Pieter Dirksen

Harpsichordist - Musicologist - Organist

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A Buxtehude Discovery

In the year 1987 the importance of an edition with anonymous keyboard music issued by the famous Amsterdam publisher Estienne Roger, the VI Suittes, divers airs avec leurs variations et fugues from 1710, was recognized and half of its contents identified.<1> The nature of these concordances, concerning pieces by Georg Böhm, Johann Adam Reincken and Johann Pachelbel, leaves no doubt about the high stature of this volume and naturally raises questions such as the background of this intriguing source and the authorship of the remaining music – principally five suites. I pursued these matters at some length in the Introduction to my recent first edition of this source.<2>

This study expands upon the identification of one of these suites as being by Dieterich Buxtehude (1637-1707). As pointed out in the edition, the sarabande of the Suitte II in D minor can also be be found in Buxtehude’s suite in the same key BuxWV 234. Shortly after publication - as such things often go - I discovered that the courante of the same suite has a concordance too, namely BuxWV Anh. 6.<3> Both BuxWV 234 and Anh. 6 survive in the Ryge Manuscript (Copenhagen, Det Kongelige Bibliotek, Mu 6806.1399), a source written in tablature notation transmitting the bulk of Buxtehude’s harpsichord music, including sixteen of the eighteen suites. The courante in question forms one of the few single-standing dances of that source, and because it lacks an attribution (the suittes are all identified at the head of the allemande, usually by the initials “D.B.H.”) it was not given a regular number in the BuxWV but was relegated to the Appendix with “doubtful and falsely attributed works”. Seen from the perspective of the Ryge Manuscript, this is fully justified. Here, only attributions to Buxtehude are to be found, and the anonymous pieces are principally by other composers; including three variation sets by Johann Pachelbel, one by Johan Adam Reincken and pieces by Nicolas-Antoine Lebègue. Thus the two remaining anonymous dances – both courantes (BuxWV Anh. 6-7) – could hitherto not be attributed to Buxtehude with any certainty.

With regard to BuxWV Anh. 6 the situation has now changed. The fact that it survives alongside authentic Buxtehude suites in the Ryge Manuscript together with its concordance in connection with the sarabande from BuxWV 234 makes a solid attribution of both this long-known courante and the Suitte II as a whole possible,<4> which thus should be seen as a hitherto unknown work by the Lübeck master, adding two completely unknown dances – an allemande and a gigue – to the canon. The regular bar structure of the allemande and courante is found in many other suites by Buxtehude: the 8+8 bars of the allemande from Suitte II is also found in thoese of BuxWV 226, 233, 239 and 242, the 16+16 bars of the courante BuxWV Anh. 6 from Suitte II is also found in BuxWV 231 and 238. The irregular bar structure of the gigue (7+10 bars) is just as typical of Buxtehude, and in this respect Suitte II is most closely approached by the gigues from BuxWV 228 (7+8 bars), BuxWV 233, 238 and 242 (7+7 bars), and BuxWV 236 (10+13 bars).

More important still is the musical quality of the three newly-attributed dances, which not only equals that of the sarabande, but is also entirely in keeping with Buxtehude’s harpsichord suites. It suffices to draw attention here to a few striking details. The dotted upbeat to both halves of the allemande is particularly characteristic of Buxtehude, and occurs in most of his allemandes; compare too the first bar with the Allemande d’amour BuxWV 233/1 in the same key (Example 1). The melodic turn of phrase in bars 7-8 is strongly reminiscent of the opening of the first two movements of the Rofilis variations BuxWV 248 (Example 2). The consistently low register of the courante (the upper octave is hardly used, the writing does not go beyond e2) makes it the ideal match for the subsequent sarabande, which has the same characteristic; this conscious use of a specific tessitura of the harpsichord occurs in other suites by Buxtehude as well. The gigue is an equally ingenious harpsichord piece: the opening, in a free stretto (Example 3), is just as typical of Buxtehude as the introduction of a contrasting and longer (whole-bar) theme in the second half (Example 4).

Example 1
Suitte II, Allemande, opening

Buxtehude, Allemande d’Amour BuxWV 233/1, opening

Example 2
Suitte II, Allemande, bars 7-8

Buxtehude, Rofilis variations BuxWV 248, opening

Example 3
Suitte II, Gigue, opening

Example 4
Suitte II, Gigue, bars 8-11

Buxtehude, Gigue BuxWV 236/4, bars 11-14

Another pointer towards Buxtehude, finally, is the fact that various text corruptions (the notes c and e interchanged, wrong octave pitches) suggest a source in tablature; as far as can be ascertained, Buxtehude usually wrote his harpsichord and organ works in tablature,<5> and indeed all his harpsichord music survived only in this form (the most important source being the Ryge Tablature). Suitte II, moreover, is the only one of the VI Suittes to clearly reveal a tablature pedigree.

