In recent years a considerable number of discs with music by Dietrich Buxtehude have been released. The reason for this was the commemoration of his death in 1707. The most interesting aspect of these releases involved recordings of vocal music. A large part of Buxtehude's vocal oeuvre has been preserved in the so-called 'Düben Collection' which is now in the library of the University of Uppsala in Sweden.
Gustav Düben (c.1628 - 1690) was a member of a musical family. His father, Andreas, was born in Leipzig, studied with Sweelinck in Amsterdam and entered the service of the Swedish court in 1620. In 1640 he was appointed conductor of the court orchestra. Gustav received his first musical education from his father, and then studied in Germany for some years. After his return to Stockholm he became a member of the court orchestra in 1648. In 1663 he inherited his father's positions as conductor and as organist of the German church. Although he composed, mainly songs for voice and basso continuo, he has become best-known for his collection of music. He had a special liking for the music of Buxtehude, and was in personal touch with him. No less than 105 compositions by the Lübeck organist are in the collection, some of which are not known from any other source.
The collection is huge: it contains about 2,500 handwritten works and more than 120 printed pieces. Both vocal and instrumental music is represented. Although there are some secular works, the largest part of the vocal music is religious. The collection reflects the needs of the royal court, but there are also some compositions which seem to be more suitable for the liturgical practice in the German church in Stockholm. Apparently it was Düben himself who was the rightful owner of this large corpus of music. After his death his son Gustav succeeded him but in 1698 he was again succeeded by his younger brother Anders. When he resigned from all his musical duties in 1726 he donated the whole collection to Uppsala University.
Music from the Düben collection is quite often chosen for recordings, but mostly pieces by Buxtehude and other better-known German composers. The interesting aspect of this recording is that it also contains some anonymous works. The collection contains about 600 pieces whose authors haven’t as yet been established. It is also not always possible to be sure for what occasion music was written. The short Sonata à 5, for instance, could serve as a kind of sinfonia for a vocal piece or probably as table music. The Passacaglia is a virtuosic piece for violin and basso continuo, the largest section of which is based on a basso ostinato of four descending notes. This is preceded by a kind of overture, and the piece ends with a fast and fiery episode.
There can be no doubt for what occasion Freue dich des Weibes deiner Jugend was written. The lyrics are from the book of Proverbs, and were often used for wedding music: "Rejoice in the woman of your youth". Some compositions are related to state or royal occasions. An example is the anonymous piece which gave this disc its title: Ach Swea Trohn. It was written on the occasion of the death of Queen Ulrike Eleonora the Elder in 1693. It begins with the words "O Sweden's throne is clad in sorrow. O weep, O weep, O sorrowful song". It is an introspective piece for soprano, two viole d'amore and basso continuo. The two viole d'amore make use of scordatura.
A more political item is Quis hostis in coelis by Christian Geist. He was from Güstrow in Mecklenburg and in 1670 he became a member of the court chapel in Stockholm. Only two years later he had the honour of being asked to compose the music for ceremonial events in the autumn of that year. At that time the Swedish Riksdag gathered together to declare Karl XI, who was to turn 17 on 24 November, legally of age to be King after 12 years of regency. The sacred concerto Quis hostis in coelis is one of the pieces Geist composed for the celebrations. It was good fortune that during the Riksdag session Michaelmas was celebrated (29 September). This gave Geist the opportunity to depict the battle of the archangel Michael against Satan. "Some political symbolism was most certainly present as well, where the young king Karl XI would be likened to Saint Michael and the forces of darkness to Sweden's political foes", Lars Berglund states in his liner notes. It is a forceful piece with five vocal parts, two trumpets, two violins and bc. In 1680 Karl XI married Ulrike Eleonora of Denmark, and for this occasion Dietrich Buxtehude composed Klinget für Freuden ihr lärmen Klarinen, in which the five stanzas are alternated with instrumental ritornellos. Some of these are scored for trumpets and bc.
The programme contains various Psalm settings. The anonymous Domine ne in furore arguas me is on the text of one of the penitential Psalms. It begins with a short instrumental introduction which is followed by a solo episode for tenor. In this piece tutti and soli alternate. The passage "erubescant et conturbentur" (all mine enemies shall be confounded) is particularly vigorous, and has a strong declamatory character. Dominus illuminatio mea is a setting of the opening verses of Psalm 27 by Franz Tunder, Buxtehude's predecessor as organist in Lübeck. It is an impressive piece with incisive text expression, for instance when in the second line the word "quem" (whom [then shall I fear?]) is repeated several times by the tutti. Jubilate Deo omnis terra by Johann Valentin Meder is on the text of Psalm 100, and is scored for bass, trumpet, violin and bc. Meder was a German composer who worked in Riga, Reval (now Tallinn) and Danzig. In this piece the vocal part contains considerable text expression, and the two instrumental parts add to the impact of this sacred concerto. The violin part is particularly virtuosic.
Lastly we return to Buxtehude. His cantata Befiehl dem Engel, daß er komm is based on a German hymn. This is the reason it is assumed it was used in the German church rather than at the court. The chorale is highly ornamented, both in the vocal and the instrumental parts. It closes with an elaborated setting of 'Amen'.
Every time pieces from the Düben Collection are performed one is struck by the consistent high quality as well as the variety of this repertoire. It is easy to understand that the representatives of Uppsala University considered it extremely valuable when it was donated by Anders Düben.
It is not only the choice of music which makes this disc worthwhile, but also the spirited performances of Göteborg Baroque. The ensemble uses eight singers. Some pieces are performed with one voice per part, in others the tutti are performed with additional ripienists. They produce a brilliant sound, and the text is treated with understanding and sensitivity. Anna Jobrant gives a fine performance of Ach Swea Trohn, and Han J. Börjesson is impressive in Jubilate Deo. The instrumental parts are executed equally well. Moreover, the basso continuo is played at a large organ, and the combination of this instrument with two trumpets and dulcian in the first item is quite spectacular. In addition, the organ has the high organ pitch which was common at the end of the 17th century (a1=465Hz) and is tuned in quarter comma meantone temperament. The acoustic of the Örgryte New Church is perfect for this repertoire, and has the amount of reverberation this repertoire needs.
The booklet has liner-notes in Swedish and English, and all lyrics are included with a Swedish and an English translation.
Johan van Veen