Buxtehude and H. Praetorius

W.A. Grieve-Smith

[October 2002.]

Dietrich BUXTEHUDE: Abendmusik. Göteborg Baroque Arts Ensemble, Magnus Kjellson (conductor, organ solo). Intim Musik IMCD 070 (2000) [59:40].

It’s always gratifying to bring worthy new releases of Dietrich Buxtehude (1637-1707) to your attention. Moreover, Göteborg University and the Chalmers Institute of Technology have built a magnificent four-manual Hanseatic organ in the restored Örgryta Nya kyrka. The instrument is tuned to a = 465 Hz in pure mean-tone temperament with split accidentals and adjacent galleries to accommodate singers and instrumentalists — thanks to Prof. Hans Davidsson, who recorded the extant organ works of Matthias Weckmann in 1991 (Motette DCD 11461).

Kjellson begins with a somewhat cautious rendition of the Magnificat primi toni (BuxVW 203). You have to crank up the volume to enjoy the splendid sonorities of the new organ, but they’re present in spades. It sounds quite similar to the restored Arp Schnitger at the Jacobikirche in Hamburg, but in an even more resonant acoustic. Poor Buxtehude very much wanted a larger Schnitger organ to replace the rather ramshackle Stellwagen instrument last renovated in 1641 at the Marienkirche, and even had Arp Schnitger come over from Hamburg to submit a proposal. Tight fists at the City Council vetoed this idea, but did approve a large Schnitger instrument for the Lübeck Cathedral in 1699.

Abendmusik was the name of a series of Sunday-evening sacred concerts started by Franz Tunder and expanded by Buxtehude, who was not required to grind out the usual Sunday cantatas — that was the responsibility of the Cantor. Most of the manuscripts were collected by Gustav Düben for the royal court in Stockholm and now reside in the University Library at Uppsala. Unlike Bach’s cantata practice, Buxtehude rarely uses recitatives or da capo repeats but maintains a steady flow of music and text.

Be prepared to duck when the trumpets and tympani enter full force in Schlagt, Künstler! die Pauken. This is a wedding cantata using a full choir and soloists. Their balance is impeccable and German diction is spot on.

Sicut Moses exaltavit serpentem is a splendid example of the Hanseatic solo cantata auf der Orgel. There were even statutes in Hamburg limiting the number of singers and instrumentalists allowed, in an effort to stifle (unsuccessfully) ostentation! It’s also another example of the Lutheran use of Latin as well as German in services. The next, Herzlich lieb hab ich Dich, o Herr, is considered “one of the finest chorale settings of the entire seventeenth century.”

Buxtehude composed Jesu meiner Freuden Meister for the funeral of the wife of the pastor in Fremern. It’s quite similar in mood and treatment to his funeral music for his own father, Hans Jenssen — Mit Fried und Freud’ ich fahr dahin.

The CD winds up with a grand sacred concerto, Frolocket mit Händen alle Völker, employing full chorus, soloists, strings, trumpets and large organ. Compared to sacred works of Bach or Telemann, Buxtehude always seems to exhibit a directness, economy of means and melodic simplicity that never wear out their welcome.

This CD is a superb beginning to what I hope will be a complete recording of the vocal works in the Dübensammlung, as well as new organ recordings of music by Buxtehude, Weckmann and Hieronymus Praetorius. I cannot recommend this release too highly for musicality, program and sound quality!


Hieronymus PRAETORIUS: Gertrudenmusik, Hamburg 1607. Göteborg Baroque Arts Ensemble, Ulrike Heider (conductor), Magnus Kjellson (organ). Intim Musik IMCD 071 (2000) [63:18].

All the music performed at the dedication ceremony for the newly refurbished St Gertrude’s Chapel in 1607 was preserved in a printed text by the Chief Pastor of the Jacobikirche, Lucas van Cöllen. The Jacobikirche organist, Hieronymus Praetorius, arranged and conducted the singers and instrumental choirs auf der Orgel. He also contributed two polychoral motets in the new Venetian style. Miraculously, all the compositions mentioned have been preserved for us.

Praetorius (né Schultz) was one of the many Lutheran Domines and church functionaries who translated their names into Latin. He was not related to the more famous Michael Praetorius (né Schultheiß), whose father had been a Pastor associated with Luther himself. The Praetorii knew each other and attended the conference of organists in Gröningen in 1596.

On this CD we have Venetian multi-choir splendor to rival that of St Mark’s itself. Even the Gabrielis did not have access to a four-manual, mean-toned Hanseatic organ like the one employed here. While Giovanni Gabrieli was still alive, Hieronymus was playing a Gabrieli organ prelude in Hamburg.

Praetorius also conducted a Kyrie and Gloria in Latin from a mass by Orlandus Lassus (Missa Deus misereatur nostri), motets by Pierre Bonhomme and Jacob Handl, and supplied a German Te Deum and a Latin Cantate Domino of his own. These are interspersed with chant in both Latin and German, and chorales and organ interludes by Praetorius from the Lüneburger Orgeltabulatur.

Recording engineer Erik Sikkema has done a masterful job delineating the spacing of the vocal and instrumental choirs, the cori spezzati essential to Venetian drama and musical glamor. We are all indebted to Prof. Dr. Hans Davidsson for inspiring this achievement, as well as to Intim Musik producer Jan Johansson and GOArt’s executive producer, Anna Frisk.

To quote Pastor Cöllen, “… although I have many times heard music, yet I have not often heard it sound better than that which was heard then in the Chapel.” Need I say that I find Hieronymus Praetorius a major musical discovery? Let’s hope you enjoy this spectacular trip into history as much as I have.


Hieronymus PRAETORIUS: Vesper Music for St Michael’s Day. Weser-Renaissance Bremen, Manfred Cordes (director). cpo 999 649-2 (1998) [69:24].

In the more intimate venue of the Warnfried Lutheran Church in Osteel, East Frisia, smaller forces sing and play auf der Orgel, in this case a modest instrument from 1616-1618. It was built by Edo Evers and restored, with original temperament, by Jürgen Ahrend in 1994-95. But the town brass is still present, alternating and accompanying singers and single strings.

The Vespers, antiphons, psalms and Magnificat are all sung in Latin, with the inclusion of alternating verses with the organ. The compositional style resembles the kind Heinrich Schütz brought back from his studies with Giovanni Gabrieli. Less flamboyant than the Göteborgers, the Bremen folks perform with a foursquare, Teutonic style that just may be closer to the Hamburger origins.

If you admire supremely well-crafted musical piety, you are bound to be impressed with Hieronymus Praetorius.