In 1697 the organist and composer Dieterich Buxtehude (1637-1707) was deemed “world famous” by a guidebook to the German city in which he lived, Lübeck. Such public acclaim for a musician was unusual in this society where musicians were generally looked down upon and stereotyped as dishonorable and picaresque outsiders. In this context, Buxtehude’s situation begs the question, how did he come to have such an esteemed reputation?
As I will argue, Buxtehude actively fashioned his reputation as an adept member of his capitalistic society, a useful civil servant, and an accomplished and complete musician, throughout his life. In large part he established this reputation through the yearly production of a public concert series he organized, gathered monetary support, and composed the music for each Advent called the Abendmusik. These events showcased not only his musicianship, but his entrepreneurial skill and his dedication to raising the status of Lübeck as well. Buxtehude’s organ praeludia were no small part of his self-fashioning project because through them, unrestricted and unguided by text, he was allowed total freedom in presenting a musical affection or emotion, and thus was able to demonstrate the pinnacle of his musicianship, both his craftsmanship and his creativity. He did this through a “fantastic style,” called the stylus phantasticus, which the Hamburg school of north German baroque organists uniquely cultivated for the purpose of displaying their musicianship, elevating their social standing, and fashioning their reputations. Within the rhetorical conception of music during the baroque period, this musical self-fashioning can be considered an appeal to ethos because it promotes the audience’s confidence in Buxtehude as a musical orator.
Integrating musical analysis and interpretation within a larger discussion of his self-fashioning both brings a new social perspective to understanding his organ music, as well as allows his identity as a musician infuse the history of his reputation. Moreover, Buxtehude’s combination of musical and non-musical means of fashioning his reputation demonstrates how baroque musicians were able to navigate the transition between an era where they were through of merely as civil servants and one in which artistic genius became celebrated in its own right.
Level of Honors
summa cum laude
Conservatory of Music
VanZalen, Alexis A., "The Self-Fashioning of a Consummate Musical Orator" (2013). Lawrence University Honors Projects. 46.