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Buxtehude and Bach in Lübeck 1705: A Discussion on Registration and North German Organ Concept, and the Music on this Volume
Buxtehude and Bach in Lübeck 1705: A Discussion on Registration and North German Organ Concept, and the Music on this Volume
“So, you want to learn about the North German organ art and my method of playing?” Buxtehude smirked while he poured the black tea in their cups, and then looked out the towers of St. Marien. The young organist from Arnstadt, who according to rumor had struggled quite a bit to get his leave and to make the journey to the far north, had waited for him at the west entrance of St. Marien at one p.m., punctually, and as agreed. They greeted each other respectfully in the cold November sun, sheltered from the cold wind in the narthex, and proceeded into the sanctuary. After a rather brief tour of the two organs, they stopped for another hour at the cathedral to see and play the new Schnitger organ, and then strolled back towards St. Marien, behind the cemetery and up the stairs to the little workspace and office in the Werkhaus where Buxtehude spent most of his time studying, and in his capacity as Werkmeister, organizing and writing. “Yes, indeed, I do, I do...” the young Sebastian answered a little too eagerly, as he gratefully took the cup and warmed his hands. It was already quite cold in the churches. “Well my young man let us start by doing away with our titles, you don’t mind, do you?– you already showed me that you are a great musician, and I was quite surprised to hear that you are well acquainted my ideas on the chorale “Nun freut euch lieben Christ gmein.” Nevertheless, you are right, there are a variety of ways to render its various sections, –you know, registration is not only about clarity and balance, although that is always the most important – but also about Affekt. The connection between the text and the musical figures is actually the first step in the inventio and you cannot develop them without a particular Affekt in mind and a registration that is suitable for the mode, character and Affekt. Indeed, that’s the approach you should take in my little organ sermon on “Nun freut”. The text is really the point of departure, and in fact, I have sometimes had somebody sing the phrases of the chorale between the sections– just like some musicians have texts recited or sung in dramatic keyboard ex tempore performance. That gives more time for your assistants to change the registration! By the way, we should have tried the new Vox Humana with the tremulant for the lamento section on the strophe “gar teuer hat ers erworben”! However, it is hard to manage with the dialogue and echoes of some of the sections if you do not have an organ with four manuals and pedal. Indeed, the version of the work that you studied and played was conceived for the large organ in St Nicholas in Hamburg. I developed the inventio of this work when I visited Arp Schnitger for the first time, some twenty years ago, I believe. Time flies, doesn’t it. Yes, it was a very interesting encounter, and our discussions about the concept and sounds of the organs never seems to end…”
“Yes, Mr. Buxtehude” the young Sebastian said.
Buxtehude gave Bach a playful mock frown, and then smiled.
“Hmm, Dieterich” Sebastian continued and cleared his throat, “please tell me what you see as the differences between Stellwagen and Schnitger. I mean I heard and played organs of both builders, also in Hamburg, but how would you describe their features?”
Buxtehude paused for a second, took a thoughtful breath while he leaned backwards in his chair, and slowly put his hands on the armrest.
