Buxtehude Begins His Abendmusiken Concerts Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

After becoming church organist in Lübeck, Dieterich Buxtehude began directing the Abendmusiken, a series of organ and vocal concerts that became famous throughout Europe. The series lasted for almost thirty-five years, during which time it caught the attention of several of the Continent’s leading composers and musicians, including a young Johann Sebastian Bach.

Summary of Event

Around 1673, the Danish-born composer Dieterich Buxtehude established an annual concert series in Saint Mary’s Cathedral in the north German city of Lübeck Music;Germany . The concerts came to be known as the Abendmusiken (evening music) and regularly consisted of a large-scale production of vocal and instrumental performances. The series, held in its original format until 1810, a century after Buxtehude’s death, garnered the attention of several of Europe’s leading musicians and became a defining cultural institution of the city itself. [kw]Buxtehude Begins His Abendmusiken Concerts (c. 1673) [kw]Concerts, Buxtehude Begins His Abendmusiken (c. 1673) [kw]Abendmusiken Concerts, Buxtehude Begins His (c. 1673) Music;c. 1673: Buxtehude Begins His Abendmusiken Concerts[2490] Cultural and intellectual history;c. 1673: Buxtehude Begins His Abendmusiken Concerts[2490] Germany;c. 1673: Buxtehude Begins His Abendmusiken Concerts[2490] Abendmusiken concerts Buxtehude, Dieterich

Buxtehude most likely began his musical studies under the tutelage of his father, Johannes Buxtehude, who was a church organist in Helsingør, Denmark. In addition, as a student in one of the Latin schools in Helsingør, the younger Buxtehude most likely would have studied music theory and composition. By the early seventeenth century, Denmark (particularly Copenhagen) had become a well-known center for musical study and performance, largely through the generous patronage of King Christian IV Christian IV (king of Denmark and Norway) (1588-1648). A rich tradition of organ composition and performance had already been established in this region by the time Buxtehude reached adulthood, and, in 1658, he attained the position of church organist at Saint Mary’s in Helsingborg. In 1660, Buxtehude returned to Helsingør to assume the organist post in that city’s Saint Mary’s Church.

In 1668, Buxtehude was appointed the official organist at Saint Mary’s Cathedral in Lübeck, Germany, at that time one of the most prestigious music positions in Europe. Buxtehude succeeded the well-known organist Franz Tunder, Tunder, Franz who had died the previous year. Shortly after moving to Lübeck, Buxtehude became a citizen of the city and married Anna Tunder, the daughter of his professional predecessor at Saint Mary’. Although Lübeck had gone through years of economic decline, largely as a result of expenses incurred during the Thirty Years’ War (1618-1648), it had remained one of the leading musical centers in Europe. Buxtehude’s appointment thus gave him access to a larger and more diverse circle of musicians than he had previously known.

While Buxtehude’s professional duties at Saint Mary’s consisted, primarily, of composing and performing organ works for the regular church services, the musical contacts and influence he developed by way of his position there helped him establish the Abendmusiken concerts. Although his predecessor, Franz Tunder, had been in the habit of presenting concerts at the church during his own tenure, Buxtehude was responsible for establishing a regular format for the series of concerts, which occurred annually and which were organized on a greater scale than the performances that had been presented by Tunder. The earliest Abendmusiken concerts in this tradition began around 1673, only five years after Buxtehude arrived at Lübeck, and by 1690, they had become prominent fixtures in the cultural life of the city. By that time it was impossible to speak of the Abendmusiken without reference to its famous director.

Although the Abendmusiken concerts originally had been held on Thursday evenings, Buxtehude eventually settled on presenting them during the afternoon on each of the five Sundays between Saint Martin’s Day (November 11) and Christmas. The concerts featured the joined forces of organ, instrumentalists, chorus, and vocal soloists, the highlight of which was a large-scale work generally known as a dramma per musica. This form, which Buxtehude had instituted into the Abendmusiken by 1678, is a dramatic work set to music, usually with a complete libretto for chorus and soloists and significant orchestration. Although the genre is often described as an early form of opera, the performance of a dramma per musica is not staged (the singers and musicians are placed on the stage as in a concert performance), and the libretto is based more on allegorical themes than on dramatic story lines. In this respect, it resembles more closely a classical oratorio. For example, one of Buxtehude’s earliest presentations of the genre in Lübeck, titled “The Wedding of the Lamb,” was a loosely connected set of choral pieces based on the biblical passage that describes, in largely allegorical terms, the marriage between Christ and the Church. In the musical drama, Christ and Church are each represented by soloists (who even perform a kind of love duet), and they are accompanied by a full choir (representing the heavenly angels) and several instrumentalists.

