Dietrich Buxtehude (1637-1707)
Complete Organ Works
Vol 1: Compositions Pedaliter – 18 Praeludia BuxWV 136-153 (Ed. Klaus Beckmann)
120 pages • 23 x 30.5 cm • 455 g • ISMN: 979-0-004-16866-0 • Softbound
Edition Breitkopf EB 6661
Dietrich Buxtehude holds a special place in the hearts of most organists, although this is occasionally because he is the only pre-Bach German composer that they are aware of. But, despite many years of musicological research and publications, he still remains a somewhat enigmatic composer. There is still no agreement as to his birth date or place, and what his name really was. He seems to have been born in Helsingborg (in present day Sweden, but then part of Denmark) as Diderich, but later changed the spelling from the Danish to a more Germanic Dietrich (or Dieterich). His surname also appears in several versions, including Box de Hude.
Producing modern editions of his organ music is fraught with potential difficulties, not least because no surviving copies of Buxtehude’s autograph copies have been found. For a ‘text-critical’ approach to music editing, that is an insurmountable problem. Unless autographs can be located, there never will be an ‘authentic’ Buxtehude edition and, given the issues even with autograph copies of music, there still might not be even if we had access to Buxtehude’s own manuscripts. They would almost certainly have been written in ‘tablature’ notation (pictured), with notes depicted by letters with the octave group indicated by other symbols. That system leads to several possible errors in transcription to modern notation, one of the principal ones being the possible confusion between the written letters a, c,and e, for example. The correct octave can also be confusing, meaning that notes can occasionally be transcribed in an incorrect octave.
Buxtehude rarely indicated whether or when pedals should be used, and many sections of pieces usually performed with pedals can just as easily, and probably more authentically, be played on the manuals alone. This raises the question of whether to edit into three modern staves, as in this and most other modern editions, or to retain a slightly more authentic two stave layout, only indicating the pedal lines that are clearly indicated in surviving copies.
This Breitkopf edition, published in 1996, is a revision of an earlier 1971 edition, also edited by Klaus Beckmann. Unlike some other editions the pieces are printed in ascending BuxWV order, which generally follow the modern key signatures upwards from C major. The full list of pieces can be found here. The pieces are, quite correctly, entitled ‘Praeludium’ rather than versions of ‘Prelude and Fugue’, the result of a transfer back in time of Bach’s frequent designation. Beckmann has also avoided the temptation to allocate key descriptions to the titles of any of the pieces, although they are attached in the index, along with the BuxWV number. Apart from the fact that scores of the time rarely added key descriptions, Buxtehude was composing at a time when the modern system of major and minor keys was not fully established, and composers often thought in terms of ‘modes’ rather than ‘keys’.The Breitkopf edition has a logical layout and clear printing. Ease of page turns seem to have been taken into consideration, where possible.
I recommend that any organist wanting to perform Buxtehude should consult all the available editions before deciding, perhaps choosing one piece to compare between editions. The Praeludium BuxW149 (in G minor) is a good one to choose as it has several editorial issues. In Breitkopf, the opening page of semiquavers is arranged in groups of six, but subdivided into two groups of three (pictured). Hedar’s edition, for example, keeps the grouping as six semiquavers, with a slur over each group of six in the first two bars. In both versions, there is a risk of suggesting an implied articulation. When the pedal enters, most modern editions have the second note as a B flat, but a repeat of the opening G is also a possibility used is several editions, including recent ones. The central Allegro section is shown as for manuals only until the last four bars in Breitkopf, although in one bar this is unplayable unless you have unfeasably big hands. But it is probably a sensible approach, as is decision to lower the last four of bar 154 by an octave.
In some of his earlier editions of music of this period, Beckmann had a tendency to made editorial changes to the accepted text based on his own ideas of what he thought the composer might have intended, although it was often hard, if not always impossible to find out when this had happened. This raises the issue of the ‘Critical Commentary’. In this, any most other German editions, it only appears in rather dense German, with no translations available, either in the printed edition or on-line.
Beckmann’s relatively short introduction (with English translation) only discusses editorial issues, with no information on Buxtehude himself, or the organs that he was familiar with. For non-German speakers, there remains the problem of the lack of English translations of key aspects of the text, not least the critical commentary which can be pretty obscure even for German speakers.