“Well, you see, they actually have more in common than what sets them apart.” While rubbing his hands, he continued “The main tradition of sacred music in the seventeenth century is that of multi-choral music, ultimately with four ensembles, reflected in the four-manual organ concept of the organs of all famous builders here in the north. Both Stellwagen and Schnitger dreamed of building such organs, but Stellwagen only had the opportunity to add a fourth manual once in Lübeck, a Brustwerck, to the organ built by the Hamburg organbuilding master Hans Scherer in our neighbor church of St. Aegidien. Anyway let’s talk about the ideas behind the four-manual concept. That’s also what Schnitger and I often talked about” Buxtehude laughed, and cautiously took a sip of his tea. “Hmm, still too hot,” he thought, while continuing. “At least three and often four of the divisions of these organs contain similar sounds suitable for echoes and dialogues. Think of the various categories of stops as the groups of instruments in a multi-choral performance: the principals like a string consort, the flutes as gentle woodwinds, the short-length resonator reeds as the real woodwind ensemble, and, finally the Trompeten and Posauen like the brass instruments. You can carefully combine the reeds with some flue stops, but you should always think about the flutes and the principals as separate entities. When I play continuo in the Abendmusiken, I always have these categories in mind, and I accompany the musicians from the various six balconies in suitable ways, and as I hear them at the console. When all play together in ripieno, I accompany with the Principals of the Werck and the Posaune 16–or the new Dulcian 16–in the pedal. In our case, it is actually an advantage to not have a Rückpositif that shelters the organist, but to play in the open space between the divided Unterwerk cases, in my little Organist-house. Schnitger and I agreed that we would not change this design in the renovation. The possibility to hear and stay in touch with all musicians is too valuable in St Marien. And I often have the multi-choral concept in my mind when I play some of the models for Preludes and Toccatas that I have developed over the years. You find sections with repetitions and echoes, and I selectively play them on the various divisions of the organs, mostly with similar but sometimes also with contrasting registrations–it depends on the context. The same pertains to the chorale works, in which the echo figures are even more common. I usually play the echoes, or the sequential patterns you find in the Preludes and Toccatas, as many times as I have manuals with similar sounds available.”
Buxtehude paused briefly, discovering that his tea finally had the right temperature, and then continued. “Of course, that is something you usually do not find in the scores. It is part of our practice, which is always dependant upon the instrument and context. The ‘R’ and ‘O’ you often find in the scores only shows what should be played as solo and as accompaniment. We always like to play this way: “Auff 2. Clavier”. It is of course necessary in most chorale works for the cantus firmus and solo, and it is better for the clarity of the sound, and for the wind of the organ. The outer parts of the texture become clearer, and the movement of the wind is distributed over a greater number of windchests and divisions, which makes the sound calmer. The larger chorale works including echoes require at least three manuals. As you know, in the north almost every city organ has three manuals – you already played three today! The concept of all of these organs is basically the same, however you probably agree that while elegance and beauty characterize Stellwagen’s organ, color and force dominate Schnitger’s instrument, right?” Buxtehude reached for the kettle.
“Indeed,” Sebastian answered, emptying the Chinese teacup, thereby following the example of his host, “but many of the organs in Sachsen are different, and they are usually two-manual instruments.”
“Well,” Buxtehude continued, “if you would like to play the elaborate music from the north on a two manual organ, you can always exclude or adjust the echo sections according to the instrument, play parts of them, or simply use some of their ideas and develop something similar. I used to do that when I was organist in the Marien churches in Helsingborg and Helsingør, and played the elegant, beautiful but smaller organs there.
“Please tell me more about the large chorale works,” Bach continued.
“Well, in the large chorale fantasias, solos that can be engaged in dialogue or echoes, depending on the texture, could be played on two or three manuals with similar sounds. One manual division should be chosen for the accompaniment, and the pedal should usually serve as the bass, sometimes as a solo, and occasionally it should have the function of both. When the solo turns from treble to bass, the choice of contrasting sounds of a kind that enhance the register, for example a reed registration in the bass, should be chosen. I am sure you remember that when I played the solo of the Trumpet and the Zinck with the Flute and Nasat chorus from the Hauptwerk in the large Stellwagen organ, I asked you to add the Cornet to the pedal when I played the cantus in canon with the right hand solo, then take it away when I simply played the basso continuo in the pedal, –and that I played the Trumpet and Zinck solo in dialogue with the Baarpfeiff of the Underpositif when the right hand solo part went to the bass. This is the well-known registration used by Jacob Praetorius the organ preacher in Hamburg St. Petri, we continue to talk about it as the Praetorian registration. But he played the middle parts on the Principal of the Rückpositif, not like I did today in the Brustpositif. Well, I can assure you that we enjoyed playing the organ of Master Jacob, the Organ Preacher, in St. Petri, and followed his method like we heard it from his student Matthias Weckman, who used many new figures and dissonances, and modulated throughout all keys. The Petri-organ had the extra keys, the subsemitonien, for g#, a# and d# in all keyboards, so that you could indeed play in all keys with pure major thirds, and add chromatic and dissonance figures to explore the meaning of the text. That organ is a remarkable and wonderful instrument. It was in Petri that I developed the inventio for a Praeludium in f-sharp minor, the experimental Lamento that I played for you today. Because of the character and sourness of the key it has shocked several over the years – I will tell you more about that later. Schnitger and I have always admired the sound quality of this instrument, and similarly that of the Stellwagen organs here in Marien. One can hardly wish for more.