If, as seems highly likely, the entire Suitte II stems from Buxtehude, then the question remains why the sarabande is found both in the Ryge and in the Roger suites. A comparison of BuxWV 234 with Buxtehude’s other (17) suites is revealing in this respect. As already mentioned, BuxWV 234 ends with a second sarabande rather than a gigue; there are two suites without a gigue which thus also end with a sarabande – BuxWV 229, 231 –, but the other suites with two sarabandes – BuxWV 226, 233 and 237 – all have a concluding gigue, so this might have been the reason to add a gigue to begin with. Secondly, the most remarkable feature of BuxWV 234 is the addition of doubles to both its allemande and its courante. Buxtehude usually keeps his suites free from doubles; the only counter-example is found in the C-major suite BuxWV 227, whose sarabande is equipped with a double. This brings to mind a comment made by Johann Mattheson on the seventeenth-century practice of writing doubles:<6>

Zu Frobergers Zeiten, etwa vor 70 bis 80 Jahren war dieser Partiten-Geist dermaassen eingerissen, dass nicht nur auf besondere kleine Arien, oder Arietten, … wenigstens ein halb Dutzend Variationen herhalten musten; sondern selbst die Allemanden, Couranten etc. wurden damit angesteckt, und kamen nicht ohne Brüche, krumme Sprünge und vielgeschwäntzte Noten davon.
In Froberger’s time, about 70 or 80 years ago [= ca.1660-70] this zest for writing partitas was running to such heights that not only small separate Arias, or Ariettas, … were burdened with at least half a dozen variations; but even the allemandes, couranten etc. were contaminated with it, and did not get away without ruptures, cripple leaps and multi-tailed notes.

Buxtehude reserved the habit of writing variations mostly to his variation sets on arias and kept his suites for the greater part free from it. This clearly reflects a trend already visible in the suites of Froberger himself and becoming even more pronounced in the later seventeenth century. Conversely, this means that BuxWV 234 may form a relatively early suite. It is possible that Buxtehude at some later point decided to give the fine D-minor sarabande of that suite a new, more up-to-date context by taking it out of its original suite and composing the new dances. It is indeed not difficult to observe in the doubles of BuxWV 234 the old-fashioned “ruptures” and “cripple leaps” mentioned by Mattheson (Example 5).

Example 5 - Buxtehude, Double of the Allemande BuxWV 234/1, opening [bars 1-4]

That it is Johann Mattheson (1681-1764) who points out this change of taste might be not entirely coincidental. In my edition I have developed a theory that the collection may in fact have been assembled by Mattheson and sent to Estienne Roger. Mattheson visited the Republic of the United Provinces in the spring of 1704, which included public keyboard performances in Amsterdam. At this time a connection with Roger must have been established, who in 1708 issued Mattheson’s very first publication, the Douze Sonates à 2. & 3 Flûtes, sans basse. Given the strong Hamburg ties of the content of the VI Suittes as a whole, a mediating role by Mattheson forms a plausible hypothesis. With regard to the flute sonatas of 1708/09, Mattheson later complained that though Roger had been very conscentious in the engraving of the sonates, the payment for it was very bad. The obvious fall-out between the two men could explain the fact that the entire content of the VI Suittes is printed anonymously – which forms a unique case with this publisher. If Roger indeed procured the harpsichord collection from Mattheson and already prepared them for the press, he may have not dared to publish them with attributions after the breach. As is well known, Mattheson paid a visit to the old Buxtehude in the company of Georg Friedrich Händel in the summer of 1704, only shortly after returning form the Netherlands. Perhaps the “Roger” Suite, which could be henceforth identified as BuxWV 234a (in which case the Anh. 6 number becomes vacant), was acquired on this occasion.

© Pieter Dirksen, 2004

VI Suittes, divers airs avec leurs variations et fugues
(Amsterdam: Estienne Roger, 1710), p. 6 (Allemande attributable to Buxtehude, BuxWV 234a/1)



1. Harry Joelson-Strohbach, ‘Ein bisher unberücksichtigter Notendruck mit deutscher Cembalomusik um 1710’, in: Die Musikforschung 40 (1987), pp. 242-49.
2. VI Suittes, divers airs avec leurs variations et fugues pour le clavessin (Amsterdam, 1710), ed. Pieter Dirksen (Muziek uit de Republiek 2; Utrecht, 2004), 99 pp.
3. A comparison of the texts of both sources reveals only few differences, mainly of the orthographic kind common to style brisé-like keyboard music.
4. The kinship of its opening with the Courante L’Immortelle by le Vieux Gautier noted by Otto Mortensen (‘Über Typologisierung der Couranten und Sarabanden Buxtehudes’, in: Dansk Arbog for Musikforskning 6 [1968-72], p. 34) does not go beyond its first bar and may be coincidental.
5. Michael Belotti, Die freien Orgelwerke Dieterich Buxtehudes. Überlieferungsgeschichtliche und stilkritische Studien (Frankfurt am Main, 1995), pp. 59-67.
6. Johann Mattheson, Der volkommene Capellmeister (Hamburg, 1739), p. 232.