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Buxtehude Passacaglia

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I have always found Buxtehude's Passacaglia in d min an interesting, beautiful, but mysterious piece.

 

It seemed to lack any obvious development; however it has a strict structure. There are 4 sections in which the pedal theme is repeated 7 times in each; and there are short transposing interludes between each section. The first section is a melancholic void; the second, in a major key, just slightly optimistic; the third majestic and the final section a rather sad goodbye.

 

At the St Albans Organ Festival Lodger Lohmann introduced the pieces at his recital, which included the Buxtehude passacaglia. He said that Piet Kee had told him that he thought the composition might have been influenced by the astronomical clock in the Totentanz Chapel at St Mary's Lubeck - because, in total, the pedal theme enters 28 times!

 

But what he didn't suggest is the obvious idea (once one has made the connection to astronomical clocks) that the four sections correspond to the phases of the moon, as I suggest below!

 

First: New moon d min :lol:

Second: Waxing first quarter F maj B)

Third: Full Moon a min :lol:

Forth: Waning third quarter d min :(

 

This would seem to me to go a long way to explaining why the piece is the way it is, and how the third section would appear to be the climax! The forth section doesn't need to reach a real conclusion, as the lunar cycle will simply repeat again! There should therefore be no temptation to play the conclusion loudly, as is the norm!

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There should therefore be no temptation to play the conclusion loudly, as is the norm!

 

Listening to other Buxtehude pieces should (also) prevent this (ie. loud conclusions); looks too much like gamba music to me, so register it like that.

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Guest Lee Blick
I have always found Buxtehude's Passacaglia in d min an interesting, beautiful, but mysterious piece.

 

It seemed to lack any obvious development; however it has a strict structure. There are 4 sections in which the pedal theme is repeated 7 times in each; and there are short transposing interludes between each section. The first section is a melancholic void; the second, in a major key, just slightly optimistic; the third majestic and the final section a rather sad goodbye.

 

At the St Albans Organ Festival Lodger Lohmann introduced the pieces at his recital, which included the Buxtehude passacaglia. He said that Piet Kee had told him that he thought the composition might have been influenced by the astronomical clock in the Totentanz Chapel at St Mary's Lubeck - because, in total, the pedal theme enters 28 times!

 

But what he didn't suggest is the obvious idea (once one has made the connection to astronomical clocks) that the four sections correspond to the phases of the moon, as I suggest below!

 

First: New moon d min :lol:

Second: Waxing first quarter F maj B)

Third: Full Moon a min :lol:

Forth: Waning third quarter d min :(

 

This would seem to me to go a long way to explaining why the piece is the way it is, and how the third section would appear to be the climax! The forth section doesn't need to reach a real conclusion, as the lunar cycle will simply repeat again! There should therefore be no temptation to play the conclusion loudly, as is the norm!

 

Thank-you for that interpretation. It is rather beautiful the way the piece fades away with the repeated oactave A's like a ticking clock.

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PS I’m truly embarrassed! :lol: What do I see on opening Organists Review? …. A full article on just this subject……I can’t believe it- Telepathy? Coincidence? .... I thought about it all night after the Lohmann recital too...

 

Anyway I think it is really exciting to read about this in full detail :lol: in the Review.

 

Lee Blick - I like the ticking clock idea ! One could add more on the same lines of mechanistic clock noises - the scales in the last section and the alternating notes in the second section. - Clearly a forerunner of the Carillon de Westminster!! B)

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I have always found Buxtehude's Passacaglia in d min an interesting, beautiful, but mysterious piece.

 

It seemed to lack any obvious development; however it has a strict structure. There are 4 sections in which the pedal theme is repeated 7 times in each; and there are short transposing interludes between each section. The first section is a melancholic void; the second, in a major key, just slightly optimistic; the third majestic and the final section a rather sad goodbye.

 

At the St Albans Organ Festival Lodger Lohmann introduced the pieces at his recital, which included the Buxtehude passacaglia. He said that Piet Kee had told him that he thought the composition might have been influenced by the astronomical clock in the Totentanz Chapel at St Mary's Lubeck - because, in total, the pedal theme enters 28 times!

