Spotlight on the Netherlands–German Sacred Cantatas I

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Program: #08-03, Air Date: 01/07/08

The Netherlands Bach Society conducted by Jos van Veldhoven looks at the cantata form from the time of Schutz (1585-1672) to Johann Christoph Bach (1637-1707).


We continue our long and fruitful association with our partners at Radio Netherlands in presenting a series of concerts from the 2007 Holland Festival of Early Music at Utrecht.

We the web site provides more in-depth information about the music and performers we hear as well as more information about the festival (

NOTE: All of the music on these programs was performed by the Netherlands Bach Society conducted by Jos van Veldhoven looks at the cantata form from the time of Schutz (1585-1672) to Johann Christoph Bach (1637-1707). Soloists are Johanette Zomer, soprano, Marcel Beekman, tenor, and Bas Ramselaar, bass. All texts are from the Song of Solomon.

--GEORG BOHM (1661-1733): Mein Freund ist mein ("My friend is mine and I am his"). Georg Böhm was one of the leading organists and organ composers in his part of Germany in the years around 1700, and may have been an important influence on J.S. Bach.

Georg Böhm's father was a schoolmaster and organist who gave Georg his early lessons. It is also possible that the boy was taught by Johann Heinrich Hildebrand, the Kantor in Ohrdruf. His father died in 1675. After that Böhm attended Latin School in Goldbach and then Gymnasium in Gotha, graduating in 1684. In both towns the local Kantors were students of members of the Bach family, and gave Böhm continued lessons. In August 1684 he entered the University of Jena.

Georg Böhm's historical trail disappears until he is known to have been in Hamburg in 1693. Even so, it is not known what he was doing there. It is even possible that whatever main employment he had there was not musical; he was a well-educated man in general and could have pursued a "day job" while continuing to improve his musical skills. If so, Hamburg was a good place to do so, for it had a lively and varied musical life ranging from the presence of fine organists and a major opera house specializing in French and Italian works, and in nearby towns were located the great organists Lübeck and Dietrich Buxtehude. He may also have studied with Johann Adam Reinken. In 1686 Christian Flor, organist of the Johanniskirche of Lüneburg died. Böhm auditioned for the job and was chosen unanimously. He held the post until his death.

Since Böhm was from and worked in the region known as Thuringia, home of the Bach families, and since Bach trained in part at the St. Michael School in Lüneburg, there have been efforts to discover if Böhm had any part in training the future great master. So far, there had been no firm evidence found for or against. However, it is more than just likely that Böhm exerted some interest, for Bach's son Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach wrote that his father "loved and studied the works of the Lüneburg organist Georg Böhm."

The influence is most notable in J.S. Bach's choral-based works. Böhm was part of a trend of the late part of the 17th century in which the church's organ chorale was developed into new forms. One of the primary ones is the "chorale partita." Here the Italian partita, a variation form using a dance song as its basis, is fused with the Lutheran church chorale, where a chorale melody became the basis of a set of variations, creating the form called "chorale partite." Böhm was fond of the new form, and created several of them, most likely intended for home use on pedal clavier. He methods of deriving new melodic forms from the original chorale, and his way of unifying the larger chorale pieces were take up by Bach. In other forms of keyboard music Böhm also introduced significant innovations. However, his vocal music shows less inventiveness.--Joseph Stevenson

