Dietrich Buxtehude

Dietrich Buxtehude

Danish organist and composer
Country: Denmark

Biography of Dietrich Buxtehude

Dietrich Buxtehude was a Danish organist and composer, known as the most prominent representative of the North German organ school during the Baroque era. He was born around 1637, and there is some debate about his birthplace. Some biographers claim he was born in Helsingborg, based on the fact that his father, Hans Jensen Buxtehude, served as an organist at St. Mary's Church in Helsingborg until 1642. However, most researchers believe that Buxtehude was born in Helsingør (known as Elsinore in Shakespeare's Hamlet), where his father held the position of organist at St. Olaf's Church for many years. Regardless, Buxtehude was of Danish descent, although Helsingborg later became a Swedish city. It is also possible that his ancestors migrated from Germany to Denmark.

Buxtehude was strongly influenced by the Dutch composer and organist Jan Sweelinck, whose style was a synthesis of Flemish and Italian traditions. This, in turn, was evident in the works of Girolamo Frescobaldi and Giuseppe Carli, who were prominent Italian composers. Buxtehude's musical heritage includes several compositions with Italian texts, and Italian influences can be seen in many of his works. However, German influence remained predominant. He was directly influenced by his father, who became his first teacher, as well as by Johann Tunder, the predecessor of Buxtehude in Lübeck, and Heinrich Schütz's pupil, Franz Tunder.

On April 1, 1668, the church council of Lübeck offered Buxtehude the position of organist at St. Mary's Church. He accepted the offer and became associated with the city for the rest of his life, until his death on May 9, 1707. The position of organist at Marienkirche was considered one of the best in Europe. However, Buxtehude inherited not only the organist position, but also the duty of Kustos (caretaker). This involved, in the tradition of the time, marrying the eldest unmarried daughter of his predecessor, Johann Tunder. Buxtehude married Anna Margarethe Tunder, and they had seven children together.

One of Buxtehude's greatest achievements was his series of Sunday Evening Concerts (Abendmusik), which took place during Advent. These concerts attracted musicians from all over Europe and brought him great fame. The majority of his organ and vocal-choral compositions were written for these concerts. Among the audience members was a young Johann Sebastian Bach, who made the journey from Arnstadt to Lübeck in 1705. Although Buxtehude composed works in various genres, such as violin sonatas, harpsichord pieces, secular vocal music, sacred cantatas, and other forms of church music, his organ music remains his most significant contribution. It stands out for its originality and had a powerful influence on the next generation of German musicians. Buxtehude's style is characterized by boldness, rich imagination, and virtuosity. Improvisational sections with free modulations (some scholars even consider them overly free) alternate with superb fugues and other polyphonic forms in his organ pieces.

Buxtehude's vocal-choral legacy was published in a seven-volume collection of his works edited by Karl Keller (Dietrich Buxtehude Werke, 1925-1937), while his keyboard pieces (Klavervaerker D.Buxtehude) were released in Copenhagen in 1942. His complete organ works are compiled in four volumes (Dietrich Buxtehude Saemtliche Orgelwerke) in the same city in 1952.