But, of course, nowadays one sometimes desires more gravitas, force and brilliance for the accompaniment of the congregational song, improved speech and a different timbre of the reeds, as well as better-balanced mechanics of the organs – the exact characteristics that you heard and sensed in the Dom today, some of Schnitger’s features. These things could also be integrated in the old organs, like he did so masterfully in his four-manual organ in Hamburg St. Jacobi. In some sections of the chorale fantasias we like to employ similar sounds in multiple divisions, something you perhaps could have done more of in the middle sections of “Nun freut during the phrases of “Was Gott an uns gewendet hat, und seine süße Wundertat”. Think about using flute combinations like the 8 and 2 foot flutes, the colorful short-length resonator reeds, and the Sesquialtera, Rauschpfeiffe and Nasat combinations. The new Sesquialtera in my large organ at Marien makes it possible to play dialogues and echoes between the Brust and the Unterwerk with this combination. You heard how I used this sonority in the Praeludium in A [CDII:7; BuxWV 151]. I developed this idea for Epiphany with arpeggios in recitative style and sequential patterns with rotating figures to illustrate the powerful and guiding light of the Bethlehem star, and the imitation sections to illustrate the wise men’s walk toward the star and the child in the manger. The multiple similar sounds in the north German organs inspire us to excel in echoes and other ornate and colorful effects.
The Hamburg master organ teachers, Heinrich Scheidemann, and, particularly, Jacob Praetorius, always recommended that one should restrict oneself and put these ideas into context and balance with the music and its function. Let me tell you, it was not always so easy… However, we were more interested in the new concerto-style with its dialogue between soloists and tutti, interspersed with solo improvisations– it remains popular in most vocal and instrumental music– and, of course, the oratorio and opera, with their respective recitatives and arias.
Some of my organ chorales are like arias. We studied these styles and tried to integrate them in our compositions, also in the keyboard works. In fact, there are many similarities between my vocal and instrumental music and the organ and keyboard music. The multi-sectional form with contrasting sections is often very similar, and in particular the continuous pairing of strict, mostly polyphonic, and free, harmonically generated sections, sometimes elaborated with passaggio and other string-idiomatic diminutions, is indeed characteristic of my method and style. The concerto- and chamber-music style that you know from my organ music is best served by selected groups of stops reminiscent of instrumental ensembles, primarily strings and woodwinds. The meditative, homophonic sections are particularly well-suited to the string-like stops, for example the tin-rich Schnitger Principal 8 of the Rückpositif that you heard in the Dom today. Sometimes when I develop these sections in the style of a recitative, I like to play the solo on a reed stop such as the new tender Vox Humana, or the old rich and penetrating Zinck.