Considering that almost all serious music in the seventeenth century was funded through religious or political institutions, Buxtehude’s Abendmusiken concerts were notable for their reliance on civic support. Buxtehude’s financial supporters included many of the city’s leading businesspeople, including the merchant Peter Hindrich Tesdorpf, Tesdorpf, Peter Hindrich who had been a strong influence in the city’s commercial guilds. While the excellence of the musical performances would have been reason in themselves to support the series, it is also likely that the international reputation of the concerts only could have helped the city’s economic trade, which had undergone a serious decline in the seventeenth century. At any rate, the series attracted a regular number of visitors over the years, many of whom came to experience firsthand the remarkably splendid new form of music that Buxtehude had developed. The most famous attendee of the Abendmusiken during Buxtehude’s tenure was undoubtedly the young Johann Sebastian Bach, Bach, Johann Sebastian who was reported to have traveled on foot from Arnstadt, Germany (more than 200 miles away), to hear the Abendmusiken and Buxtehude’s organ performances. Although Buxtehude died in 1707, his predecessors continued to present the Abendmusiken concerts until the French occupation of Lübeck in 1810.


The Abendmusiken concerts instituted by Buxtehude, which, for the most part, were maintained in the same format through the early nineteenth century, significantly enhanced Lübeck’s reputation as an international center of musical innovation and excellence. More important, the reputation of the Abendmusiken among European musicians had the effect of popularizing and developing Buxtehude’s brand of dramatic music. At the least, the concerts demonstrated both the feasibility and appeal of amalgamating a large group of singers and musicians to perform a large-scale work. In this respect, works as diverse as Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony (1824), with its massive choral finale, and German composer Carl Orff’s Carmina burana (1937) can trace their origins in part to the performances in Lübeck.

The Abendmusiken also provided a venue for Buxtehude’s organ compositions and performances, which were considerably innovative and influential in their own right. Upon Bach’s return to Arnstadt after his four-month sojourn in Lübeck, his listeners detected an increased improvisatory and elaborate style in his organ performances, directly due to Buxtehude’s influence and the Abendmusiken. Although most of Buxtehude’s copious musical output in its original form is lost, transcriptions of his work made by Bach during his time in Lübeck have preserved some of the most notable examples of Buxtehude’s works.

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Carter, Tim, and John Butt, eds. The Cambridge History of Seventeenth-Century Music. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2005. A comprehensive study of seventeenth century Western music, including Buxtehude’s contributions to organ composition and the Abendmusiken. Essays address religious, political, social, and academic contexts. Includes illustrations, musical examples, and a bibliography.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Snyder, Kerala J. Dieterich Buxtehude: Organist in Lübeck. New York: Schirmer Books, 1987. A cogent, comprehensive study of Buxtehude’s life and works, with significant analysis of the organ works and vocal music. Includes selected writings and compositions as well as several illustrations, musical examples, archival references, and a bibliography.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Webber, Geoffrey. Northern German Church Music in the Age of Buxtehude. Oxford, England: Clarendon Press, 1996. Webber examines the vocal and instrumental music of Buxtehude and his contemporaries within the context of the European church music tradition. Includes illustrations, musical examples, a bibliography, and maps.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Wolff, Christoph. “Dietrich Buxtehude and Seventeenth-Century Music in Retrospect.” In Church, Stage, and Studio: Music and Its Contexts in Seventeenth-Century Germany, edited by Paul Walker. Ann Arbor, Mich.: UMI Press, 1990. Wolff focuses on Buxtehude’s vocal and chamber music compositions, particularly his contribution to the oratorio. Includes musical examples and illustrations.
Related Articles in <i>Great Lives from History: The Seventeenth Century</i>

Arcangelo Corelli; Girolamo Frescobaldi; Claudio Monteverdi; Johann Pachelbel; Heinrich Schütz. Abendmusiken concerts Buxtehude, Dieterich

Categories: History