Some composers inspire me a feeling of familiarity, of friendship, the kind of attachment you feel for someone you have known a long time, someone who is far away now, but whose bond with you remains strong, despite the time that has elapsed, despite the distance that separates you and him. Dieterich Buxtehude is one of these composers. A Baroque musician, a paragon for Johann Sebastian Bach and one of the most eminent composers of Northern Germany as we have seen in my first post about him. For today I have selected a secular piece that seems perfect to me either to start the day or to end it.
It is inspired by a French Baroque dance, the Courante, and has the sober title “Courant Simble in A Minor” (BuxWV 245). It is written for the harpsichord, it comprises eight variations, the first one introducing the theme. While Buxtehude wrote his church music with the ardour and conviction of a true believer, his secular music exudes fantasy, joy and the wish to entertain. Like Bach, he distinguished between music for the amateurs (Liebhaber) and connoisseurs (Kenner), says the biographer Gilles Cantagrel.
It is unclear when Buxtehude wrote it. We can take it for granted that he wrote this piece during his tenure as the Kantor (music director) of the Marienkirche in Lübeck to be performed during the evening concerts he organised, the famous Abendmusiken. Most of his harpsichord pieces remained unknown until the 1940s, that is for more than 250 years. Many of these works are known today because a Danish family, the Ryge’s, possessed a set of baroque compositions that a distant relative, Johann Christian Ryge (1688-1758), music director of the Cathedral of Roskilde, had owned. The gave the set to the Danish organist Svend-Ove Moeller to have a look at it. Today it is one of the music treasures of the Royal Library in Copenhagen.
The detective story does not finish here. A few pieces from Ryge’s collection have been retraced to other composers like Nicolas Lebèque, Buxtehude’s friend Adam Reincken and Johann Pachabel – yes, yes, you know Reincken and Pachabel, you are definitely reaching the grade of experts through this blog. Once the doubt had been casted over some of these pieces, Buxtehude’s authorship of the others was also questioned. The attribution of our Courant Simble to the Lübeck master however has been confirmed by musicologists, says Cantagrel.
The Courant Simble is a light-hearted, pleasant, unobtrusive piece, chillout music one would say today. Inspiring in the morning, relaxing in the evening. Why not give it a try? Buxtehude has become a friend of mine, he could become a companion for you too. The Courant Simble has been recorded by the Dutch Buxtehude-expert Ton Koopman.
© Charles Thibo