Diderik Buxtehude

Almost everything to do with Mr. Buxtehude is up for argument, it seems…  including how you spell his name! But you wouldn’t know this, I think, merely by glancing at his entry in the New Grove, where he is listed simply and briefly as ‘Dietrich Buxtehude’, which seems straightforward enough. But it then goes on to say he was ‘German or Danish’, which seems just a tad vague about a fairly fundamental aspect of most people’s lives -and gives a clue to the depths of dispute one is about to descend!

New Grove gives a pretty bald statement that he was born, quote, “?Oldesloe [now Bad Oldesloe]”, with  the question mark indicating some degree of uncertainty, though swiftly moving past it… presumably in the hope that no-one will ask pesky questions about it! If he was born in Oldesloe, which is in Holstein, Germany, then the Germanic claim on him would be strengthened. However, it is now usually agreed that he was born in Helsingborg, Skåne, which was at that time part of Denmark (though is now -just!- in Sweden, to throw yet another nationality into the already confusing waters), with Oldesloe merely being where his father came from. His 1707 obituary in Nova literaria Maris Balthici says that he recognised Denmark as his native land, if that is indicative of anything.

Either way, unfortunately, the confusion as to his nationality persists -and how you resolve it is central to how you spell his name! If you think of him as German, then ‘Dietrich’ would be appropriate. If you think of him as Danish, then ‘Diderik’ is correct -though one can reasonably argue that that is a modern Danish spelling and ‘Diderich’ would be the more historically correct Danish spelling.

It doesn’t help any that whilst his birth-name was ‘Diderik’, he is said to have later on adopted the Germanic form of his name and signed several documents as “Dieterich Buxtehude”, which throws yet another possible spelling into the mix (that’s an extra ‘e’ compared to what most folks now accord him in his Germanised spelling, after all!)

Ultimately, how you spell the name of someone so obscured by the passage of time is probably less important than that you should listen to his music! Johann Sebastian Bach would definitely have thought so, anyway: he famously walked 250 miles from Arnstadt to Buxtehude’s residence in the city of Lübeck, to learn the secrets of masterly organ playing from him.

In any event, I prefer the modern Danish spelling, but it’s clearly capable of further debate and discussion! In which case, I should perhaps point out that Last.fm has 30 (thirty!) variations on his name, with the majority opting for Dietrich. I tend not to regard the users of Last.fm as being authoritative sources in such matters, however, and I’m sticking with Diderik, which is Danish and distinctive.

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