Toccata in F major BuxWV156 [8'19]
Canzona in G minor BuxWV173 [1'28]
Toccata in G major BuxWV164 [2'55]
In dulci iubilo BuxWV197 [1'31]
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.
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Dieterich Buxtehude died in Lübeck, where he was Organist of the Marienkirche, on 9 May 1707. Neither the year nor the place of his birth can be stated with complete confidence, though the former is generally thought to have been 1637, and candidates for the latter can be reduced to a short-list comprising Helsingborg in Sweden, Helsingør in Denmark, and Oldesloe in Holstein. It seems certain, however, that he grew up in Denmark, and although he spent nearly forty of his seventy-odd years in the German city of Lübeck, and although ‘Buxtehude’ is a German place-name, no one begrudges the Danes their claim on him. Whatever the precise facts about his origins, it was in 1668 that he succeeded Franz Tunder (c1614–1667) as Organist of the Marienkirche, and by at least the turn of the century he was among the most influential figures in North German organ music. In 1705, having undertaken the long journey from Arnstadt to Lübeck especially to hear Buxtehude, J S Bach incurred his employers’ displeasure by unofficially extending his leave, so captivated was he by the older man’s playing. That Handel also visited Lübeck, in 1703, further underlines Buxtehude’s stature.
Everything heard on this disc is necessarily over 300 years old, but one can be confident that Bach and Handel encountered at the Marienkirche very little organ music from any earlier period. Much of what they heard was almost certainly improvised, and although improvisation continues to play a part in organ culture, printed music occupies an overwhelmingly dominant position (and much of it consists of careful editions of music written in the distant past, such as the works of Buxtehude and J S Bach). Buxtehude’s culture was quite different from that of today, and printed music played only a small part in it. Indeed, none of Buxtehude’s organ works was printed in his lifetime, and it was not until 1875, when Spitta’s edition began to appear, that they first became available otherwise than in the form of copies made by pupils and admirers. In Buxtehude’s day, printing could not cope with the increasing complexity of keyboard music, and transmission tended to be by hand-made copies. But Buxtehude’s culture was in any event one in which an important role was played by spontaneity. Carefully rehearsed performances of immaculately printed, long-pondered compositions played little or no part in it. Professional organists were required to be highly proficient in the art of improvisation, and it may be that some of the works recorded here, particularly the praeludia, were intended more as models for students of improvisation than as material for public performance; and so exhilarating is some of this music that one wonders how much more so Buxtehude’s ‘live’ improvisations must have been, for notation, no matter how sophisticated, cannot by its very nature capture every note and nuance of an inspired improvisatory flight: it may be that some of the works presented here do no more than hint at the grandeur by which Bach was so gripped.
Buxtehude’s organ music falls into two basic categories: free works, and works based on pre-existing melodies. To the first category belong the praeludia, toccatas, ostinato works, and canzonas. To the second belong the works based on chorale or plainsong melodies.
The Praeambulum in A minor, BuxWV158, begins with an improvisatory paragraph in which the music unfolds over long-held pedal notes. Based on a steady, four-crotchet subject, the first fugue becomes increasingly animated. It comes to rest with a Phrygian cadence (at about 3'02''), and without interpolating any free material Buxtehude immediately embarks on a short second fugue, its subject comprising two groups of six quavers. The brief coda recalls the work’s opening bars.
The Chorale Fantasia on ‘Ich ruf zu dir, Herr Jesu Christ’, BuxWV196, has a ten-bar introduction in which the melody appears in long notes in the upper voice and the left hand has a single-voice accompaniment consisting mostly of semiquavers. Thereafter the work seems to be proceeding along the lines of a typical Buxtehude Chorale Prelude, with the embellished melody accompanied in the usual way by the left hand and pedals, but there is a graceful, jig-like interlude (at 1'00'' to 1'15'') and instead of proceeding more or less consistently, Buxtehude explores a number of different textures and figurations and concludes with a lengthy cadenza-like coda over long-held pedal notes.
The Praeludium in G minor, BuxWV148, opens with two ten-bar improvisatory sections. Its first fugue is based on a subject which makes a feature of repeated notes (and whose falling diminished seventh calls to mind the Praeludium in F sharp minor, BuxWV146, with which Volume 3 concluded). After a brief coda, there follows a second, triple-time fugue based on a subject consisting of lively crotchets, and Buxtehude concludes with a passage based on a stately two-bar phrase heard initially on the pedals alone.
The Canzonetta in C major, BuxWV167, is a tiny, three-voice fugue based on a subject beginning with a bar of repeated Gs and ending with an ascending scale. It is for the manuals alone.
The wonderfully flamboyant Toccata in F major, BuxWV156, begins with extemporary writing over a sustained low F, and there follows a compound-time section over the pedals’ lowest C. The first fugue has a subject easily recognized by its opening rhythmic pattern of three semiquavers followed by a crotchet. Improvisatory material leads to a short-lived second fugue, and, in the further improvisatory passages which follow, Buxtehude—here surely at his most phantasticus—leads one through a labyrinth of remarkable textures.
