derived not only from his fame as an
organist, but also from the music performed
as the famous Abentmusiken at the Marienkirche
in Lübeck. These evenings of music
took place after the sermon at Vespers
on the five Sundays between St. Martin’s
Day (12 November) and Christmas Day.
They seem to have been some of the earliest
evening public concerts held in a church.
The concerts were instituted
by Buxtehude’s predecessor, Franz Tunder.
But it seems to have been Buxtehude
who developed the distinctive musical
format, performing a single five-part
work spread over the five evenings.
The Abentmusiken remained in this form
under Buxtehude’s successors until in
the late 18th century works
by mainly foreign composers replaced
the single five-part work.
Buxtehude enjoyed a
forty year reign at the Marienkirche.
Sadly though we have a woefully inadequate
store of information about the music
performed at the Abentmusiken. Only
three librettos survive and no scores.
Two of the librettos relate to works
performed at "extraordinary"
Abentmusiken held on two weekdays in
1705. Only the libretto to "Die
Hochzeit des Lammes" relates to
the regular five-part Abentmusiken -
in this case dating from 1678. Large-scale
works were not always performed. There
are references to a series of smaller
works being programmed in 1700.
The lion’s share of
Buxtehude’s surviving manuscripts are
to be found in Uppsala. These all come
from the collection of Gustav Düben,
a friend of the composer who received
many pieces from him. Also in the collection
is an anonymous set of parts for the
oratorios Wacht! Euch zum Streit
gefasset macht. Whilst the work
cannot be attributed to Buxtehude with
complete confidence the style of the
piece and the source of parts mean that
we can with reasonable conviction assign
it to his intimate circle. In the CD
booklet, Ton Koopman firmly states that
the work can be assumed to be by Buxtehude.
As transmitted in the
surviving parts, the work is in three
parts rather than five. The libretto
leaves quite a lot to be desired. In
the first part the soloists take the
roles of the allegorical figures of
Greed, Heedlessness and Pride (the three
sopranos) and the Voice of God is assigned
to the bass. But in Acts 2 and 3 the
voice allocation is inconsistent and
does not relate to specific roles. The
chorus, which has a significant role
to play, is in five-parts throughout.
The orchestration is for strings, two
violins, two violas and continuo.
This scoring is in
complete contrast to the rather varied
specification known for other Buxtehude
oratorios. The quality of the libretto
is also a problem being very uneven.
Generally Buxtehude seems to have set
librettos of a very high quality. But
his output is very varied and such discrepancies
may not be all that significant.
Whether or not this
work is by Buxtehude, either directly
or indirectly, it is a rare survivor
of an important genre. As such it deserves
to be treated with the respect that
it has been given on these discs. The
performance forms volume 2 of a proposed
complete Buxtehude edition from Challenge
Records. The first volume, a disc of
harpsichord music played by Koopman,
has already been issued.
The work was originally
published in 1939/1953 in an edition
that attempted to return the piece to
a conjectural five-part format. For
this recording, Koopman has produced
a new edition based on the surviving
parts. He has also reconstructed the
missing first violin part.
Koopman and his Amsterdam
Baroque Orchestra do the work proud.
They and the choir give us a lively
and engaging performance. The work has
a total of 82 movements, crammed into
a total running time of 136.55 which
means that Buxtehude keeps the action
moving and constantly varies the texture.
The five soloists are uniformly excellent,
providing well-shaped musical performances
and keeping our attention engaged.
Perhaps there are a
few points where interest flags but
there are some lovely moments too. As
a whole the work seems to ramble a little
and the conclusion is nothing short
of abrupt. This again makes me wonder
about the provenance of the manuscript.
Even if the music is all by Buxtehude,
did he write it in exactly this form?
It’s strange that the
first vocal/choral work in the new Buxtehude
edition is this slightly dubious piece
even if it does provide an interesting
sidelight on German musical life in
the generation before Bach. This disc
can still be highly recommended for
anyone with an interest in the music
of this period.