Music for the Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost — September 3, 2023

Ciaccona in E minor (BuxWV 160) – Dieterich Buxtehude (1637-1707)

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Born in Oldesloe, Holstein, the Danish or German organist and composer Dieterich Buxtehude (1637-1707) was one of the most esteemed and influential composers of his time. Buxtehude settled at Lübeck in 1688 as organist of St. Mary’s Church. There he gained such fame as a composer that the city became a mecca for musicians of northern Germany. The young Handel visited him in 1703, and in 1705 young Bach walked more than 320 kilometres to see him. Both young men hoped to succeed the master at Lübeck, but marriage to one of his daughters was a condition and each found this unacceptable.

The Ciaccona in E minor (BuxWV160), this Sunday’s organ postlude in church, is one of Buxtehude’s three ostinato works for organ, the others being the Ciaccona in C minor and the Passacaglia in D minor. Over the steady repetitions of a simple four-bar ground (repeating pattern in the bass), eighth notes gradually give way to sixteenths, and at bar 41 the pedals drop out and the ground is varied rhythmically. The music becomes increasingly fantastic in character and almost suggests that, having grown tired of his chosen form, Buxtehude has strayed into free improvisation; but examination of the score reveals that the ground is ingeniously present throughout.

Gerald Harder