Dietrich Buxtehude (1637-1708)
Dietrich Buxtehude (1637-1708) for many years held one of the most important church positions in Northern Germany, that of organist at the Marienkirche in Lübeck. He was a stupendous virtuoso (Bach’s 250-mile pilgrimage on foot to meet him and hear him play is legendary) and he is still perhaps best known for his compositions for the organ. He achieved some fame additionally for the establishment of his Sunday afternoon concert series called Abendmusiken held on the five successive weekends before Christmas and it is for these concerts that much of his brilliant vocal music may have been written.
"Das Newgebohr’ne Kindelein," one of Buxtehude’s best-known vocal pieces, is scored for three violins, continuo and vocal quartet. It is a celebration of the newborn Jesus and the arrival of the New Year. Buxtehude sets this charming text with his usual skill, perfectly matching each word or sentiment with the appropriate rhythmic gesture. The trio of violins (today our violist takes the third part) is unusual and can perhaps be taken to symbolize the three wise men. The three parts are of equal importance; the writing is always text-derived - at times rhythmically unified, at other times inventively contrapuntal. A hallmark of this motet style is the prominence of the organ which often accompanies the voices as the sole continuo instrument. The string parts provide the interludes between the verses and commentary within, only occasionally gathering to support the voices to great effect.