 

But what he didn't suggest is the obvious idea (once one has made the connection to astronomical clocks) that the four sections correspond to the phases of the moon, as I suggest below!

 

First: New moon d min :lol:

Second: Waxing first quarter F maj B)

Third: Full Moon a min :(

Forth: Waning third quarter d min :(

 

This would seem to me to go a long way to explaining why the piece is the way it is, and how the third section would appear to be the climax! The forth section doesn't need to reach a real conclusion, as the lunar cycle will simply repeat again! There should therefore be no temptation to play the conclusion loudly, as is the norm!

 

 

=======================

 

 

Nope!

 

I think it is entirely influenced by sailing-ships, maritime chronometry, the four points of the compass and maritime navigation.; the passacaglia theme being the North Star.

 

At least with my theory, you can be absolutely certain that it is powered by wind !!!!!!!

 

 

:lol:

 

MM

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=======================

Nope!

 

I think it is entirely influenced by sailing-ships, maritime chronometry, the four points of the compass and maritime navigation.; the passacaglia theme being the North Star.

 

At least with my theory, you can be absolutely certain that it is powered by wind !!!!!!!

B)

 

MM

 

Well that can't possibly be true -as Harrison's chronometer was invented in 1762. Even though that is 55 years (which is the product of two primes 5 x 11; also 5+5 = 10 leading to the indivisibility of 1+0 = 1 QED) after Buxtehude's death. :lol:

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Thank you for starting this most interesting thread.

 

I had also heard this theory in relation to lunar cycles and / or astronomical movement, although if my memory serves me correctly, this was in respect of the e minor ciacona. I also have a dusty memory of the variations of the ciacona being linked to points of the rosary.

 

Having said that, the d minor passacaglia has the clear four - part structure that you have pointed out, which is more consistent with the lunar phasing, and I suspect it is my memory that is at fault here.

 

What is beyond doubt is that there was a very sophisticated astronomical clock in the Marienkirche in Buxtehude's day, so this sort of analogy is in no way far - fetched.

 

I recall reading an article about this in the OR many years ago, but could not now put my hand on it.

 

However, last year I read most of the main sources on Buxtehude in preparation for the FRCO written paper when the free works were the set pieces. I am bound to say that none of them mentioned the astronomical connection in relation to the ciaconas or the passacaglia, including Kerala Snyder, James Dalton and Geoffrey Webber who, between them, must be regarded as the definitive Buxtehude scholars.

 

On the question of performance, I first heard the e minor ciacona played by Gillian Weir when she played the whole piece piano spread over three manuals with nothing but quiet flutes on each. The effect was magical, and I have always adopted this practice myself with the piece.

 

M

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Well that can't possibly be true -as Harrison's chronometer was invented in 1762. Even though that is 55 years (which is the product of two primes 5 x 11; also 5+5 = 10 leading to the indivisibility of 1+0 = 1 QED) after Buxtehude's death. :lol:

 

 

====================

 

 

I think you're just showing off!

 

B)

 

MM

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Guest Lee Blick
PS I’m truly embarrassed! :lol: What do I see on opening Organists Review? …. A full article on just this subject……I can’t believe it- Telepathy? Coincidence? .... I thought about it all night after the Lohmann recital too...

 

Anyway I think it is really exciting to read about this in full detail :lol: in the Review.

 

Lee Blick - I like the ticking clock idea ! One could add more on the same lines of mechanistic clock noises - the scales in the last section and the alternating notes in the second section. - Clearly a forerunner of the Carillon de Westminster!! B)

 

Funny, I never think of 'Carillion de Westminster' as being about bells and clocks. It usually reminds me lying, cheating members of parliament and Babs Windsor sitting on Boris Johnson's lap in the members loos.

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"I also have a dusty memory of the variations of the ciacona being linked to points of the rosary."

 

I think Carol Jarman wrote an article supporting this theory some years ago, but I can't find it now. I think it may have appeared in an RCO publication during the 90's, but the memory is dim...........

 

Does anyone remember it?

 

G

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=======================

Nope!

