Welcome back to the Viscount Organs blog series where we look into the lives and legacies of amazing pipe organists who have influenced the culture of pipe organ music. Today, we’ll be travelling back to the amazing Baroque period to take a look at the life of organist, Dieterich Buxtehude.
The Mysterious Life And Times Of Dieterich Buxtehude
Interestingly enough, there is mystery surrounding the birth of this distinguished organist. Many historians and academics have agreed that Buxtehude was born in Helsingborg, Sweden in 1637. That being said, some people believe that he was actually born in Oldesloe, a German town from which his father grew up.
Compounding on the mystery of his birth, there is not much information about the early life of Buxtehude. In fact, we practically know nothing for certain about his life aside from his first job as an organist.
While we can’t truly be certain as to where exactly Buxtehude was born or the details of his early life, we do know his father was an organist who played at the church of St. Olaf in Helsingør, a small city in Denmark.
Perhaps his father’s involvement with the pipe organ inspired Dieterich to follow in his footsteps, as his first post as an organist was in the town of Helsingborg from 1657 to 1658. After leaving his post in Helsingborg, Buxthude became an organist at St. Olaf’s in Helsingør, a position he attained in 1660, and left in 1668.
A Steady Career
After the quick turnaround Buxtehude had at his first organist jobs, he found a titulaire position he would hold for the rest of his life. In 1668, he left his position as the organist for St.Olaf’s church to succeed Franz Tunder at St. Mary’s Church (known as Marienkirche in German) in the German city of Lübeck.
Although we’d consider this next detail to be odd in contemporary times, a stipulation of Buxtehude’s succession was that he’d marry Tunder’s daughter, Anna Margarethe that same year, which he did! In fact, they ended up having seven children together, one of which passed away in their infancy. All of them were Baptized in Marienkirche.
1668 was a big year for Dieterich, considering his new job and family. On top of that, once he was settled into his new position as titulaire, Johannes, Dieterich’s father, joined his son in Germany. Johannes moved in with them in 1673, and unfortunately ended up passing away in 1674.
As a response to his father’s death, Dieterich composed organ music for his father’s funeral. From there, his career began to influence and grow pipe organ culture. Buxtehude was composing music as well as spearheading a musical performance series started by Tunder called Abendmusik.
These evening concerts drew in a diverse cast of musicians and artists alike throughout their existence. In fact, these sessions caught the attention of some organists who would later become monumental players when it came to advancing organ music.
In fact, Johann Mattheson and George Frideric Handel both made their way to Lübeck to relish in the musical experience of Buxtehude’s creations. While in Lübeck, Buxtehude proposed a deal similar to his own, asking both Handel and Mattheson to succeed his position in 1703. What’s more? It’s reported that both of them rejected Dieterich’s offer and left Lübeck that very same day!
In 1705, another monumental pipe organist visited Lübeck to witness Dieterich’s prowess. It’s told that none other than a spry, young Johannes Sebastian Bach walked, yes walked, over 400 kilometers to experience Abendmusik. Unlike Mattheson and Handel, Bach remained in Lübeck for about three months.
Dieterich held his position as organist for St. Mary’s Church until his death in 1707.
What He Left Behind
In summary, we could say that the most important thing Buxtehude left behind was his influence. If it weren’t for his music and stylized approach to composing for the organ, we could very well now live in a world without the J.S. Bach, Johann Mattheson, or George Frideric Handel that we know and love.
The freedom of expression he brought to the organ was monumental and made a major impact on organ music and music as a whole.
Beyond that, we have some of Buxtehude’s compositions. While there is debate over which are more important — his organ or vocal compositions — what we do know is that his compositions were unique, complicated, and beautiful. Additionally, Buxtehude has been acknowledged as the most influential/best organist in the times between Samuel Scheidt and J.S. Bach.
Unfortunately, a large amount of Buxtehude’s compositions have been lost; however, there are still recordings and compositions of his creations that you can find.
At Viscount Organs, we love everything about organs and organists. From examining the lives of influential musicians who utilized the organ to relishing in the epic sound of a performing pipe organ, we can’t get enough.
That being said, if you’re interested in anything to do with the pipe organ, please reach out to us! From acquiring your very own, top-of-the-line Viscount Organ, to learning more about the ins and outs of the instrument and why we are so dedicated to it, we’d love to hear from you!