The Organ

Dieterich Buxtehude: Organist in Lübeck

Kerala J Snyder: Dieterich Buxtehude: Organist in Lübeck
University of Rochester Press
ISBN 978-1-58046-23-2

Originally published in 1987, this second edition takes account of all the sources relating to Buxtehude’s life and music that have come to light since the fall of communism and the opening up of access to central and eastern European libraries and archives. It is a monumental work of excellent scholarship, brilliantly written. The book includes a CD (total time 75’59”) of representative examples of Buxtehude’s output. The work is divided into three parts: Buxtehude’s World; Buxtehude’s Compositions; Studies Pertaining to Buxtehude’s Music. There are also six key appendices: a listing of all Buxtehude’s music; a list of his writings; principal sources of his work; selected texts from archival documents and early printed sources; inventories of music; chorale melodies set by the composer. There are extensive notes and a comprehensive bibliography.

The book has to one of the best musicological studies written to date. Snyder amasses a wealth of data, but then integrates it all to give a comprehensive picture of the environment in which Buxtehude lived and worked as well as a stunning analysis of his music, its interpretation and performance. The opening biographical section makes fascinating reading, not only for the light it sheds on Buxtehude’s life and career, but also the social, economic, political and cultural environment in which he fulfilled his several roles. Snyder uses the many primary sources to full advantage, as for example in the study of the use of the organ in church. Buxtehude was obviously a leader in his city, developing the famous Abendmusiken. He was clearly a worldly as well as a pious man, as evinced by his friendships with Reincken and other major musicians of the time and, surprisingly, in an erotic picture in which he is almost certainly depicted. There is a study of the composer as a writer, including of poetry and libretti and a placing of Buxtehude into his social class – one of the most fascinating sections of the book.

The chapter on Lübeck’s organs is further evidence of Snyder’s excellent scholarship, with a comprehensive history of the instruments that Buxtehude would have known and played. There are sections on the temperament, usage, repertoire, liturgy and services, together with reference to Buxtehude’s responsibilities as a musician and composer. Due account is taken of Bach’s visit and Buxtehude’s links with other places and people. The final third of the book is given over to a comprehensive study of the music – one of the most comprehensive that I have ever encountered. The chapters in turn look at the vocal music and its texts, with a study of the pietistic movement of the time and its influence on Buxtehude, as well as an in-depth study of the different forms used; learned counterpoint – of which he was clearly a master; keyboard music; sonatas. Each chapter includes excellent and exhaustive analysis of the compositions, placing them into context and comparing them with other work of the period. There is then a fascinating chapter on the sources of the music, including a fascinating section on publication and printing of the time, and a commentary on the disdain for older music and the loss of some of Buxtehude’s work as a result – how nearly more of it was lost too, but thanks to the association with the Düben family, a fair amount has survived. The chapter on chronology makes the most of limited evidence, while the chapter on performance practice is a must for anyone interested not only in Buxtehude’s music but also his contemporaries and near predecessors and successors. Organists will welcome the section on fingering, pedalling and registration in particular. The book is well illustrated with contemporary material and manuscript sources as well as apposite musical examples. As a bonus, the CD gives us many and varied examples of Buxtehude output. What a great composer he was! This is musicological scholarship at its very, very best. It is a good read and a great bargain too. Buy it now!