Buxtehude’s Passacaglia Principle
According to Alexander Silbiger, passacaglias and ciacconas can be regarded as genre-pairs, since they exhibit both shared features and subtle differences. This association has merit with respect to understanding Dieterich Buxtehude’s Passacaglia in D minor and Ciacconas in C minor and E minor for organ. Kerala J. Snyder has noted that in 1708 Johann Gottfried Walther defined a passacaglia as similar in com- positional style to that of a ciaccona. We can thereby obtain a glimpse into Buxtehu- de’s compositional practice by comparing his pieces with each other in order to better grasp their similarities and differences.
This article uncovers the “passacaglia principle” motivating Buxtehude’s ostinato organ works in order to ascertain stylistic norms associated with seventeenth-cen- tury North German ostinato keyboard works. It will show how Buxtehude’s pieces can be distinguished through differences in formal design, texture, and harmonic practice, which can help us to better understand Walther’s observation about pas- sacaglias and ciacconas. The article will then compare Buxtehude’s compositional approach with that of Johann Sebastian Bach, as exemplified by his C-minor Pas- sacaglia. Finally, it will argue for a stronger appreciation of Buxtehude’s legacy as a composer as related to his ostinato organ works in both Baroque music and beyond.