In the imitative, fugal or sonata sections you could of course also use one or a few principal stops, or the multiple categories of softer and more carefully selected stops, reeds, flutes and principals in combinations, and sometimes even play “Auff 2 Clavier,” as Weckmann used to do in some of his chorale verses; He used similar sounds as in his instrumental sonatas. He played the bass with the left hand on the Trompet 16 of the Werck, the tenor with the Trompete 8 in the pedal, and the upper parts on the Principal of the Rückpositif, like violins on top of a dulcian and a trombone. You see, the possibilities for consort-like registrations can be expanded by the use of two, or even more, manuals and pedal. The French excel in playing Quartet fugues on four different divisions of their four manual organs. We have similar, and actually many more, possibilities to play consort fugues with various sounds on multiple divisions at our large organs, I call them Sonata-registrations. This approach makes the voices of the counterpoint appear like different personalities, just like the various angels on the organ case in the Dom with their string and wind instruments seem to play various parts of the celestial fugue. The voices enter, engage in dialogue, take turns, disappear and return in a way similar to what I can imagine the angels would do if they move in and out on the theatrical stage at the west end on the balcony, and then, suddenly, they are joined by the heavenly choirs in massive sound cascades.”
Buxtehude left his chair and went up to the window. The sunset cast narrow streams of light between the chimneys of the houses across the cemetery and shadows on the stairs.
“That’s when we pull all the stops of the full organ, the pleno, and with the new, large mixtures, Schnitger’s mixtures, we hear a kind of brilliance and brightness reminiscent of the sparkling light and sunshine that we miss so much during the long winters in the north… And together with the reeds, primarily in the pedal, they embrace and support the voices of the full congregation in the hymn singing.”
“Yes, tell me how you register the full organ please. You use the pleno in the Praeludien too, don’t you? Not only for the accompaniment of the full church?” Sebastian asked, not sure if he should rise from his chair and follow his host to the window. He hesitated. Buxtehude turned around and started to light the lamp on a small table near the window and continued.
“Indeed, the point of departure for the performance of the preludes and toccatas is a pleno registration using the principal chorus and the mixtures–in the same way we begin and end the liturgy. In the large organs we use all manuals selectively, sometimes in succession, sometimes alternating in dialogue, quite often “Auff 2 Clavier,” all according to the texture of the music, and sometimes also coupled together. The new organs by Herr Schnitger have maximum freedom in terms of the variety of pleno registrations that can be achieved. This includes mixtures of different kinds: mixtures with almost continuous progression–no audible breaks–in the highest register suited to polyphonic textures, and mixtures with repetitions–often with higher pitches–that enrich and fill out homophonic textures, suitable to playing dense chords and accompaniments. All these mixtures and combinations can be used either based on a sixteen foot or eight foot plenum. Another kind of pleno, mezza ripieno, without the mixtures, can be registered with the principal-chorus and one or more of the principal-scaled combination stops like the Rauschpfeiffen and the Sesquialtera. The Sesquialtera with its tierce is mainly used as a tierce mixture. Be careful not to use the Quinta 3 and Octave 2 when you pull the Rauschpfeiff. These ranks are contained in the combined stop and should not be doubled. The organ often sounds out of tune when you double these ranks, and the texture does not get clearer, but rather the opposite.”
Sebastian began to make notes in his notebook. And, simultaneously, he could not resist thinking about how he could use the Sexquialtera and the Dulcian solo alternating in a chorale fantasia on…“Ein’ feste Burg.” He would try this for his host tomorrow.
“Similarly, the Mixtures that often contain 2 and 3-foot ranks, at least in the treble, should not be doubled. Listen, judge and select carefully! Finally, you can use the principal choir alone, for example the 8, 4, 3, and 2-foot stops; the 8, 4, and 2-foot stops; or sometimes only 8, and 4-foot stops. Schnitger’s tin-rich Octave 4 is often so rich with overtones that you imagine you hear the pitches of higher ranks although you have only pulled the Principals 8 and 4!”
