Dieterich Buxtehude Biography

(Organist and Church Music Composer of the Baroque period)

Born: 1637

Born In: Helsingborg, Sweden

Dietrich Buxtehude was a Danish composer and organist known as one of the most important composers of the mid baroque era. The place and time of his birth have been heavily debated but his influence on European classical music is undeniably close to that of Bach. Dietrich took early lessons in organ from his father, who played the organ at a church. Dietrich worked during the Baroque period and became a pioneer in the development of new forms of music that were different from the musical traditions of that time. In 1668, he joined Marienkirche, in Lubeck where he took the position of head organist. This led to his popularity spreading throughout the country and the continent. He worked and lived there his entire life and created a musical legacy, which inspired the likes of legendary musicians such as Johann Mattheson and Johann Sebastian Bach. Among his most popular works are his vocal compositions, organ compositions, preludes and toccatas, chorale settings, ostinato and other keyboard compositions. While there are not many of his original manuscripts to be found today, there are multiple secondary sources that have kept his music alive.

Quick Facts

Also Known As: Diderik Hansen Buxtehude

Died At Age: 70


Spouse/Ex-: Anna Margarethe

father: Johannes Buxtehude

mother: Helle Jaspersdatters

siblings: Peter

children: Anna Margreta Buxtehude, Anna Sophia Buxtehude, Dorothea Catrin Buxtehude, Helena Buxtehude, Helena Elisabeth Buxtehude, Maria Engel Buxtehude

Born Country: Sweden

Organists Composers

Died on: May 9, 1707

place of death: Lübeck, Germany

City: Helsingborg, Sweden

Childhood & Early Life

Dietrich Buxtehude was born Diderik Hansen Buxtehude, in 1637, in Helsingborg, Denmark-Norway. His parents were Johannes Buxtehude and Helle Jespersdatter. While there are still doubts about the time of his birth, many historians agree that he was born in 1637. The exact place of his birth has also been uncertain. Many historians believe that he was born in Holstein, which was under the Danish monarchy back in that time but is in Germany currently.

There is very little documented about his early years growing up. But it has been widely reported that his father was an organist and Dietrich received his early education from his father. His father was an organist at the St. Holai Church and due to that, Dietrich gained an early interest in becoming an organist.

Until the age of 20, Dietrich learned organ from his father and supposedly made his own debut as an organist in 1657.

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Following his education from his father, Dietrich was employed at the Mariekirke in Helsingor. He worked there for a year or two and later moved to Lubeck to become the organist at Mariekirke, St. Marie’s Church. Thus, he took the place of ace organist Franz Tunder.

While working at St. Marie’s church, Dietrich began organizing the evening concerts of choral and organ music, which had become a big success. The concerts took place on five Sundays before Christmas every year. These annual events paved way for the immense success Dietrich enjoyed as a musician. However, not many of the works from that period survived.

He was working in Lubeck, which was an imperial city and his work was being noticed by some of the biggest names in the industry. The city was the mecca of musicians in Northern Germany and several musicians visited him from time to time. Legendary musician Sebastian Bach was also known as one of his admirers who walked hundreds of miles just to meet Dietrich and attend his musical events.

Deitrich’s autonomy in the most important city for Baroque musicians served as a model for composers such as  Johann Mattheson, Georg Philipp Telemann and Johann Sebastian Bach. Many of them wanted to take his place. Dietrich served at the church for the entirety of his life.

As an organist at the church, Dietrich had a vast range of duties. He provided the congregational chorals and musical interludes for other services as well. In addition, he also served as the treasurer, business manager and secretary of the church. He was so well at his job as it had become a lucrative position among the budding organists such as Handel and Bach. They both wanted to succeed Dietrich but he had laid one condition. His successor would marry one of his daughters. It was a condition that was not accepted by either Bach or Handel or other musicians.

Apart from playing music at church, Dietrich was also invited by the locales to play at their events such as marriages and funerals. He was also paid a handsome amount for his services since only the elites and merchants of the city invited him mostly.

He left a massive log of vocal and instrumental music. However, his music was not preserved that well at that time. But in the 20th century, many of his musical instrumentals and vocals were recovered, while a majority of them still not recovered.

Most of his celebrated work was on an organ. It includes a big variety such as toccatas, preludes, fugues, chaconnes and chorales.  He also composed one passacaglia. His passacaglia was later understood as the main inspiration for Bach’s Passacaglia in C Minor. Most of his harpsichord music also stands lost.

The nineteen organ preludes that he composed are known to be his biggest contribution to the music world of the 17th century or the mid-Baroque period. These compositions of his are considered to be sectional compositions that switch between a strict counterpoint and swift improvisations. The techniques adopted by Bach have clear inspirations from Dietrich. Bach’s discovery of the famous prelude and fugue is also widely considered to be inspired by Dietrich’s work.

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While Dietrich’s own body of work is lost, for the most part, his major influence on Bach remains one of the remnants of his legacy as Bach is considered one of the greatest musicians of all time.

Talking about the chorale settings developed by Dietrich, there are about 40 of them that have survived to this day. In the 17th century, these chorales are considered one of the greatest contributions to the world of music.

In addition, there are also three Ostinato bass works that also left a significant impact on the music of the 17th century. Dietrich has also composed several variation sets and 19 harpsichord suites.

Personal Life & Death

Dietrich Buxtehude married the daughter of Franz Tunder, Anna Margarethe, in 1668. Franz was the organ player at Marienkirche, in Lubeck. Only after that did Dietrich assume his position. It is still not known whether it was a compulsory condition for anyone to succeed at that position. Dietrich had seven daughters with his wife. 

His father and brother came to stay with him at Lubeck in the 1670s. Dietrich played the music at his father’s funeral event.

Johann Matheson and George Handel approached Dietrich to be named his successor at the church. But Dietrich put forth a condition that the one who succeeds him will have to marry his daughter. It was declined by both musicians.

Bach was a huge admirer of Dietrich. He travelled a distance of 250 miles and waited three months in Lubeck, just to listen to Abendmusik, an event where Dietrich played annually.

Dietrich passed away on May 9, 1707. He was 70 years old at the time of his death.


Most of all, Dietrich Buxtehude has been known as an inventive and creative composer, standing himself apart from that time’s solid, workmanlike way of making music. His work seemed to be inspired by his own experiences and was highly intuitive. The extant works produced by him are considered to be a very small percentage of his overall body of work. Also, many of his extant works are only available today owing to secondary sources.

Italian and Southern German music took full advantage of the pioneering work that Dietrich produced and ended up placing Dietrich among the most influential European musicians of all time. He was also known as the composer who invented the instrument called toccata.

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