Sheet music

Musical contribution - May 2016

We now implore the Holy Ghost (Dietrich Buxtehude) (1637-1707)

There are many uncertainties regarding the details of Buxtehude’s life. First of all, his exact birth date is not known. Secondly, Germany, Denmark and Sweden all claim to be the country of his birth. Finally, we do not know exactly who his teachers were. He probably received his first lessons from his father, who was also an organist. However, the general assumption that Lorentz and Tunder were also his teachers has never been proven. In 1668 he became organist at St Mary’s Church in Lübeck.

We know that Johann Sebastian Bach travelled 400 kilometers on foot to hear Buxtehude play and was deeply impressed. Bach helped to preserve some of Buxtehude’s organ works.

An amusing anecdote is that both Bach and Händel were given the opportunity to succeed Buxtehude, but were deterred by the requirement of having to marry Buxtehude’s oldest daughter.

This month we highlight one of his fifty choral arrangements. This song dates from the 13th century and has its origins in “Veni Sancte Spiritus”. Initially, this text was not only sung at Pentecost. But when Luther later wrote another three verses in which he continued to address the Holy Spirit (“O Most Precious Light” and “Thou Highest Comfort”), it assumed an important place in Lutheran Pentecostal celebrations.

Buxtehude’s choral arrangement is written for two manuals and pedalboard. The richly embellished melody comes into its own with a clear solo voice. I chose a sesquialter, myself, however other voices are just as well worth considering. It is striking that lines 2, 3 and 4 are preceded by a short canonical introduction, but this is not the case for line 1.

Enjoy this beautiful choral prelude. We wish you well for Pentecost.

With musical regards,

André van Vliet