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Music by J.S. Bach, D. Buxtehude, and more

Saturday November 16, 2019 at 7:30PM - Christ Church Cathedral

Pre-concert talk at 6:45PM with Ton Koopman and Ian Alexander



Ton Koopman, organ


By his twenties, Antonius “Ton” Koopman was already carving a musical niche for himself in which he would rise to become one of the world’s most prominent performers in the early music movement. He founded his first Baroque orchestra in 1966, followed by an exuberant career (40 years and counting) of performance, conducting, and scholarship. He is widely regarded as one the finest organists, harpsichordists and conductors of our time. 

To view/download this programme, click here.

Batalha Famosa in C major

P. Bruna

Tiento sobre la letanía de la Virgen in g minor

Dieterich Buxtehude

Preludium in E major, BuxWV141

Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott in C major BuxWV 184

Partita Auf meinen lieben Gott in e minor BuxWV 179

(Allemande, double, Sarabande, Courante, Gigue)


L.N. Clerambault

Suite du premier ton

Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach

Sonata in D major Wq 70/5

(Allegro di molto – Adagio e mesto –Allegro)  


Johann Sebastian Bach

Preludium and Fuga in c minor BWV 546

Schmücke dich, o liebe Seele in E flat major BWV 654

Passacaglia in c minor BWV 582

Programme Notes

"One of the world’s leading period-performance gurus: a conductor, scholar, educator and polemicist who played a major role in introducing modern audiences to how the music of the past might have sounded in its own time.”  -- New York Times

The pipe organ has assimilated many changes and experiments over the course of its long history. In the 17th and 18th centuries, when its musical potential attracted the interest of almost every important composer, several distinct national styles evolved. Often borrowing from each other while also diverging in taste and techniques, the organ schools of Europe shared a complicated history of mutual influence and independent national achievements. 

In Spain and Portugal, organists delighted in recreating the sounds of the battlefield in their elaborate compositions called batalhas (battaglias) filled with special effects that invoked fanfares, cannons, and drum rolls.  To meet the demands of these popular pieces, the Iberian organs often boasted loud trumpet pipes which protruded horizontally from the front of the organ cases like great heraldic trumpets. Another feature of the Spanish organ was its divided keyboard which allowed the player to use a different sound for the right and left hands while playing on a single keyboard. Pieces like Pablo Bruna’s Tiento sobre la letania de la Virgen take advantage of this distinct innovation.

. . .

In protestant northern Europe, where the organ played a significant role in both religious and civic life, instruments were constructed on a massive scale. These large organs had several “divisions” of pipes controlled by multiple keyboards with brilliant choruses that could be played together or independently. The contrasting sections of Dieterich Buxtehude’s Praeludium in E showcase the various divisions of the organ (including the large pedal division) balancing fiery improvisatory sections with strict fugal counterpoint.

Another hallmark of the north German tradition was its incorporation of chorale melodies, the congregationally sung hymns of the Lutheran Church. Chorale settings for the organ often followed the same improvisatory techniques of the praeludia with fanciful embellishments of the chorale melody. In Buxtehude’s setting of Luther’s monumental Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott, the highly ornamented melody is played on a second keyboard with colourful solo stops. Similarly, the north German chorale partita functioned essentially as a theme and variations on the chorale melody. In the case of Auf meinen lieben Gott, Buxtehude used the traditional movements of the French suite to craft his variations. 

. . .

In catholic France, the organ’s specific liturgical functions led to a highly codified and instantly recognizable French style. The primary function of the French organ at the mass and daily offices was to accompany the plainchant singing in alternatim, meaning that the organ played on its own in between the sung lines of the chants. Collections of pieces, like Louis-Nicolas Clérambault’s Suite, allowed organists to pick and choose pieces for their services according to the key of the chant and the number of verses required. Each of the pieces has a title that specified the stops to be drawn (Cromorne, Trompette, Cornet, etc.) and how they should be played (Basse et Dessus, en Dialogue, etc.)

C. P. E. Bach did not always live up to his father’s prowess as an organist, once confessing that he had “lost the use of the pedals.” His lack of facility on the organ did not prevent him from writing several works for it. Of his most exquisite pieces are his collection of organ sonatas written for the aficionada Princess Anna Amalia of Prussia (1723-1787) who had an organ built specifically for her own use. A rather snide note attached to the sonata manuscript indicated that the composer and princess may have had a lot in common. It reads: “These four sonatas were written for a princess who couldn’t use the pedal or play difficult works, although she had a fine organ with two keyboards and a pedal built and loved to play it.”

. . .

The 17th and 18th century also saw a significant exchange of ideas between national styles. J. S. Bach was highly concerned with absorbing (and in his own way, perfecting) the continental styles of the time. In his large-scale Preludes and Fugues for the organ he channels his mentor Buxtehude by pairing down the multi-sectional north German praeludium into two colossal parts. In the case of the C minor Prelude and Fugue, the two parts are highly structured and function as standalone pieces. Indeed, they may have been conceived at different times in Bach’s life and only to be paired together later.

In the chorale settings like Schmücke dich, o liebe Seele, Bach, like Buxtehude, ornaments the chorale nearly beyond recognition. Played “auf 2 Klavier” (on two keyboards) like his north German contemporaries, Bach’s interpretation also adorns the melody with stylish ornaments that he borrows from his French counterparts.

Bach may also be somewhat indebted to Buxtehude for his Passacaglia which bears a passing resemblance to the elder master’s work of the same name. However, it may also be that Bach’s inspiration for the famous Passacaglia theme came from the melodies of a mass by André Raison (who coincidentally was Clérambault’s teacher). Whatever the case may be, Bach’s work is arguably the culmination of the genre. His epic construction of 22 variations on the ostinato theme is followed (in true Bach fashion) with a monumental fugue that expertly weaves the Passacaglia theme through episode after episode of contrapuntal genius. 

Mark McDonald


Tickets for the Pacific Baroque Series concerts at the Cathedral can be purchased:


Online Here


By calling the Ticket Rocket Box Office:​ 1.855.842.7575 

In person:

  • At the Ticket Rocket Box Office (1050 Meares Street) 

  • Or at the Cathedral Office (930 Burdett Avenue)

  • And at the following outlets:

    • Ivy’s Bookshop: 2188 Oak Bay Ave

    • Munro’s Books: 1108 Government St


Parking Information

The Cathedral is located on Quadra Street at Rockland Avenue. 

Street parking is available on Quadra Street, Burdett Avenue, and Rockland Avenue, as well as at the south entrance to the Cathedral off Burdett.

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