Buxtehude laughed and gently nodded his head while he returned to the working desk, which temporarily served as the afternoon tea table. “You should avoid large mixtures with repetitions in polyphonic textures. That obscures the individual voices and the clarity of the music. However the full pleno can be used–without loss of clarity–when the music is less complex, in transparent textures, which are often the case in joyful Affekts, and in triple meter. You see, the choice of registration, musical figuration and texture are so closely intertwined that they should always be carefully considered and selected together. We need to listen to the character and balance of the sounds from the sanctuary, not only from the balcony. You should continue to write down the combinations of stops that we discuss, then listen to them in the sanctuary and memorize the ones that balance well, experiment with which textures and Affekts that suit them well, etc. This approach and insight is the single most important factor for organ playing. This is also the way that you need to approach my models and methods in the Praeludien and Toccaten. They are invented and developed in quite different Affekts and styles. Simply study the choice of keys, meter and musical-rhetorical figures, and please pay attention to the shifts of texture and Affekt that often occur. You should perform and render these as an actor, or, if you will, a well-versed singer in a recitative. When there is a dramatic shift of character, you could for example alternate between the Pleno of the Werk and the façade Principal of the Rückpositif, like we briefly discussed earlier. These contrasting changes are very similar to what we find in the Toccatas of Frescobaldi, and the unusual dissonances, the durezze and ligature, typical of his Elevation Toccatas can sometimes be found also in my music. In fact, some of the Praeludien, dominated by this style, lend themselves very well to a performance primarily, or exclusively, on a selection of principal sounds.”
Buxtehude glanced at the clock on the working desk, and thought: “Already seventeen hours. Soon time for the Abendbrot. We can always continue the discussion in the dining room… but then he cannot make notes. Well, let’s finish here.” Buxtehude sat down in his chair again, and Sebastian took the opportunity to ask: “I noticed that you did not always play the bass in the pedal. What are your ideas about this?”
“Well,” Buxtehude answered, “the use of the pedal is also somewhat selective, usually not precisely indicated, and to be compared with basso continuo playing. In ensemble and cantata performances, you sometimes play with more, sometimes with fewer bass instruments, and similarly you play the bass with and without the pedal in the organ works. My friend Andreas Werckmeister recently sent me a printed collection of Toccatas of one of his colleagues in the south, George Muffat. In this text it is indicated very carefully, actually precisely, when the pedal should be played alone, together with the manual, or not at all. Approach my music in the same way! It is sometimes better not to play the pedal–at least not all the time–when the texture is dense and filled with dissonances, for example in some fugal sections. Bass solo passages generally sound best and are most exciting to play in the pedal, and you can sometimes enhance them by playing them in the manual and pedal simultaneously. In general, we in the north use our large pedal divisions quite frequently, and in a variety of textures and sounds: the usual basso continuo, the unusual and by some fancied double pedal in polyphonic texture–two parts played simultaneously in the pedal, and in virtuosic bass and pedal solos, like in the opening of my organ Batalla, a Praeludium in C rendering the combat between David and Goliath [LRCD 1090:1; BuxWV 137]. I suppose I did not play that piece for you today, did I?”
“Yes, indeed, I do,” Buxtehude replied, in the relative darkness. Suddenly bothered by some dirt on his glasses, he started to clean and polish them quite intensively while he stated, “But not systematically. I would be interested in reading these Sonatas. Did you bring them? Are they published? I never intended to publish my organ works, like I did with my instrumental Sontatas. You see, my students and friends study, copy and memorize my organ compositions, and I often continue to develop their ideas as my students work with them.” He looked through the glasses, focused his eyes, and then again turned to the young Bach without giving him a chance to reply.
