Buxtehude: Membra Jesu Nostri

On Saturday, 16 April at 3pm the Adelaide Cantata Band will be presenting a special liturgical setting of Buxtehude’s cantata cycle, Membra Jesu Nostri, BuxWV 75, (roughly translated as ‘The Seven Wounds of Christ on the Cross’).

In his biography of Buxtehude, musicologist Gilles Cantagrel observes:

‘Devotion to the wounds of the crucified Christ is an extremely ancient practice. Initially five wounds were venerated, not always the same, but subsequently the number was raised to seven in order to reach the symbolic figure par excellence. … The transcribed copies appear to show that the seven cantatas would not all have been performed for a single occasion. But their conception as an organic whole allows us to conjecture that they were intended to take their place within a liturgy or a series of liturgical celebrations, perhaps alternating with other texts.’

The text is drawn from a collection of verse-prayers, Salve mundi salutare, well-known at the time and attributed (erroneously, as it turns out) to Bernard of Clairvaux. Buxtehude chose only a few verses from this collection for each cantata in the cycle, preceding each selection with a biblical verse. The final poem (The Face) of the Salve mundi salutare is well-known to all of us in the form of Paul Gerhardt’s metrical translation into German: O Haupt voll Blut und Wunden (O sacred head, sore wounded), which, set to Hans Leo Hassler’s masterful chorale melody has been immortalised through Bach’s many ingenious harmonisations throughout his oeuvre as the Passion Chorale.

Gilles Cantagrel describes the structure of Buxtehude’s cycle:

‘In a great ascending movement, the meditation begins on the ground, with those feet that were pierced by nails, and rises heavenwards, to the sublime face of the Man of Sorrows, lingering with particular intensity on the Redeemer’s heart. Thus the seven cantatas evoke in turn Christ’s feet, knees, hands, side, breast, heart, and face.’

The link is to a 2004 recording by the Schola Cantorum Basiliensis, the renowned centre for early music studies in Basel, Switzerland.

This performance by the Adelaide Cantata Band is generously supported by Arts SA. Free of charge. Details: https://www.facebook.com/events/1327730867639186

Source: Gilles Cantagrel, 2006, Dietrich Buxtehude, Fayard, Paris. Tr. Charles Johnston.

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