Lingering in Lübeck by Ken Myers

Lingering in Lübeck

If none of the music of Dieterich Buxtehude had survived, the German organist and composer would still be known as a footnote in the career of his fellow Lutheran Johann Sebastian Bach. In the autumn of 1705, the 20-year-old Bach was granted a four-week leave of absence from his post as organist at the Neuekirche in Arnstadt. From there, he reportedly walked north 260 miles to the town of Lübeck. Since 1668, the Marienkirche in Lübeck had been blessed by the musical presence of Buxtehude, the man Bach considered the greatest living musical practitioner.

Buxtehude was getting on in years; he had been scouting for a successor for some time, and young Bach may have been interested in taking the job. It would have given him an opportunity to ply his art and craft on the magnificent organ at the Marienkirche, then the third-largest church in Germany, in a city with a strong commitment to music. But Buxtehude expected that the man who took the job would also take his daughter as wife. After all, when his predecessor, Franz Tunder, had handed over the job to him, Buxtehude had married his daughter.

Bach ended up staying in Lübeck for more than his allotted four weeks; it was closer to four months before he returned to Arnstadt, much to the displeasure of his employers. But his extended stay in Lübeck was not to court Anna Margaretha Buxtehude (who was, after all, ten years his senior). His love-interest focused on the remarkable musical wisdom of her brilliant father.

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Ken Myers is the host and producer of the Mars Hill Audio Journal. Formerly an arts editor with National Public Radio, he also served as editor of Eternity, the Evangelical monthly magazine, and This World, the quarterly predecessor to First Things. He also serves as music director at All Saints Anglican Church in Ivy, Virginia. He is a contributing editor for Touchstone.

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