Diderik Buxtehude Intégrale de l'Œuvre pour orgue Vol. 6


Diderik Buxtehude 
Complete Organ Works (vol. 6) 
Preludes and fugues BuxWV 151, 141, 143, 146 
Chorales BuxWV 222, 220, 208, 206, 224, 210 
Canzonetta BuxWV 171 
Canzona BuxWV 166 
Fugua BuxWV 176 

Jean-Charles Ablitzer 
Bielfeldt Historical Organ (1730-1736)
Sankt Wilhadi Church, Stade, North Germany


Buxtehude's organ music as we know it today was written exclusively to accompany the Lutheran church service. The composer's oeuvre contains 48 Chorales (including 3 "Magnificat") and 36 other pieces. Out of the latter, 24 are of the "Praeludium" type (preludes. toccatas, and fugues), 9 are "Canzona" and 3 are strictly chaconnes or passacaglias. Actually, the composer combined and interwove the different musical genres practiced in his time, as the brief descriptions given below will demonstrate.

Prelude and Fugue
("Praeludium") in A major BuxWV 151

Several ancient manuscripts attest to the popularity of this piece, which has come to us in various forms. It is generally accepted today to consist of a true prelude, followed by a first fugue; a deep interlude with many key changes; and a second fugue. However, the virtuoso conclusion customary in the circumstances is missing : it is most likely that this page was intended to end on a brilliant peroration.

"Wär Gott nicht mit uns diese Zeit" BuxWV 222

Brief prelude to a hymn celebrating trust in God ("Were God not with us all this time"). At times, the melody line of the canticle appears in a simple form, at times ornamented with dotted notes and short runs of sixteenth-notes. A sober and classic counterpoint continuo.

Prelude and Fugue ("Praeludium") in E Major BuxWV 141

This beautiful polyptych is original in many ways, firstly in that very old copies have given us valuable insights into its performance, very rare for this period; secondly, in its construction, which has three inter-connected fugal sections. After a flamboyant introduction, the first fugue introduces a bright, lively theme, with its augmented fourths and arching fall in sixteenth notes. It leads to a toccata in two sections, contrasting a recitative and a very free interplay of imitations. A second fugue in the Canzone style then springs up, a simple exposition in three voices, in a dance-like style. After an "adagio" transition, it is up to a third fugue, with its convoluted theme, to conclude brilliantly in a dazzling stretto.

"Von Gott, will ich nicht lassen" BuxWV 220

Buxtehude handled this song twice in choral preludes (the other being BuxWV 221). Despite its brevity, this version’s value is in the intensity of its meditation. First simply stated, the melody is ever more ornate, expressing the deep, filial faith of the Christian guided by his Creator ("Now from God I will not part").

Canzona in C major BuxWV 166

Little remains here to remind us of the sung "song", from whence "canzone" takes its origin. This charming piece displays a frankly instrumental character, with its first rapid fugato, a second dance-like fugue in a gigue rhythm, and a third, symmetrical to the first, in a contrapuntal weave, ever tighter as the discourse unfolds.

Fuga in B flat major BuxWV 176

This is a very curious piece : it is not a simple fugue, but is in fact three consecutive fugues following each other without interruption, with many different subjects, the first of which is most unusual, with its bursts of repeated notes. What could the purpose of such a piece have been? After three centuries, we still have not found an answer.

"Nun bitten wir den heiligen Geist" BuxWV 208

Two chorale preludes commenting on the Pentecostal hymn ("Now pray we the Holy Spirit"), not very different from one another. While the melody remains recognizable throughout, it is nonetheless richly embellished with extravagant trills and ornaments, which flourish particularly at the end of each movement.

"Mensch, willt du leben seliglich" BuxWV 206

The originality of this brief chorale prelude lies in its increasing ornamentation, as prompted by its text ("People, may you live virtuously"). The beautiful accompanying counterpoint makes extensive use of the canonic form. Note the extensive use of chromatic scales in the four voices and the ambiguity of the key, switching between E and A minor.

