The First Lutheran Oratorio: Buxtehude’s Membra Jesu Nostri

Buxtehude playing a viol, as portrayed by Johannes Voorhout 

Each week , we’re presenting a tiny taste of the BFX—an amuse-bouche for the upcoming Festival feast!

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Dieterich Buxtehude needs no introduction to early music lovers: his compositions are included regularly on concert programs, he is still a mainstay in college composition classes, and he is rightly lauded for his contributions to early music; one of the great organists and composers of the North German tradition, he directly influenced a young J. S. Bach, who famously walked 250 miles to meet the master of Lübeck!

While best known for his organ compositions, he also produced a substantial amount of vocal music, including wedding arias, canons, and a significant body of music for the church. His Membra Jesu Nostri comprises seven cantatas, each one divided into six sections utilizing both instrumental and vocal forces (SSATB). Each cantata is a meditation on the wounds of the crucified Christ (feet, knees, hands, sides, breast, heart, and face).

The main text of the cantatas are taken from the poem—more accurately, a cycle of seven poems—entitled Salve Mundi Salutare (sometimes called the Rhythmica oratio), often credited to either Arnulf of Leuven (1200-1250) or Bernard of Clairvaux (1090-1153), while the texts for the concertos are taken from the Old Testament.  Composed in 1680, when Buxtehude would have been approximately 43, it’s the first known Lutheran oratorio.

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Enjoy the exquisite artistry of Buxtehude’s masterpiece, Membra Jesu Nostri, with Vox Luminis on Thursday, June 9 at 7 PM!                   

Learn more, and get tickets for the BFX, here: 

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