 

I think it is entirely influenced by sailing-ships, maritime chronometry, the four points of the compass and maritime navigation.; the passacaglia theme being the North Star.

 

At least with my theory, you can be absolutely certain that it is powered by wind !!!!!!!

B)

 

MM

 

Dear MM, I do not have my books at hand properly, as most of them are still in the cases, but I think it was Philipp Spitta who compared the f-major episode of the d-minor Passacaglia with sailing-ships gently cruising on a twinkling sea!

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Dear MM, I do not have my books at hand properly, as most of them are still in the cases, but I think it was Philipp Spitta who compared the f-major episode of the d-minor Passacaglia with sailing-ships gently cruising on a twinkling sea!

 

 

=========================

 

 

I was, of course, completely aware of this.

 

:ph34r:

 

 

MM

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Dear MM, I do not have my books at hand properly, as most of them are still in the cases, but I think it was Philipp Spitta who compared the f-major episode of the d-minor Passacaglia with sailing-ships gently cruising on a twinkling sea!

 

He was obviously groping for a connection between tidal and lunar phases. :ph34r:

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I think that Dietrich Kollmansberger from Tangermünde, Sachsen-Anhalt, Germany, has written something on the subject recently. Was it in "Forum Kirchenmusik" or "Ars organi"...?

I do not know about its meaning to D Buxtehude, but this lunar stuff was fashionable in the hanseatic cities. The church depicted below houses one of those stunning astronomical clocks (at the back of the altar), but instead of beeing a post-war reconstruction, it has a mechanism dating from and working since 1472! (and programming the melody of its chimes for the hourly chorale is part of my new duties. At noon there is also a "walk of the apostles" on top of it. Six little statues move from one door to the next on a turning plate, but when it comes to Judas, the door closes and he has to stay outside!)

In the past, these clocks were the most famous items in the churches of Lübeck, Rostock, Danzig and elsewhere in the Baltic region. The giant displays show so many things that just few tourist guides are able to explain the mysteries. If it was a source of inspiration to musicians, too...?

 

Buxtehude also wrote a suite or something like this referring to the (then) seven planets, as sources witness. But the work is lost. Maybe it shows up at one of these attic expeditions...

 

See the local clock here

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I think that Dietrich Kollmansberger from Tangermünde, Sachsen-Anhalt, Germany, has written something on the subject recently. Was it in "Forum Kirchenmusik" or "Ars organi"...?

I do not know about its meaning to D Buxtehude, but this lunar stuff was fashionable in the hanseatic cities. The church depicted below houses one of those stunning astronomical clocks (at the back of the altar), but instead of beeing a post-war reconstruction, it has a mechanism dating from and working since 1472! (and programming the melody of its chimes for the hourly chorale is part of my new duties. At noon there is also a "walk of the apostles" on top of it. Six little statues move from one door to the next on a turning plate, but when it comes to Judas, the door closes and he has to stay outside!)

In the past, these clocks were the most famous items in the churches of Lübeck, Rostock, Danzig and elsewhere in the Baltic region. The giant displays show so many things that just few tourist guides are able to explain the mysteries. If it was a source of inspiration to musicians, too...?

 

Buxtehude also wrote a suite or something like this referring to the (then) seven planets, as sources witness. But the work is lost. Maybe it shows up at one of these attic expeditions...

 

See the local clock here

 

 

========================

 

 

We may enjoy our little jokes and diversions, as well as take pleasure in pricking bubbles from time to time, but Herr Kropf has drawn attention to something very significant.

 

Buxtehude was known to have been something of a socialite and a bit of a rebel; to the extent that he broke many of the strict rules of his appointment at Lubeck. Apparently, his wedding was something of a riot, and way in excess of the "small celebration" permitted by the authorities. This was one of the little factoids which made me smile when listening to a Radio 3 programme, in which Ton Koopman described some of Buxtehude's less discreet moments.

 

There is no doubt but that one of the great cradles of modern civilisation was the Hanseatic region, which not only included Lubeck, but also Gdansk (Danzig) in what must then have been either Pomerania or Royal Poland.....I haven't time to plough through all my Polish files.

