Dietrich Buxtehude (1637-1708)

In 1705 Bach was given leave from his duties in Arnstadt for a month long stay in Lübeck to meet and perhaps study with Buxtehude, one of the finest organists in Northern Germany. The visit was to last four months! During his stay, Bach is sure to have heard a number of Buxtehude’s vocal compositions, as well as his organ music. It is impossible to imagine that Bach did not hear a performance of today’s cantata, Jesu, meine Freude. Bach’s great motet on the same tune (which we will hear in three weeks) shares some striking similarities including choice of key and a careful overall palindromic design.

The scoring for two violins and cello (and continuo) mirrors the choice of solo voices; two sopranos and bass. After a three-part sonata for the instruments Buxtehude launches into a set of chorale variations (like Bach) utilizing all six verses of the chorale.  Verses I and VI are simple vocal settings of the chorale, each verse strung together with rich instrumental counterpoint. Verses II and V are small arias for soprano, both remarkable for their detailed and colorful text painting. The two central movements - one for bass, the other for the three voices - share similar rhythmic material. An example: the stuttering utterances of the first words: ‘Trotz’ and ‘Weg’, respectively (a device Bach would later use in BWV 21 and in the motets).  

©Michael Beattie

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