“Well, in any case, and instead of the Batalla, you heard some inventios in F-major. This key is very well suited to topics like scenarios of the nature and the Pastoral, and the latter, as you very well know, are quite suitable for the Christmas season. I developed them several years ago, and, quite recently–we rapidly approach Christmas, don’t we?–I started working on them again. The Praeludium in F [CD2:1; BuxWV 145] the first piece you heard, contains bird song–all the birds in the countryside from near and far, the wood and the valley, sing in duets and echoes, in ever-changing order. As you recall, I played them on the 8-foot pleno of all manual divisions, consistently interchanging, and most of the time with the bass in the pedal. The Toccata in F [CD2:5; BuxWV 156] has the typical story-line of a Pastoral, organized according to a libretto, as I told you while I was playing, right? After the peaceful introduction with the shepherd’s pipe in solo and joyful ensemble, the playful pastoral scenes in consort style and canzona figuration followed, suddenly interrupted by the trembling of nature and a sudden storm of thunder and lighting. However, the thunderstorm soon disappeared, the birds started singing again, and the shepherds approached the manger, in which Mary tenderly sang lullabies for her child, showing him to the visitors, who in return and under the open evening sky with the Bethlehem star responded with rejoicing and joyful music. It worked quite well with the registrations we chose, didn’t it?” Buxtehude asked, quite curious but not enough to stop his explanation.
Although he was getting a little tired, he was also getting hungry, and therefore eager to share his thoughts with the attentive and talented young organist as efficiently as possible.
“In my toccatas and preludes you do not only hear a variety of styles, but you often find musical programs of this kind, most of them quite easy to understand, but some more difficult and unusual, like the inventio in f-sharp minor [CD3:6; BuxWV 146] that I promised to tell you about earlier. During our study time, Reincken, my friend in Hamburg, and I enjoyed doing informal and friendly competitions, for example when we did our transposition exercises–you know, playing various things through impossible keys like c-sharp and f-sharp minor etc. Once, I took an idea suitable to g-minor–that’s why I played this piece for you firstly in this key and with the full organ–and, just for fun, transposed it to this key. The sourness of the key makes it sound unbearable, unless you reduce the registration to a minimum, perhaps only a Principal. However, this experiment inspired me to explore this key further and to develop the inventio into a Lamento, and I had a particular program in mind: Christ’s Maundy Thursday drama. The whole work is characterized by the ambivalent fluctuation between melancholy and despair, and it is only in the last part, after the recitative, that the Affekt gradually changes and approaches a sense of balance or perhaps even moderate joy. It musically renders the spiritual drama and conflict that Our Savior encountered in Gethsemane. The final chord of the recitative – a long and harsh c-sharp minor–represents the point of change, when Jesus fully understands the will of His Father and accepts the suffering ahead of him, and the final chord of the piece, the f-sharp major chord renders the peace brought to his mind, and to our world, when he confirms his consent to his sacrifice. The sourness of the key and the never-ending successions of dissonances and slightly impure intervals generate a strong need for relief, and it was such a remarkable and beautiful effect to play the final chord in Hamburg St Petri with the a-sharp producing a pure major third in the penultimate f-sharp major. I have occasionally tried parts and slightly different versions of this work on organs without subsemitones, and sometimes with full registrations for a different purpose–it helps the church elders to accept that the organ needs maintenance and tuning!” Buxtehude chuckled with ill-hidden delight.
“But you miss the main point of my intention with the work by doing so. However, as you heard–and I did notice that you were quite surprised–” Buxtehude laughed and continued smilingly, “there is another way of doing this. If you play the final section on a single Principal, or as I did “Auff 2 Clavier”, you only need to retune one single note–the a-sharp–to get the final pure major third in the f-sharp major chord. I have retuned three pipes of the Gedackt in the Brustpositif, corresponding to the subsemitones in St Petri, including an a-sharp, and by playing the ending on two manuals, “Auff 2 Clavier”, you manage with only this stop for the middle parts. Also quite useful to have these notes when you play continuo in remote keys, right? But it is of course not like the full sound effect of St. Petri in Hamburg. Originally, my friend Schnitger and I developed a fabulous organ design for the Lübeck cathedral, a four-manual organ like St. Nicholas in Hamburg, not as large as that nor as large as Hamburg Jacobi–there is not space for a 32-foot in the façade–but with all the stops and colors that belong to the four-manual concept, and with several subsemitones in all divisions–something that Schnitger so far has never built. What a dream-organ that would have been! Unfortunately, a dream that did not come true…” Buxtehude sighed quietly, and looked at his hands.
