Dietrich Buxtehude is probably most familiar to modern
classical music audiences as the man who inspired the
young Johann Sebastian Bach to make a lengthy
pilgrimage to Lubeck, Buxtehude's place of employment
and residence for most of his life, just to hear
Buxtehude play the organ. But Buxtehude was a major
figure among German Baroque composers in his own right.
Though we do not have copies of much of the work that
most impressed his contemporaries, Buxtehude
nonetheless left behind a body of vocal and
instrumental music which is distinguished by its
contrapuntal skill, devotional atmosphere, and raw
intensity. He helped develop the form of the church
cantata, later perfected by Bach, and he was just as
famous a virtuoso on the organ.
This chorale prelude sets the famous reformation
chorale, "A Mighty Fortress is our God." The chorale
would have typically been sung on Reformation Sunday.
The text of the first verse reads as follows, "A mighty
fortress is our God, a tower of strength never failing.
A helper mighty is our God, over ills of life
prevailing. He overcometh all. He saveth from the fall.
His might and power are great. He all things did
create. And he shall reign for evermore."
Buxtehude takes a great deal of liberty as he ornaments
the chorale melody in this particular prelude. The
chorale melody is often a bit tricky to trace.
Buxtehude's embellishment of the last line of the
chorale melody is particularly interesting. He changes
octave placement twice, shifting down an octave then
shifting back up into the treble range. When he shifts
down an octave the voice carrying the chorale melody
crosses underneath the accompanying voices into the
I created this Interpretation of the Choral Prelude:
"Ein' Feste Burg Ist Unser Gott" (BuxWV 184) for String
Quartet (2 Violins, Viola & Cello).