Bach in Luebeck

Bach famously walked the 250 miles from Arnstadt. He had been given 4 weeks leave from his post at the Arnstadt court; he stayed in Lübeck for 4 months. The year was 1705, the year of the death of Emperor Leopold I and the accession of Joseph I. Bach was probably present at the Extraordinary Abendmusike Buxtehude put on to mark these events.



Tunder started these as week-day organ recitals, but they became more generalised concerts in the church.

They may first have been afternoon concerts for businessmen who were waiting for the stock-exchange to open. Although Buxtehude moved them to Sundays at 4 pm, they still continued to be financed mainly by the business community. Indeed a donor would receive a printed libretto and be given a good seat. Admission to the church was, in true Hanseatic tradition, free to all citizens of whatever position in society; but it was not unknown for disorderly conduct to break out during the performances.


Buxtehude’s marriage

This seems to have been a condition of his employment. Though this appears odd now, it was common practice for a successor to marry the daughter of his predecessor, in all walks of life. It was common, for instance, for a promising (and lucky?) apprentice to marry his master’s daughter.

A generation later Handel visited with his friend Matthesson (in 1703). Buxtehude was 66 and perhaps wishing to retire, so Mattheson was considered as his possible successor. But when they offered him the job it transpired Buxtehude’s daughter was part of the package. Mattheson suddenly lost interest.


Marienkirche, Lübeck


Marienkirche, Lübeck

This is a splendid Backsteingotik (brick gothic) church, immensely high with light flooding in though its tall windows. It started off as a Roman Catholic church, and was decorated with lovely frescoes.

In the early 16thcentury it became Lutheran and the frescoes, being anathema, were painted over. This must have been done many times over the centuries. Then came the allied bombings in 1942. The blast from these caused the paint to fall off, happily revealing the frescoes which are now being restored

The burghers of the North German cities, seeing the wonderful gothic cathedrals in France and Flanders wanted to build something similar. Unfortunately there is no suitable stone in the far north of Germany; but there is plenty of clay, so the churches are built of brick.

Backstein Gotik

Unlike the small early English bricks, those of North Germany are quite chunky, larger than modern bricks. However, for very tall structures – and these churches are very tall – they are less stable than large blocks of stone. One is now aware of the fragility of these buildings which need iron braces to hold them together.


Dieterich Buxtehude (c.1637 – 1707)

Although he saw himself as Danish, Buxtehude is known as a German composer – the giant of the mid-baroque’.  He was known primarily – and employed – as an organist. His first job was in Helsingborg (now Sweden) when he was 10 or 11 years old.

Twenty years later he applied successfully for the post of Organist at the Marienkirche in the centre of Lübeck. He immediately married a daughter of his predecessor, Franz Tunder; he was also automatically appointed Werkmeister of the church.  This meant Buxtehude was secretary, treasurer and business manager of the church.  Something to keep him busy between the Sundays!

As organist he was responsible for providing music for the main services every Sunday, composing music where necessary. He was greatly revered for his improvisations on the organ. In addition to this and his administrative Werkmeister activities, he became famous for his Abendmusike, ‘Evening-musics’, which had been initiated by Tunder, his predecessor. When Buxtehude took over he assigned them to Sundays in Advent and Trinity.

These Abendmusike would now often take the form of oratorios which were the church equivalent of operas. They were highly dramatic, and clearly were a huge influence on Bach in his settings of the Passion.

In old age he was something of a celebrity. He stayed rooted in Lübeck, but people came from far and wide to hear him play the organ. Handel visited from nearby Hamburg, also Bach from distant Arnheim. Bach’s obituary stated he ‘took Buxtehude as his model in the art of the organ’; it may well have been that seeing Buxtehude as the director of music in the city of Lübeck gave him the idea of pursuing something similar himself – in Leipzig, as it turned out.