Dietrich Buxtehude (1737-1708)
The hymn "Nimm von uns, Herr, du treuer Gott" was written by Martin Moller in 1584 during a plague (the tune was the much-utilized Vater unser in Himmelreich.) The hymn was often paired with readings associated with the destruction of Jerusalem and is, in a sense, a plea against God’s anger. Buxtehude sets four verses of the chorale as a set of variations in the most serious key of E minor.
The throbbing repeated notes so prevalent in the opening Sonata create an unsettled atmosphere and become the interlude material for the first verse of the chorale. The sense of unease is compounded by the lack of an unadulterated presentation of the chorale tune. Rather, Buxtehude begins immediately to ornament the tune and pass it unpredictably from voice to voice. For the second verse, the orchestration is reduced to two violins, cello and organ, perhaps in deference to the dominant choral bass part. The last line ‘And not one person could stand before You’ is presented in a disturbingly stark way.
The third and fourth verses comprise the second part of the cantata. The composer’s ability to vary the chorale tune to perfectly match the text is extraordinary – the agitated melisma on the word ‘straf’ [punish] is one example. After such varied counterpoint, the forthright march of quarter notes in the fourth verse is surprising. The tone is ambiguous – increasingly confident or increasingly desperate? The final ‘Amen’ chorus is brilliant, thrilling, and by its end, completely resolute.