Prelude and Fugue
("Praeludium") in E minor BuxWV 143

Not to be confused with the other Prelude and Fugue (Praeludium) in the same key, it is probably of less dramatic proportions, but it is nonetheless a strong work, characteristic of the grand designs cherished by organist composers in northern Germany in the late eighteenth century : in its desire to seduce and capture the imagination of the audience; in its use of contrast between free passages and rigorous fugue sections; in its aim, overall, to connect entirely dissimilar portions through related themes. This can be seen through the "family resemblance" between the two fugues, and through the resurgence of recitative motifs in the three free sections that frame them. There is a liberal desire, also, to balance the two parts bar by bar, and to use symmetrical variations, the differing parts building a great arch as they echo each other and meet. Far from curbing the inventiveness of the composer, the rules he sets seem to stimulate him : Bach will later put the lesson to good use.

Canzonetta in G major BuxWV 171

This is one of Buxtehude's two most developed canzonas, encapsulating the archetype of the genre : three entwined fugal parts, one in triple time, intended for manual keyboards with light (optional) accompaniment from the pedal board. In the first fugato, the subject stated in broken thirds descends in regular sixteenth-notes, and leads to many variations. In triple time, the second fugato opposes the previous by its dance-like character and disjointed intervals. As for the third, it uses a theme directly derived from the first fugue, but in a restated form.

Chorale "Wir danken dir, Herr Jesu Christ" BuxWV 224

Several Lutheran hymns, for Easter, begin with the words ("We thank you, Lord Jesus Christ"). This chorale prelude opens with an exposition of the first part of the canticle in fugal style, virtually unadorned in the treble voice. The other three sections are decorated with a delicate lace of ornamentation, and end with fine sung arpeggios for the final Alleluia.

Prelude and Fugue
("Praeludium") in F sharp minor BuxWV 146

This is one of the masterpieces of the composer and of the entire German repertoire of that era. It was probably only made possible by the great organ of St. Mary having a "Well tempered" tuning, desired by Buxtehude and realized in 1683. Bach, who did not have such luck, never used this key for the organ, so perilous was it was on ancient instruments. Its four components juxtapose a full prelude, two fugues and an epilogue. The three sections of the prelude ring with the whole arsenal of virtuosity, using the masterful runs and chromaticism that must have so impressed the listeners of Lübeck. The first fugue, from a haughty, almost heroic air, collapses down descending fifths to the pathetic interval of the diminished seventh, following a pattern that will nourish a century of music up until Mozart. A second lively fugue follows immediately on, picking up the same subjects as the first, but modified, varied and extended; this leads quite quickly to a recitative that introduces a huge peroration : runs of pedalling, decorative strings of sixteenths, repeated at will and even obsessively to bring this intensely subjective piece to a conclusion using the full power of the organ.

"Nun freut euch, lieben Christen gmein" BuxWV 210

On this song dear to Lutherans ("Now, faithful beloved, rejoice in Christ"), Buxtehude paints a huge fantasy, the most developed work of his entire organ repertoire, together with the Te Deum. The five passages of the hymn are given special treatment, in which the composer's imaginative verve manifests itself in all its brilliance. Following without interruption, the five sections are themselves divided into various episodes, given unity through kinship in the melodic or rhythmic pattern. The theme of the song becomes no more than a pretext, fragmented, pulverized to the point where the most attentive of the faithful doubtless would not have recognized it. It is no coincidence that it is at this exact time that hymn-numbers began to be displayed in German churches, the organists' variations sometimes rendering the songs unrecognizable. In fact, this fantasy is composed somewhat in the manner of a vast Prelude and Fugue (Praeludium) : the first section in the form of a prelude, then a four-voice fugue with an epilogue in toccata, a huge central episode, itself built in the manner of a Praeludium in several episodes (Prelude - Fugue - Prelude - Fugue), a toccata for the fourth movement, and finally, fugue and epilogue. Mad virtuosity, sovereign mastery of composition, dazzling imagination : this monumental piece is both one of the most complex and most masterful of all organ writings before J.S. Bach.