 

However, if I recall correctly, the Hanseatic League crossed national borders, and worked in harmony in securing trade and shipping routes in the Baltic region. It was a co-operation which brought extraordinary wealth to a relatively small coastal area. It was also an area of quite extraordinary intellectual endeavour and achievement; artistically, scientifically and culturally. In fact, it was one of those great "hot spots" in the history of Western Civilisation.

 

Although we may have poked fun at the comedic possibilities, there is no doubt whatsoever that the link between "wind and water" is highly relevant, in addition to the business of philosophy and astronomy: then almost inseparable and with strong links to matters of faith. We may consider the problems which Galileo had in Italy, but so far as I am aware, no such problems ever curtailed the work of the Pole, Nicholas Copernicus and the Copernicun Theory of planetary motion, which until that time, had been more or less dominated by the theories and philosophy of Ptolomy. The simple difference was in the growing acceptance of the fact that the earth was not the centre of God's universe (and therefore static), but actually circumnavigated the Sun. Planetary motion was therefore the apogee of intellectual endeavour, and probably represents the greatest shift in western philosophy, science and religious understanding.; at least until Charles Darwin's "Origin of species."

 

My brother is among a select and very small number of people who has been permitted access to the original documents of Copernicus, and he was beside himself on returning home. I recall what he said, "What a incredible mind and what a fastidious scholar: a true giant of science."

 

Like so many "Renaissance men," Capurnicus was multi-faceted; being proficient in

 

Jacob Bronowski, in his book "The ascent of man" entitled one chapter "The majestic clockwork," and it was clockwork which lay at the heart of astronomical study and comprehension, and which had a profound effect on religion. Copernicus was fortunate in that he was related to a bishop, and thus did not have to suffer the indignity of Galileo, who was forced to renounce his own life-work.

 

The Hanseatic region, being closely related to maritime activity and trade, knew only too well the perils of navigation, and the science of clockwork was to play a critical part in that undertaking.

 

So perhaps we should not be too surprised by the possible artistic connections between religion, clockwork, marine navigation and planetary-motion.

 

"For when a ship is floating calmly along, the sailors see its motion mirrored in everything outside, while on the other hand they suppose that they are stationary, together with everything on board. In the same way, the motion of the earth can unquestionably produce the impression that the entire universe is rotating." (Copernicus)

 

Perhaps Goethe highlighted the enormous implications best:-

 

"Of all discoveries and opinions, none may have exerted a greater effect on the human spirit than the doctrine of Copernicus. The world had scarcely become known as round and complete in itself when it was asked to waive the tremendous privilege of being the centre of the universe. Never, perhaps, was a greater demand made on mankind — for by this admission so many things vanished in mist and smoke! What became of our Eden, our world of innocence, piety and poetry; the testimony of the senses; the conviction of a poetic — religious faith?"

 

 

MM

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========================

 

There is no doubt but that one of the great cradles of modern civilisation was the Hanseatic region, which not only included Lubeck, but also Gdansk (Danzig) in what must then have been either Pomerania or Royal Poland.....I haven't time to plough through all my Polish files.

 

However, if I recall correctly, the Hanseatic League crossed national borders, and worked in harmony in securing trade and shipping routes in the Baltic region. It was a co-operation which brought extraordinary wealth to a relatively small coastal area. It was also an area of quite extraordinary intellectual endeavour and achievement; artistically, scientifically and culturally. In fact, it was one of those great "hot spots" in the history of Western Civilisation.

 

MM

 

The 'relatively small coastal area' was bigger than you might think. It stretched way beyond Danzig as far east as ports such as Riga and Reval (Tallinn) where German influences are still clearly evident in the churches and general townscape. (Here, incidentally, German organbuilders still held sway until the late 19c - witness the numbers of organs by Walcker and Sauer for example). It also included cities on the other side of the Baltic such as Visby and Stockholm. Towns some distance inland were also members - Lüneburg, Frankfurt-an-der-Oder, Hildesheim, Erfurt, Münster, Brandenburg, Hanover, even Cologne, Breslau and Cracow. There were outstations, too, as far away as London, Novgorod in Russia and Bergen in Norway.

