ca. 1637, Helsingborg
Organist, St. Mary's, Helsingør
11 April 1668
Succeeds Franz Tunder as organist and Werkmeister of St. Mary's Lübek
3 August 1668
Marriage to Anna Margaretha Tunder
Opus 1 Trios for Violin, Cello & Continuo published
Opus 2 Trios for Violin, Cello & Continuo published
Pachelbel dedicates Hexachordum Apollinis to Buxtehude
Johann Sebastian Bach visits
9 May 1707, Lübeck
Organist and Werkmeister for the North European town of Lübeck's Marienkirche.

In his day, Buxtehude was famous for his sacred Abendmusiken concerts held during the winter months at Saint Mary's Church.

Today he is most famous for being the organist that a young Johann Sebastian Bach walked 280 miles to hear. A four week visit quickly turned into four months and upon his return Bach's music went through a radical change. At a meeting of his employers is was advised that they »Reprove him for having hitherto made many strange variations in the choral, and mixed many foreign tones into it, so that the congregation was confused by it...«

It was because of this trip that much of Buxtehude's organ music has survived. Bach brought back with him copies of more than half of the master's known works.

What's most striking about his music is how raw it is compared to that of his contemporaries. These do not remind us of the tranquility of a Pachelbel or of the polished gems from the pen of the mature J.S. Bach. His music is intensity. Rough edges. Tangents. The sounds of a genius who did as he pleased and let his critics be damned.

Buxtehude is one of the people that we have to thank for the practice of hanging the numbers of the hymns on a board by the pew. The ministers of his church decided on this measure in order to cure a problem that plagued the congregation. The Werkmeister added so many ornaments to the preludes of the chorale melodies that few could tell what hymn he was playing.

My favorite story about Buxtehude concerns his search for a successor in 1703. Johann Mattheson and an eighteen year old by the name of George Frideric Handel traveled to Lübeck to audition for the job. Only after playing for him did they discover that part of the contract included marrying Anna Margreta Buxtehude, the oldest of the master's three unwed daughters. The struggling musicians quickly took their leave.

Scores for most of his music are difficult to find and expensive. This is because most were originally notated as organ tablature. Dover publications does have a volume of his organ works.

A good place to start to get into his music would be to get a recording of his organ music, one of his trio sonatas, and a disc of his cantata cycle Membra Jesu Nostri.

from Albert Schweitzer's biography of J.S. Bach:

He is the greatest organist between Scheidt and Bach, and may, indeed, be regarded as the real creator of the German organ tocatta. His chorale preludes are chorale fantasias of the most varied kinds, from the simplest to the most ingenious. In the simple ones the melody goes its way quietly, just embellished here and there with a few ornaments, and accompanied by interesting and always ingenious harmonies. Bach's chorale preludes upon Herzlich thut mich verlangen and Liebster Jesu wir sind hier, are written in the style of these simple fantasias of Buxtehude, and give a good idea of his work, except that the copy rather idealises the original, since the fervour with which Bach fills these little fantasias, is not, as a rule, found in those of Buxtehude in anything like the same degree. In the large chorale preludes Buxtehude tears the melody in pieces, throws the fragments into the flood of a brilliant, animated fantasia, and sends them scudding along, one in the soprano, another in the alto, another in the tenor, another in the bass, according as his fancy suggests. Bach's chorale prelude on Ein Feste Burg is wholly conceived in the spirit of this virtosic style - using the term in its good sence - of Buxtehude.

The organ toccata derives unltimately from Claudio Merlo (1532-1604), the great master of the Venitian organ school, which in turn developed out of the Netherlands. The toccata was afterwards brought by Frescobaldi to the highest perfection it ever reached in Italy. In Georg Muffat's celebrated Apparatus musico-organisticus (1690) we see the art of which he is the last great representative coming to a standstill.


  • Dietrich Buxtehude, Organ Works
  • Grove's Dictionary of Music and Musicians, St. Martin's Press 1959
  • Randall, Michael; The Harvard Biographical Dictionary of Music; Belknap Harvard, 1996.
  • Schweitzer, Albert; J.S. Bach; translation by Ernest Newman; Breitkopf & Härtel, 1911
  • Snyder, Kerala J.; Dieterich Buxtehude, Organist in Lübeck; Schirmer Books, 1987
  • Wettstein, Hermann; Dietrich Buxtehude (1637-1707 : Bibliographie Zu Seinem Leben Und Werk)

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