Text after Gilles Cantagrel original

Jean-Charles Ablitzer


Born in 1946 and attracted early in life by the organ, Jean-Charles Ablitzer was self-taught before enrolling in the Strasbourg Conservatory, where he studied under Pierre Vidal. In 1971 he won the post of organist at Saint-Christophe Cathedral of Belfort, home of the great Valtrin-Callinet organ restored by Kurt Schwenkedel of Strasbourg. The same year he was also named professor of organ at the Belfort Conservatory.

J.C. Ablitzer's extensive knowledge of baroque music and instruments conditions the rigorous discipline of his style, which reflects the principles described in learned treatises; his personal discoveries regarding registration, articulation and phrasing; and his research into antique organs (construction materials, keyboard and pedalboard configuration). Jean-Charles Ablitzer is an ardent chamber-music performer, and has participated in numerous baroque ensemble concerts and recordings.

The high quality of Ablitzer's recordings (Bach, Couperin) has received ample praise from the critics : "…Playing a superb Catalan instrument with the characteristic Iberian nasality, Ablitzer constructs a glittering monument resounding with vast incandescent figures. Phrasing, registration, and digital dexterity are stunning. No one since Chapuis has played Couperin this brilliantly…" (from a review by Jean-Luc Macia).

Ablitzer's two recordings of François Couperin Masses were ranked by the monthly review "Le Monde de la Musique" as among the ten best classical recordings of 1987.
"…Jean-Charles Ablitzer's abilities as a colourist enable him to etch the smallest details of a tormented work that eschews comfortable harmonies and banal equilibrium, and to confront its most lyrical effusions with aplomb. This "Complete Works" (Buxtehude) in progress is devilishly promising…" (from a review by Paul Meunier).

"…But never fear; the Belfort organist doesn't drag Brahms over the borderline into austere pedantry. He remembers the lesson this composer learned during his long stay in Vienna, the importance of smooth flow and sunny declamation : here is a recording flooded with just that Viennese spirit…" (from a review by Xavier Lacavalerie).

"…his fervour is enough to draw tears from a stone, but it is his exuberance and joy that fulfil the crucial role of restoring to Titelouze's music its original sharp brilliance and dazzling verve. The centuries fall away, the musical themes engage with each other like flashing swords of light…" (from a review by Paul Meunier).

"…dedicated to Georg Boehm, known for having influenced the great Bach, his works, it is now proven, deserve their own success. To the glowing chorales, Monique Zanetti lends her pureness and ecstatic innocence, while Jean-Charles Ablitzer offers glory and enlightenment.” (from a review by Paul Meunier).

"…he is well aware of the recent musicological evolutions, his application of which is extremely seductive… He is not the prisoner of any fashion in his choice of tempi, phrasing, or registration. On the contrary, he is constantly inspired, proposing innovative solutions with every page." (from a review by Francis Albou /J.S. Bach, Organ works in Goslar).


The Sankt Wilhadi Church historical organ in Stade

An organ in St. Wilhadi can be traced back to 1322 with certainty. It stood in the building which predates the present church built in the 14th Century. The organ which was destroyed by fire when the tower was struck by lightning in 1511 was probably the second in St. Wilhadi and stood on the West side of the nave. The organ mentioned in 1632 fell victim of the great Stade fire of 1659.

The building of a new organ was undertaken between 1673 and 1676 by Berendt Huß of Glückstadt-Stade and was completed in 1678 by Arp Schnitger of Stade. The Danish bombardment of 1712 destroyed "half the fine organ" and in 1713 - 14 Schnitger who had meanwhile moved to Hamburg rebuilt it. But in 1724 lightning again so destroyed the tower and organ that "they had to search for tin in the ruins". The Church Councils of the Town of Stade and the Church of St. Wilhadi signed a contract to rebuild the organ with Erasmus Bielfeldt of Celle and Bremen who then moved to Stade, which was probably his birthplace. In January 1736 the new St. Wilhadi organ was consecrated.

