincken, Krieger and Rosenmüller, for example), and it appears that the number seven may have had some special significance for the composer (a lost cycle of seven keyboard suites depicted each of the then-known planets, according to Mattheson). Be that as it may, Buxtehude evidently regarded the Opp 1 and 2 sets as two parts of a greater whole, as they together include works in nearly all the major and minor keys of F, G, A, B flat, C, D and E – a scale of seven notes, the hexachordum molle, plus one tone (F major appears twice, but F minor and B flat minor not at all, probably as they lie outside the tuning system then in use). Such sets, like those of Biber ‘for the altar as well as the court’, (Sonatae tam aris quam aulis servientes, 1676) could be used in both sacred and secular contexts; the early version of Op 1 No 4 in fact has the bass marked ‘organo’ rather than ‘cembalo’, suggesting church use. At this time in northern Europe, the expanding and increasingly musically educated middle class sometimes formed musical societies (like that of Matthias Weckmann in Hamburg), and publications of chamber music would have found a ready market there. Buxtehude’s use of the violin, only once exceeding third position, would have been within the grasp of many amateurs, except for those moments where real virtuosity is called for, such as in the D minor Sonata BuxWV257 (whether the Opp 1 and 2 publications sold well is open to question, as only two complete copies survive today). They might also have been heard at Buxtehude’s regular Abendmusik Sunday afternoon concerts in Lübeck; his colleagues at the Marienkirche in the early 1690s, Hans Iwe and Johann Philip Roth, played violin and viola da gamba, and some of these sonatas may have been written for Iwe, Roth and Buxtehude to play together.

The first sonata begins with a rather Corellian gesture which develops into a dialogue between high and low voices. A minor-key Lento then leads into one of those running-semiquaver fugues that are so characteristic of Buxtehude (track 2). In the following Adagio and 6/8 Andante the viola da gamba parts company with the harpsichord to produce a true trio texture, with much use of broken chord figurations and offbeat entries. A concluding Presto follows the style of the first two fast movements, now with an emphasis on repeated-note semiquavers. The G major sonata prefaces a lively fugal Vivace with a brief Lento introduction; a further slow section leads into an Italianate 6/8 Allegro, this time contrasting broken-chord violin figuration with a descending chromatic bass line. After another Largo pause for breath, an Arioso with five variations follows, the figuration reminiscent of Buxtehude’s clavier variations.

The third sonata introduces a new, minor key feeling of pathos to the set, with an extended Adagio succeeded by a semiquaver fugue and then a change of mood to a major key Lento. A Corellian Vivace is linked by a characteristically North German chromatic Largo to a final Presto, with a brief reprise of the previous section. The B flat sonata opens with a lively Vivace built on a ground bass; the violin dominates the opening section, with the viola da gamba only entering at bar 18, a playfully virtuosic dialogue ensuing for the next 90 bars. This runs into a meditative Lento, then a concerto-like Allegro, brought to a close by double-stopping in the violin.

The fifth sonata in C opens with a fugal movement that again stresses repeated-note semiquaver figuration. The following section dispenses with the viola da gamba, which rejoins at the Largo, leading to a gigue-like Allegro (the numerous dynamic contrasts indicated by the composer), another freely modulating Adagio and a final extended Allegro. The D minor sonata prefaces a fugal Allegro with a brief Grave; this leads into a busy section marked ‘Con discretione’, which is interrupted by a five-bar Adagio. Two virtuoso fast movements follow, each separated by a slower section, which returns to round off the sonata. The final 6/8 fast movement begins Poco presto, and is then marked Poco adagio and Presto, indicating the flexibility of tempo Buxtehude expected. The seventh sonata is also a minor key work; this time there is no slow introduction, just a fugal Allegro, led (as always) by the violin. A sequence of slow and fast movements ensues, completing the sonata – and the opus – with a prestissimo gigue.

Francis Knights © 2002

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