For many years, Dietrich Buxtehude (1637 – 1708) held one of the most important church positions in Northern Germany, that of organist at the Marienkirche in Lübeck. He was a stupendous virtuoso and he is still perhaps best known for his compositions for the organ. He achieved some fame additionally for the establishment of his Sunday afternoon concert series called Abendmusiken held on the five successive weekends before Christmas and it is for these concerts that much of his brilliant vocal music was written.
In 1705 Bach was given leave from his duties in Arnstadt for a month long stay in Lübeck to meet and perhaps study with Dietrich Buxtehude (Bach’s 250-mile pilgrimage on foot to meet him and hear him play is legendary.) The visit was to last four months!
The charming Magnificat survives only in a single, manuscript source: a set of parts and a score from the extensive collection of Gustav Düben, who knew Buxtehude, and was Kapellmeister at the German church in Stockholm. The manuscript did not originally bear the name of any composer, although Buxtehude’s name has been added in square brackets on the title page by a later hand.
The compositional style, perhaps, is more representative of Carissimi or Lully ~ lilting triple-time melodies, frequent hemiolas, clear sectional structure and simple diatonic harmony largely in thirds. The composer employs alternating florid vocal soli and choral tutti passages, as well as simple, fluid string writing to achieve a direct, yet dynamic effect.