Early years in Denmark
He is thought to have been born with the name Diderich Buxtehude. Scholars dispute both the year and country of his birth, although most now accept that he was born in 1637 in Helsingborg, Skåne, at the time part of Denmark (but now part of Sweden).His obituary stated that "he recognized Denmark as his native country, whence he came to our region; he lived about 70 years". Others, however, claim that he was born at Oldesloe in the Duchy of Holstein, which at that time was a part of the Danish Monarchy (but is now in Germany). Later in his life he Germanized his name and began signing documents Dieterich Buxtehude. Buxtehude was exposed to the organ at a young age, as his father, Johannes Buxtehude, was the organist at St. Olaf's church inHelsingør. Dieterich was employed as an organist, first in Helsingborg (1657–1658), and then at Helsingør (1660–1668). St. Mary’s in Helsingør is the only church where Buxtehude was employed that still has the organ in its original location.
Another person in the same Voorhout painting, once was thought to be Buxtehude. Research reported by Snyder (2007) has questioned this.
Buxtehude's last post, from 1668, was at the Marienkirche, Lübeck which had two organs, a large one for big services and a small one for devotionals and funerals. There he succeeded Franz Tunder and followed in many of the footsteps of his predecessor. He married Tunder's daughter Anna Margarethe in 1668 – it was not uncommon practice that a man marry the daughter of his predecessor in his occupation. Buxtehude and Anna Margarethe had seven daughters who were baptized at the Marienkirche; however, his first daughter died as an infant. After his retirement as organist at St Olaf's Church, his father joined the family in Lübeck in 1673. Johannes died a year later, and Dieterich composed his funeral music. Dieterich's brother Peter, a barber, joined them in 1677.
His post in the free Imperial city of Lübeck afforded him considerable latitude in his musical career, and his autonomy was a model for the careers of later Baroque masters such as George Frideric Handel, Johann Mattheson, Georg Philipp Telemann and Johann Sebastian Bach. In 1673 he reorganized a series of evening musical performances, initiated by Tunder, known as Abendmusik, which attracted musicians from diverse places and remained a feature of the church until 1810. In 1703, Handel and Mattheson both traveled to meet Buxtehude, who was by then elderly and ready to retire. He offered his position in Lübeck to Handel and Mattheson but stipulated that the organist who ascended to it must marry his eldest daughter, Anna Margareta. Both Handel and Mattheson turned the offer down and left the day after their arrival. In 1705, J.S. Bach, then a young man of twenty, walked from Arnstadt to Lübeck, a distance of more than 400 kilometres (250 mi), and stayed nearly three months to hear the Abendmusik, meet the pre-eminent Lübeck organist, hear him play, and, as Bach explained, "to comprehend one thing and another about his art". In addition to his musical duties, Buxtehude, like his predecessor Tunder, served as church treasurer.
Influence and legacy
Although more than 100 vocal compositions by Buxtehude survive, very few of them were included in the important German manuscript collections of the period, and until the early twentieth century, Buxtehude was regarded primarily as a keyboard composer. His surviving church music is praised for its high musical qualities rather than its progressive elements.