“With such an organ at my disposal, I could have played all of my musical ideas with the optimal contrast between dissonance and consonance, the maximum expression of Affekt, and the ultimate variety and richness of color and sound.”
The young Bach paused his note taking and thoughtfully observed his older colleague as he shook his head and continued.
“Schnitger is used to having things his way, so he was quite frustrated, when the church elders decided to scale-down the concept. They told him that the new organ did not need to have more stops and divisions than any other organ in our city, and we could not afford any unnecessary devices–period. I could not do much about it. I had to be careful with all the patrons and supporters of the Abendmusiken, and I of course had my hopes for the organs at St. Marien. Well, Schnitger was not used to disappointments–the only ones he would mention were the organs that he did not get to build for Copenhagen in Denmark and Uppsala in Sweden–but with his usual dynamic creativity he developed the design and concept of the wonderful three-manual organ that you played today, and asked one of his most skilled journeyman, Hans Hantelmann, to head the building of the new organ, so that he could turn his attention to other, and even larger, projects in the Netherlands. Well, most likely you will soon be able to talk to him in person. Master Arp let me know that he intends to visit with us for the extraordinary Abendmusiken that I have organized this year–indeed, I am pleased that you have offered to be part of the performance. I look forward to showing you the music”–Buxtehude said with a gentle smile, again turning his full attention to the young listener, “On 2 and 3 December we will perform the new oratorios Castrum Doloris and Templum Honoris. Who knows, Sebastian, maybe you will help Arp to bring some of his not yet materialized dreams come true? Why not a four-manual visionary organ of this kind in your region, or perhaps in Denmark or Sweden? Are you planning to continue north? Indeed, what are your future plans?”
Buxtehude curiously looked at his guest. He was well aware of that he needed to find a successor in St. Marien in the near future–and somebody who was willing to marry and to take care of his daughter.
“Daddy, my dear, the Abendbrot will be served in a few minutes,” Anna Margreta, who recently turned 30 years old, the oldest of Buxtehude’s three daughters, and who took care of most of the daily household for her parents, opened the door to the study chamber, and smiled lovingly at her father.
“My dear Anna Margreta, thank you so much. Indeed, I am beginning to starve, and I am sure that our young visitor Sebastian is as well. You see, we have been talking music all afternoon. Most exciting! And perhaps you can take him to his room after the meal. You left your luggage downstairs, Sebastian, didn’t you?” Buxtehude asked his guest.
“Yes, I did,” Sebastian said and could not avoid carefully observing the lady at the door. She was of his length, had dark hair and brown friendly eyes–a similar smile as her father–and firm hands.
“Welcome to our house, Mr. Bach,” she said as she walked over to shake his hand. Bach withdrew his hand faster then he intended, turned his eyes to the floor, and studied the pattern of the woven carpet more carefully than it perhaps deserved. Unfortunately, she was considerably older than he was. He looked up again.
“Thank you very much for your hospitality and kindness. We will soon be ready with our discussion, and I look forward very much to join you and your family for Abendbrot,” he said with as firm a voice as he could, ”and of course to get to my room.” She smiled kindly at him and then turned to her father.
“They would make a nice couple,” Buxtehude could not help but think this thought–he cared about his daughter’s future, and Sebastian would definitely be a most-qualified candidate for the organist position at St. Marien– “I have to admit that I look forward to the next few weeks, and the fellowship with this young man,” he quietly reflected, while he thanked Anna Margret again, and assured her that the two men would be at the table within five minutes.
“Well time flies, doesn’t it,” Buxtehude said again to young Bach, and continued, “before we end this discussion we should make a plan for our work during the coming weeks. I would like to share with you three of the most important aspects of our profession and calling as organists. In our capacity as organ preachers, we are always supposed to make music exploring the meaning of the texts, usually of the hymns–that’s our focal point, right? Therefore our first focus will be on Organ-Chorales (CD I). The relatively short aria-like form of the organ-chorale that I continue to explore, usually used as a prelude to the hymns in the liturgy, is a method that all organists should exercise and explore. We would need a collection of well-crafted organ chorales of diverse character and method for the whole church year, but I am afraid that this will never come from my little Organist House in St Marien. There is always too much to do, and I am not getting younger, am I?” he joked.
