Buxtehude spent the first thirty years of his life in Danmark where he probably received his musical education from his father, an organist himself. His glorious career started when he moved to Germany, where he held three offices as an organist: in Helsingborg, in St. Mary of Helsingoer and St. Mary of Lübeck, where he spent his last years.
Buxtehude composed both sacred music and profane music. Lübeck's bourgeoisie, during its sumptuous years, asked him for compositions that were meant to be played during the holidays. He essentially wrote vocal pieces, works for organ, for harpsichord and chamber music. Liked by his audience, he established the musical evenings of the Advent (music for evening: Abenmusiken). In Lübeck, he became friends with musician Reinken, was Bruhns's teacher and met Bach. The latter, fervent admirer of the organist, walked 400 kilometers to assist to the Abenmusiken that was held to commemorate the accession to the throne of Joseph I in 1705. This admiration for Buxtehude had a huge influence on Bach's work, especially in his sacred dimension.
He was during his time the most celebrated composer in Germany and a musician famous through all of Europe. Forgotten for a while, he was rediscovered during the 19th century by Philipp Spitta who shared his musical discovery with Brahms. Together they decided to publish the newly found partitions.
Five landmark dates in the life of Dietrich Buxtehude
• 1657-1658: organist in Helsingborg
• 1660: organist in St. Mary of Helsingoer
• 1668: entered his office of organist in Lübeck and his role of administrator for the St Mary's Church. He replaced Franz Turner, whose daughter he wedded as tradition demands
• 1703: Mattheson and Handel visited Buxtehude, thinking of his succession, but none of them wanted to marry Buxtehude's daughter. This refusal of wedding is only a legend according to some biographers. Martheson and Handel had other ambitions
• 1705: Bach crossed 400 kilometers on foot, leaving from Arnstadt, to attend the Abenmusiken on the 2nd and 3rd of December.
Five key works by Dietrich Buxtehude
• Passacaglia in D minor BuxWV 161
• Membra Jesus Nostri BuxWV 75
• Jesus meines Lebens Leben
• Prelude in G minor for organ BuxWV 150
• Fugue in C major for organ BuxWV 174