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Diderik Buxtehude: Diderik Buxtehude (b. Helsingor,1637; d. Liibeck, 9 May 1707).
Diderik Buxtehude's father, Hans Jensen Buxtehude (1602-74), was organist of the Olai Church at Helsingor and presumably Diderik's first (and possibly only) teacher in music. Very little is known of his early life apart from the fact that he was appointed organist of St Mary's Church Helsingor in 1660. He must have shown outstanding ability for in April 1688 he succeeded Franz Tunder in the important post of organist at the Marienkirche, Liibeck - one of the best and most lucrative positions in Germany. Here he acquired a tremendous reputation as organist and teacher. Young musicians throughout Northern Europe flocked to hear him, including Nikolaus Bruhns, Georg Bohm and, of course, Bach who made his celebrated two-hundred-mile journey on foot.
Diderik Buxtehude instigated a series of concerts - the Abendmusiken - at the Marienkirche in 1683. They took place annually on the five Sundays preceding Christmas, following the afternoon service. Programmes included choral, orchestral, and organ music; Diderik Buxtehude maintained very high standards and received the loyal support of the townspeople. The concerts were extremely popular and the tradition extended into the early 19th century.
One of the terms of Diderik Buxtehude's appointment at the Marienkirche was that he was expected to marry the daughter of his predecessor. This he complied with. Upon his own retirement, well into his sixties, he enforced the same condition, and among the applicants in 1703 were Handel and Mattheson, but both declined the post with its promise of instant domesticity.
Diderik Buxtehude as a composer is chiefly remembered for his organ works - toccatas, preludes and fugues, a passacaglia, two ciacconas, and numerous chorale preludes. The designation Toccata and Fugue' in Diderik Buxtehude does not imply the two-fold division of movements as, for instance, in Bach. Diderik Buxtehude's generation preferred a more rhapsodic, multi-sectional format: a toccata flourish (sometimes containing an exacting pedal solo), a fugal section, a 'free' section (often harmonically daring), then another fugal section leading to the finale in toccata style. Unity is often achieved by relating the subjects of the fugues; the Toccata and Fugue in E major, for example, contains three fugal sections - each using a transformation of the same subject.
Of the many types of chorale-based compositions, Diderik Buxtehude particularly excelled in two, the extended chorale fantasia, and the ornamented 'cantus firmus' chorale prelude. His fantasias, which treat the chorale lines individually, and make use of a great variety of figuration and texture, frequently summon considerable virtuosity. His chorale preludes are of particular interest as they demonstrate a highly personal interpretation of the chorale, an attitude of writing which found its consummation in Bach.
Diderik Buxtehude's clavichord and harpsichord works comprise twenty-nine suites usually of the format: allemande, courante, sarabande, and gigue, and several sets of variations. The melody of the beautiful 'Rofilis' variations, which is taken from Lully's 'Ballet de l'Impatience', had already achieved wide circulation in 17th-century Denmark as a hymn tune. There is also an interesting dance suite based on the chorale Auf meinen lieben Gott, obviously intended for clavichord or harpsichord, although it appears among the organ music in the complete edition. Mattheson in Der Vollkommene Kapellmeister speaks of a collection of seven suites 'in which the nature and character of the planets are agreeably expressed' - but these compositions unfortunately are no longer extant.
Diderik Buxtehude's cantatas, in their powerful subjective insight, exerted a tremendous influence on Bach. They contain neither recitative nor aria, but are written in a vividly pictorial type of accompanied arioso. The brilliant choral writing is clearly of Italianate origin. Sometimes, as in the cantata, Gott hilf mir, choir and orchestra exchange roles - the former play the chorale Durch Adams Fall, while the singers comment with illustrative figuration. The music which Diderik Buxtehude composed especially for the Abendmusiken has survived only in part; it is generally more dramatic than the cantatas and, indeed, approaches the nature of oratorio. Much of Diderik Buxtehude's remaining instrumental music, including some notable string sonatas, has been published this century; but it is as a composer for the organ that he has achieved lasting recognition.
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