“But you, Sebastian, should start working on a collection of organ chorales for the liturgical year, a little Organ Book. That would be important and useful at the same time–and wouldn’t that be quite an exciting challenge? Let’s discuss this further. Our second focus will be the various themes, musical programs and Affekten that can be explored in Praeludien, Toccaten, Canzonen and other forms. Let’s continue to work with themes and programs that are related to the upcoming season of Christmas (CD II). We already talked about the inventio I developed for Christmas Day, the Toccata and Pastoral in F, and the celebration of Epiphany in the Praeludium in A [CD2:7 BuxWV 151], and I have some more works I want to let you hear and play as well. Finally, we will focus on the art of the canon, simple and double counterpoint, and fugue. In Hamburg, Reincken and I studied such techniques with Thomas Selle, Matthias Weckman, and with the group of composers who later wrote for the Collegium Musicum– Weckman’s ensemble–including visitors like Christoph Bernard and Johann Theile. We learned that counterpoint is the alchemy of music, and that it brings a spiritual dimension and value to the music regardless of the perception of the listener. Composing with contrapuntal techniques transcends into a spiritual exercise. Counterpoint can be used for various emblematical meanings, for example to reflect the order and orbits of the planets. I will show you how I for this very reason use permutation fugue techniques in two chorale works with different symbolical implications: in “Ich dank dir schon durch deinen Sohn” [CD3:3; BuxWV 195] to represent God’s never-ending grace which is new every morning–reflecting that he is the same yesterday, today and in all eternity–and in “Ich dank dir, lieber Herre” [CD3:5; BuxWV 194], to render the sense of darkness and fear in the middle part, and, in the final section, the never-ending praise on earth and in heaven–all in accordance with the text of the stanzas respectively. The contrapuntal techniques can also be used to instill meditation and generate reflection on the shortness of human life, as in the complex polyphonic funeral music I composed on the text “Mit Fried und Freud fahr ich dahin” [CD3:4; BuxWV 76]–music for the eyes, too–, and which I published together with an aria, a Klaglied [CD3:8], in memory of my deceased, dear father. The text is an expressive, personal prayer and farewell to him and to the earthly life. You see, in the alchemy of counterpoint lies the greatest secret and meaning of music. We will explore these techniques and see how they can be used in the chorale works as well–thus, learned counterpoint and chorale fantasia (CD 3) will be our third focus.
“And, Dieterich,” Sebastian Bach said, beginning to feel more and more comfortable and at home at the Werkhaus of Dieterich Buxtehude, ”would we have an opportunity to explore the four-manual division concept that you have talked so much about?” he asked, wrapping up his notebook and writing utensils.
“Of course, Sebastian, let’s go over to St. Agidien already tomorrow morning, and I will let you hear another version of the chorale fantasia “Nun freut euch, lieben Christen gmein [CD3:9; BuxWV 210].” Although only with forty stops, this organ has four manuals. However, for the experience of the large, full-sized four-manual organ, you have to travel to Hamburg, or,” Buxtehude continued chuckling while he opened the door to the stairs for Sebastian as they left his studio,” you have to talk to Arp Schnitger–the King of Organ Building in our time–and convince him to build such a dream organ for you. But that would probably have to be somewhere else than here in Lübeck.” The two organists laughed heartily, and continued to chat as they walked down to the evening meal. They looked forward to exciting music making, composition and discussions in the hours, days and weeks to come. Indeed, time flew, and ultimately Sebastian Bach stayed two months longer than intended with the kind Organ Master in St. Marien and his family.