Composer Feature: Franz Tunder

On 22 September 1990 the Belgian Astronomer Eric Walter Elst discovered a minor planet at the La Silla Observatory in northern Chile. Read the fascinating story of the name he chose for Asteroid 7871…

Diagram from the International Astronomical Union showing the orbit of 7871 Tunder

Diagram from the International Astronomical Union showing the orbit of 7871 Tunder

Elst is credited with being among the top 10 discoverers of minor planets including asteroids and with 3868 to his name. Many of his discoveries he named after famous composers such as 3784 Chopin, 3910 Liszt, 4492 Debussy and 4344 Buxtehude. But this one he named 7871 Tunder after the German composer and organist of the early to middle Baroque, Franz Tunder.

Eric Walter Elst

Eric Walter Elst

Franz Tunder was born in Lübeck in 1614 and at the age of 18 was appointed as court organist to Frederick III, Duke of Holstein-Gottorp in Gottorf. It is thought that he had been studying in Italy with the great Italian keyboardist, Girolamo Frescobaldi in Florence. By 1641 he had been appointed as the organist at Lübeck’s main church, the Marienkirche, a post he held for the rest of his life after which he was succeeded by Dieterich Buxtehude – who married Tunder’s daughter, Anna Margarethe, in 1668.

Franz Tunder

Franz Tunder

Chris Webb from Musica Poetica tells us more about the group’s interest in Tunder’s music…

“We first came across Tunder’s music almost by accident. We were looking for German music written for the same forces as a piece we were performing by Buxtehude for 2 violins, continuo and five voices. Tunder’s Dominus illuminatio mea fitted the bill perfectly. But it quickly became apparent that this was more than just a ‘programme filler’ – it’s a great piece, full of colour and creative word-setting – a fascinating fusion of Italian and German styles. So this is when our love affair with Tunder’s music began. In fact he even gave our group its name as he was a key exponent of the musica poetica style. His is music full of dramatic word-painting and often daring harmonic experimentation.”

Da mihi Domine - an example of OJ Ruthven's new Tunder edition - currently being prepared for publication

Da mihi Domine – an example of OJ Ruthven’s new Tunder edition – currently being prepared for publication

Chris explained the background to developing the Tunder World 2017 series of free lunchtime concerts at St Sepulchre’s in the City of London…

“We were drawn to the Abendmusiken tradition and Tunder’s 17 surviving vocal works, which fitted nicely into a 9-concert series. These works are also varied in terms of style and forces – some for solo voice and small string ensemble, some for viol consort and as many as five or six singers. We think they provide an excellent overview to the stylistic developments of early Baroque in 17th century Germany. This year is a Tunder anniversary year too – he died 350 years ago in 1667 – so it seemed a good time to make him our focus. 

As we make our way through our year of Tunder, we are discovering that the way he uses instruments to support and decorate the vocal line is ingenious and often very subtle, certainly on a par with Buxtehude and Matthias Weckmann. He must have had some very good singers at his disposal in Lubeck, as the vocal writing is very challenging and explores the extremes of vocal range. It’s exciting music, music ‘in transition’, playing with the conventions of the time and musical innovations from all over Europe.”

So from the German early baroque to the asteroid belt, the music of Franz Tunder has certainly been on a celestial journey. Be sure to catch some of his fascinating music this years as part of the Tunder World series of concerts by Music Poetica.

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