 

There is no doubting the cultural and artistic achievements of the region. Rostock, for example, has the oldest university in Northern Europe.

 

The interesting thing, however, is that the League was already in decline by Buxtehude's time having reached its peak of influence and prosperity a couple of centuries earlier. The League name lived on in name only until 1806 when it was finally expunged by Napoleon.

 

JS

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The 'relatively small coastal area' was bigger than you might think. It stretched way beyond Danzig as far east as ports such as Riga and Reval (Tallinn) where German influences are still clearly evident in the churches and general townscape. (Here, incidentally, German organbuilders still held sway until the late 19c - witness the numbers of organs by Walcker and Sauer for example). It also included cities on the other side of the Baltic such as Visby and Stockholm. Towns some distance inland were also members - Lüneburg, Frankfurt-an-der-Oder, Hildesheim, Erfurt, Münster, Brandenburg, Hanover, even Cologne, Breslau and Cracow. There were outstations, too, as far away as London, Novgorod in Russia and Bergen in Norway.

 

There is no doubting the cultural and artistic achievements of the region. Rostock, for example, has the oldest university in Northern Europe.

 

The interesting thing, however, is that the League was already in decline by Buxtehude's time having reached its peak of influence and prosperity a couple of centuries earlier. The League name lived on in name only until 1806 when it was finally expunged by Napoleon.

 

JS

 

 

===========================

 

 

That is very interesting, though I was aware of the other port connections rather than the inland cities and towns.

 

Cracow is an interesting inclusion; being some 2,000Kms away from Gdansk!!!!!!!

 

Actually, my research tells me that Copernicus was of Slavic origin, and his father was apparently a Slav living in Cracow. Like many at that time, he was better travelled than most of us to-day.

 

Of course, the relative decline is interesting, as other regions went into the ascendant; especially the seriously clever Dutch merchants and the Golden Age they created and sustained.

 

I would suggest, that in the part of Poland annexed to Germany, the German dominance in organ-building was fairly total, and the number of Schlag & Soehn instruments or organs re-built (ruined?) by them makes qquite an extensive list.

 

It is amazing how "hot spots" of trading and intellectual endeavour occur, and I always have to pinch myslef when I think about clockwork and other mechanisms, and the fact that within 50 years of Bach's death, the Jaquard Loom had been invented, and with it, all that that implies for industry and mechanical music.

 

I have said it before, but the links between textiles, clockwork and organs could fill a considerable book; possibly because the organ was by far the most complex piece of machinery, and probably taught clock-makers a thing or two. As for mechanical music, it evolved at an astonishing pace after a tentative start in the cafes and bars of Austria and Germany, and from Mozart's "clock pieces" (the clock-organ designed by the Bohemian priest, Fr Primitivus Niamiche) to a Welte player organ (remember that challenge Mr Mander?), could not have covered much more than a century and a quarter!

 

Europe IS interesting isn't it?

 

MM

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"I also have a dusty memory of the variations of the ciacona being linked to points of the rosary."

 

I think Carol Jarman wrote an article supporting this theory some years ago, but I can't find it now. I think it may have appeared in an RCO publication during the 90's, but the memory is dim...........

 

Does anyone remember it?

 

G

Yes and one on the theology of the other ciacona in MT.

 

The Passacaglia/Lunar cycle theory was fully explored in a 1970s paper by Kooiman looking at the structure of all of the ostinato pieces in the Andreas Bach Buch published in english translation by Brian Jordan.

 

I'll look up and post the exact title/dates of all three when I get back home.

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But what he didn't suggest is the obvious idea (once one has made the connection to astronomical clocks) that the four sections correspond to the phases of the moon, as I suggest below!

 

First: New moon d min :mellow:

Second: Waxing first quarter F maj :rolleyes:

Third: Full Moon a min :lol:

Forth: Waning third quarter d min :(

 

Piet Kee wrote a very comprehensive article about numerical symbolism and the lunar phases in the d minor Passacaglia in 1984.

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