The Chorale Prelude on ‘Christ unser Herr zum Jordan kam’, BuxWV180, is typical of Buxtehude’s procedures, the organist’s right hand playing on a separate manual an embellished version of the melody, the left hand and pedals having a restrained accompaniment (which here seems suggestive of the Jordan’s gently flowing waters).
The Fuga in B flat major, BuxWV176, a sprightly, three-voice work largely for manuals only, has a first subject which illustrates Buxtehude’s fondness for repeated notes. An episode improvisatory in character leads to the second fugue, which is based on a subject consisting entirely of semiquavers; and the third and final fugue is another of Buxtehude’s jigs.
In the Chorale Prelude on ‘Nun lob, mein Seel, den Herren’, BuxWV214, Buxtehude completely abandons his usual ‘melody and accompaniment’ formula. Instead, he makes the unembellished melody the uppermost of his four equal voices, and each of its lines is anticipated by an entry in the pedals (the Chorale Preludes of J S Bach are foreshadowed by the way in which the final soprano note is sustained).
The Canzona in G minor, BuxWV173, is a short, three-voice fugue based on a subject which apart from its first note is entirely in semiquavers. It is for the manuals only.
The little Toccata in G major, BuxWV164, has an extemporary introduction of eighteen bars followed by a fugue which Buxtehude quickly abandons in favour of the varied textures of the third and final section.
The Chorale Prelude on ‘Gott der Vater wohn uns bei’, BuxWV190, has the melody in the uppermost voice, embellished in the usual way and played on a separate manual, but as in ‘Nun lob, mein Seel, den Herren’ the pedals have the melody, too, and anticipate the right-hand entries in a dignified, unadorned manner.
The Canzonetta in A minor, BuxWV225, is a three-voice fughetta based on an all-semiquaver subject. About half-way through, Buxtehude again (see BuxWV164 above) seems to grow tired of fugal procedures, which he abandons in favour of a free coda.
The Passacaglia in D minor, BuxWV161, is one of Buxtehude’s three ostinato works for organ, the others being the Ciaccona in C minor (see Volume 1 of this series) and the Ciaccona in E minor (see Volume 2). Although the overall impression is one of elegant improvisation, this is among Buxtehude’s most carefully planned works: seven statements of the ground in the home key are followed by seven in F major, seven in A minor, and the seven in D minor with which the work concludes; and all twenty-eight are given to the pedals. Above them, textures range from the smooth, somewhat vocal ones heard at the outset, to the lively, decidedly instrumental ones that dominate the proceedings once the work is under way; and one is reminded throughout of the passacaglia’s origins in dance.
The Chorale Fantasia on ‘Wie schön leuchtet der Morgenstern’, BuxWV223, begins with a section in which the first part of the melody is given in long notes first to the pedals and then to the uppermost voice. The melody’s subsequent notes are the subject of the deceptively free-sounding passage which immediately follows, and at 2'07'' begins a section based on the descending scale with which the melody concludes. The second verse (from 3'15'') is a wonderfully exuberant jig fugue in AAB form (the form of the melody) whose initial subject is based on the melody’s first few notes (note how in the B section the momentum created by Buxtehude’s rhythms effortlessly sweeps up the repetitive phrases with which the melody’s last section begins).
In the Chorale Prelude on ‘Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland’, BuxWV211, an embellished version of the melody has a dignified accompaniment which seems to convey something of the solemnity of the season of Advent, and the increasing ornamentation draws attention away from the fact that those accompanying voices have a fair share of the melodic material. The concluding bars suggest very strongly that J S Bach knew this work, for they seem to anticipate the final bars of his ‘coloratura’ setting of the same melody (BWV659).
The Chorale Prelude on ‘Der Tag, der ist so freudenreich’, BuxWV182, the first of the two Christmas preludes in this sequence, is remarkable for the ornamentation of the melody, especially in the final bars, where the right hand’s concluding flourish embraces the G just above the stave and the G two octaves lower.
In the Chorale Prelude on ‘In dulci iubilo’, BuxWV197, the well-known melody is played on a separate manual by the right hand, and its embellishment, its excursions into the higher regions of the keyboard, and the delicate stops used in this performance all convey the joyful spirit of Christmas.
With the great Praeludium in E minor, BuxWV142, Christopher Herrick brings this fourth volume to a close. The introduction, which develops the single line of notes heard at the outset, is more consistent in texture and less improvisatory than Buxtehude’s free sections tend to be. Finely wrought, too, is the first fugue, whose subject lends itself admirably not only to the use of alternate feet on the pedalboard but also to stretto. It leads without the interpolation of free material to the magnificent second fugue, in which another well-shaped subject (a drop of a fifth, a rise of an octave, and a chromatic descent) is given a lengthy treatment which includes the introduction of an all-quaver countersubject and the use of inversion and other learned devices. There is then a free passage leading to the exhilarating ‘jig’ fugue with which the work concludes—and which anticipates the jig fugue attributed to J S Bach (BWV577).
Relf Clark © 2011
Other albums in this series
Buxtehude: The Complete Organ Works, Vol. 5 – Mariager Klosterkirke
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