From K. Snyder’s preface to Buxtehude, Scandinavian Cantatas – Theatre of Voices, Paul Hillier

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Dietrich Buxtehude lived his entire life close to the shores of the Baltic Sea. He was most likely born in 1637 in the Danish town of Helsingborg, now part of Sweden. His father Johannes (Hans), also an organist, had immigrated to Denmark at an unknown time from Oldesloe, in Holstein. In the year 1641 Johannes Buxtehude was employed as the organist at St. Mary’s Church, Helsingborg, and soon after that he moved across the Øresund to become organist of St. Olai Church in Elsinore. The exact date of Dietrich’s birth is unknown, but at the time of his death on 9 May, 1707, he was said to be about seventy years old. Baptismal records do not extend back to 1637 in Helsingborg, Elsinore or Oldesloe. As a child in Elsinore, Dietrich Buxtehude must have been aware of both his German heritage and his Danish surroundings, and he appears to have grown up bilingual. In Elsinore and during his early years in Lübeck, Buxtehude normally spelled his name “Diderich”, but later he regularly signed it “Dieterich” or “Dietericus”.

The knowledge of Latin that Buxtehude displayed in later life indicates that he must have attended a Latin school as a boy. Although he undoubtedly began his organ studies with his father, further information concerning his teachers is totally lacking.

Other possible teachers in Denmark include Claus Dengel, organist at St. Mary’s, Elsinore, from 1650 to 1660, and Johan Lorentz, Jr., the famous organist at St. Nicholas’ Church, Copenhagen, from 1634 until his death in 1689. Lorentz was a pupil and son-in-law of Jacob Praetorius in Hamburg, and the Buxtehude family made his acquaintance in 1650 upon the death of his father, Johan Lorentz, Sr., an organ builder. Buxtehude might later have studied with Heinrich Scheidemann in Hamburg or Franz Tunder in Lübeck.

In late 1657 or early 1658, Buxtehude assumed the same position as organist of St. Mary’s Church, Helsingborg, that his father had occupied before coming to Elsinore. He worked there until October, 1660, when he became organist of St. Mary’s, Elsinore, called the German church because it served foreigners of the community and the military garrison of Kronborg. In Elsinore, Buxtehude was expected to play at the beginning of the service while the pastor was robing himself; he and the cantor were to provide instrumental and vocal music for the church on feast days and at other times at the pastor’s request.

The position of organist and Werkmeister at St. Mary’s, Lübeck, became vacant upon the death of Franz Tunder 5 November, 1667, and Dietrich Buxtehude was formally appointed the following April. This was a much more prestigious and well-paying position than the one he had held in Elsinore; Buxtehude was the most highly paid musician in Lübeck, and he earned nearly as much as the pastor of St. Mary’s.

Buxtehude swore the oath of citizenship 23 July, 1668, enabling him to marry and set up his household. He married Anna Margaretha Tunder, a daughter of his predecessor, on 3 August, 1668. Seven daughters were born into the family of Dietrich and Anna Margaretha Buxtehude and baptized at St. Mary’s. Three died in infancy, a fourth survived to early adulthood, and three remained in the household at the time of Buxtehude’s death: Anna Margreta, baptized 10 June, 1675, Anna Sophia, baptized 30 August, 1678, and Dorothea Catrin, baptized 25 March, 1683. Godparents to the Buxtehude children came from the higher strata of Lübeck society, the families of the wealthy wholesalers who lived in St. Mary’s parish and governed both the church and the city. Buxtehude himself belonged to the fourth social class, however, together with lesser wholesalers, retailers and brewers. In inviting his social superiors to serve as godparents – and in some cases naming his children after them – Buxtehude was also cultivating their patronage for his musical enterprises.

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