Monday, 5 May 2014

Baroque Composers II - Buxtehude

Now to look at Dietrich Buxtehude. Like Frescobaldi, I first heard of Buxtehude while reading 1001 Classical Recordings to Hear Before you Die – and again I still haven’t heard said recording, or much of his stuff at all. Coincidentally, I did hear part of his Trio Sonata in C minor on the radio recently and it was a beautiful piece. Then today I heard his setting of the Magnificat which was quite a nice choral piece.

Buxtehude was born in Denmark , where exactly is a contentious subject, but lived most of his life in Germany . Also like Frescobaldi, he was primarily an organist and held the post at Lubeck in northern Germany . Unlike Frescobaldi, most of his keyboard works are specifically for the organ. His organ music was highly influential, having a particular sway over the young Johann Sebastian Bach. In fact, Bach took leave from his job and went on a long journey of several months just to hear Buxtehude play.

He also wrote a lot of choral music but much of this is now lost including many oratorios which are thought to have been models for later works by Bach and Telemann. Some shorter works survive and these have had a bit of a revival in modern times. I guess the Magnificat is one of those; there are a number of versions of it on YouTube, here is one by the St Matthias Church Choir, Montreal which seems a good recording. To my ears I guess I can see how it's a proto-Bach but don't ask me to explain that.

I have a similar reaction to some of his organ music. Take this Toccata in D minor (played here on a modern organ by A Schnitger in Norden), it has something of the drama of JS Bach's Toccata in D minor but isn't on the same level. Not that it's attempting the same thing, but while it is a nice piece of music it sounds to me quite basic (I don't mean easy) compared to Bach's work. What I mean is, Buxtehude has the foundations but Bach has built upon them to perfect the form. Perhaps Buxtehude is the giant upon whose shoulders Bach sat but that would be a titan on a giant and liable to squash him. Which may be why Buxtehude is not so well known these days.

A more notable work is his Passacaglia in D minor, which is considered one of his most important. When I hear this I don't think so much of proto-Bach, this is a work of brilliance in its own right. It seems probable it influenced Bach (especially his Passacaglia and Fugue in C minor) but its beauty as a piece outweighs any simple role in the evolution of another's music.

I'll finish however with this Trio Sonata in A minor performed by the Boston Museum Trio. It starts out with a melancholic beauty quite remarkable in its emotional intensity for its time then heads into a lively interchange of the three instruments. Chamber music is a wonder and this is a brilliant example of it. Alas, it's from his Opus 1 which can't be voted for in the Classic 100 but his Opus 2 set can. I missed the nomination period so I can't complain on any absences. I'll have to check the Opus 2 set out, if it's as good as this it will definitely be on my shortlist.

No comments:

Post a Comment