Gigging stories: Buxtehude's ugly daughter

In the late seventeenth century, there was a fantastic musician named Dietrich Buxtehude. He landed a sweet gig as music director in the city of Lübeck.. He could play the organ so well that people flocked from all over Germany to hear his concerts on Sunday afternoons. Even old Bach himself (when he was young) got permission for a study leave and walked several hundred miles to hear Buxtehude play. The concerts were so exciting that Bach accidentally forgot to go back to work for four months. When the time was right, Buxtehude began to look for a successor so that he could retire. There was one problem. He wanted to make sure that his daughter would have some kind of financial security after he retired. Organist salaries have not improved that much since the late seventeenth century, so his pension would not be enough to sustain her. She needed to be married.

Back in the day, the way you picked up a good gig was by apprenticing with a master. You would fulfill some of his duties and do on the job training until he retired or died. Then, you became the master. It was also not uncommon for the apprentice to marry the masters’ daughter. Buxtehude had married his predecessor’s daughter. He decided that the best coarse of action would be to link the two items together.

So, when someone showed up to audition, Buxtehude would pull the applicant aside and say, “This is a really sweet gig. Lübeck is a great town. The congregation is very supportive. The organ is fantastic. Oh, by the way, if you want the job, you have to marry my daughter.” For many, this didn’t seem too unreasonable until they took the local tour. It turned out that Buxtehude had a big, ugly, German daughter. Soon after the applicants would meet her, they would gracefully withdraw their applications. Even Handel and Mattheson thought that marrying the daughter was too high a price to pay. Apparently, when sacrificing for your art, there are certain sacrifices that are too costly. I propose we call it the Anna Margareta Buxtehude Barrier (or AMBB).

Here is my best transcription of a conversation that I had with a choir member that left my ensemble without explanation. It’s the closest I ever came to the AMBB. I was unknowingly in the role of Anna Margareta. I showed up for a gig as a sub at a church about a week after I was fired for supposedly killing a rabbit (you can read about that here), and found her singing in the choir. She was about 15 to 20 years older than me.

“Hi, it’s nice to see you again.”
“Nice to see you too.”
“You sort of left the ensemble at church 6 months ago without explanation.”
“Well, I’m glad you found a new place for yourself. You know I'm not there anymore.”
“I heard..…I can tell you why I left, but it’s kind of personal.”
“Well, you just started making me really uncomfortable.”
“Really?! I’m so sorry. How did I do that?”
“Well, I just started feeling like you were making advances toward me.”
“Like…romantic advances?!”
“How…I mean, what did I do that gave you that impression.”
“Well, you know how you started asking me to meet you at the church in the evenings?”
“Um, no.”
“Yes. You started asking me to meet you at the church late at night.”
“I have no idea what you are talking about. When did I do that?”
“You were asking me to meet you on Sunday nights late in the evening.”
“Wait, are you talking about choir rehearsal for the ensemble?”
“But, that was a rehearsal. There were other people there. We were all rehearsing.”
“Well, it was in the evening, and you were asking me to meet you at the church.”
“WITH OTHER PEOPLE! It was a rehearsal.”

“Well, I just thought it was kind of weird that you were asking me to meet you at the church at night.”
“But it wasn’t just you. It was a rehearsal.”
“I know, but I just felt like you were making romantic advances, and it made me uncomfortable. So, I had to leave.”
“Um…OK. I’m glad you found a place where you are more comfortable. Do they rehearse in the evenings here?”
“Yes, but it’s different because the director is a woman.”
“I see. Well, I’m sorry if you felt that way.”

At this point, I exited as gracefully as possible. I know that as soon as I start apologizing for how she felt that the conversation wasn't going to continue well. Conversations with delusional people are usually fun, but this one came a little too close to the AMBB. I quickly switched my part to the role of Handel and quietly withdrew.

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