--DIETRICH BUXTEHUDE (1637-1707): Drei schoene Dinge sind ("Three beautiful things"--composed in Lubeck as one of the Abendmusik cantatas on Sunday nights). Dietrich Buxtehude, who identified himself as Danish, was seemingly born in Oldesloe about the year 1637, the son of an organist and schoolmaster. His father moved briefly from Oldesloe, in the Duchy of Holstein, to Helsingborg as organist at the Mariekirke there and soon after to the Danish city of Helsingør, Hamlet’s Elsinore, as organist at the St Olai Kirke, a position he held for some thirty years, until his retirement in 1671. Buxtehude was taught by his father and from 1657 or 1658 until 1660 was organist at the Mariekirke in Helsingborg, a city separated from Helsingør by a narrow stretch of water. His next appointment was at the Mariekirke in the latter city. In 1668 he was elected organist at the Marienkirche in Lübeck, where he succeeded Franz Tunder, who had died the previous year, following custom by marrying Tunder’s younger daughter. Tunder’s elder daughter’s security had already been assured by her marriage to Samuel Franck, Cantor of the Marienkirche and the Catherineum Lateinschule, the choir-school that provided singers for the services of the Marienkirche.

At the Marienkirche in Lübeck Buxtehude made some changes in the musical traditions of the church, establishing a series of Abendmusik concerts given now on five Sunday afternoons in the year, events that attracted wide interest. As an organist Buxtehude represented the height of North German keyboard traditions, exercising a decisive influence over the following generation, notably on Johann Sebastian Bach, who undertook the long journey from Arnstadt to Lübeck to hear him play, outstaying his leave, to the dissatisfaction of his employers. Handel too visited Lübeck in 1703, with his Hamburg friend and colleague Mattheson. By this time there was a question of appointing a successor to Buxtehude, who was nearly seventy and had spent over thirty years at the Marienkirche. The condition of marriage to his predecessor’s daughter that Buxtehude had faithfully fulfilled proved unattractive, however, to the young musicians of the newer generation and the succession eventually passed to Johann Christian Schieferdecker, who married Buxtehude’s surviving daughter, predeceased by four others, three months after Buxtehude’s death in 1707.

For a long time knowledge of Buxtehude's works was limited to the organ works and his major sacred choral works. Along with other Baroque composers, Buxtehude was "rediscovered" in the mid-nineteenth century, and his organ works were republished as an example of the style current before J.S. Bach. Interest in his chamber music works, however, has only gathered momentum in recent years. In these Buxtehude frolics with great imagination between learned contrapuntal traditions and a freer, more fanciful style. On the whole. Buxtehude's imagination is amazing, and gives his works a lively, improvisational feel. With our present-day fully-rounded picture of Buxtehude's works we can unhesitatingly count him as the greatest composer of the northern European Baroque in the period between Heinrich Schütz and J.S. Bach.--Naxos

--JOHANN CHRISTOPH BACH (1642-1703): Meine Freundin, di bist schoen ("My beloved, you are fair").
Johann Sebastian's 1st cousin once removed (and grandfather of his first wife, Maria Barbara) became town organist in Eisenach in the year 1665 and court chamber musician there in 1700. Johann Christoph was well-respected in the Bach family; Johann Sebastian's uncle (twin brother of his father, Ambrosius) was named Johann Christoph as were Johann Sebastian's older brother and second-to-youngest son. Johann Christoph's brother, Johann Michael, was also well respected.

Prior to Johann Sebastian, Johann Christoph would have been considered the most famous musician of the Bach family. His work is of the highest quality and, in some instances, has been improperly attributed to Johann Sebastian himself (e.g. the motet Ich lasse dich nicht). Johann Christoph composed choral works (motets and cantatas) and works for organ (preludes and fugues). Johann Sebastian described his second cousin as "the great and expressive composer," and performed his works often as did Carl Philipp Emanuel.

While Johann Christoph was an excellent musician, financial difficulties turned him into a bitter person. When Sebastian's father and mother died, the logical person to become his guardian would have been Johann Christoph. Probably because of cousin Christoph's financial straits, as well as his disagreeable personality, Sebastian went to live with his brother in Ohrdruf instead. --Timothy Smith

Composer Info

Schutz (1585-1672), Johann Christoph Bach (1637-1707), GEORG BOHM (1661-1733), DIETRICH BUXTEHUDE (1637-1707), JOHANN CHRISTOPH BACH (1642-1703),