Georg Wilhelm Wilhelmy of Stade undertook extensive repairs in 1785 - 86 especially to the wind supply and action. There were no changes in the specification of stops. In 1824 - 25 Georg Wilhelm of Stade was at work on the organ, repairing the wind supply and action, resoldering some of the pipe-feet and extensively repairing the reeds as well as making alterations to the 16' pedal diapasons, but again no changes to the specification. Wilhelm provided one of the two Cymbal-stars with chord bells, and apparently took the other out of service. The Stade organ-builder Johann Hinrich Röver made extensive alterations to the Bielfeldt organ in 1875 - 86. In addition to repairs to the bellows, wind conductors, the action and wind chests, this represented the first large-scale intervention in the concept of the organ. In the Pedal organ Röver extended all registers as far as Cis, and "on account of insufficient wind" he built an extra wind chest for three registers. In place of the three pedal stops which he removed, Mixture, Trompete 4', and Cornett, Röver added only two, namely Violonbaß 16', and Gedacktbaß 8'.

In the Great organ the Cymbal was removed and replaced by the Hohlflöte 8'. The top two octaves of the Gambe were renewed and the rest of its pipes were provided with new bevels. Vox humana and Scharf were removed from the Rear organ and replaced by Gedackt 16' and Salicional 8'. The Quinte 1 1/2', Scharf and Schalmey were removed from the Front organ and in their place the Geigenprincipal 8' and Flauto traverso 8' were provided. Röver equipped the organ with two new manual couplers and one pedal coupler. In 1894 Heinrich Röver of Stade added a swell-box to the Rear organ.

In 1937 - 38 and again in 1960 - 63 alterations were carried out by the Göttingen Firm Paul Ott with assistance from Alfred Hoppe of Verden. These included the transformation of the Rear organ into a Rückpositiv, repairs to the wind chests, renewal of the bellows and wind conductors as well as the stop action and manual action. The pedal chests were completely rebuilt and extended to f ' and Röver's extra chests were dismantled. New keyboards, pedal board and couplers were provided. All the old pipework was overhauled and Röver's registers removed to be replaced by new stops. Both of the tremulants and the Cymbal-stars were renewed. The latter being given claw-shaped bells. The organ was brought to normal pitch by adjustments to the pipes.

An extensive restoration of the organ followed between 1987 and 1990, undertaken by Jürgen Ahrend of Leer-Loga, with the aim of returning the organ to its 1736 condition. The following work was carried out : restoration of the Bielfeldt wind chests, renewal of the pedal chests (C D - d'), reconstruction of the wind supply, with 4 wedge bellows, and of the manual and stop action, restoration of the case and the historic pipework with completion of the missing registers according to the original plans.

Peter Golon


Praeludium BuxWV 151
in A-dur/in A major/La majeur

Choral BuxWV 222
"Wär Gott nicht mit uns diese Zeit"

Praeludium BuxWV 141
in E-dur/in E major/Mi majeur

Choral BuxWV 220
"Von Gott, will ich nicht lassen"

Canzona BuxWV 166
in C-dur/in C major/Ut majeur

Fuga BuxWV 176
in B-dur/in B flat major/Si bémol majeur

Choral BuxWV 208
"Nun bitten wir den heiligen Geist"

Choral BuxWV 206
"Mensch, willt du leben seliglich"

Praeludium BuxWV 143
in E-moll/in E minor/Mi mineur

Canzonetta BuxWV 171
in G-dur/in G major/Sol majeur

Choral BuxWV 224
"Wir danken dir, Herr Jesu Christ"

Praeludium BuxWV 146
in Fis-moll/in F scharp minor/Fa dièse mineur

Choral BuxWV 210
"Nun freut euch, lieben Christen gmein"

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