A Brief Guide to Sources
This online appendix serves two main purposes: (1) to provide an introduction to the types of primary sources most frequently cited in the present book, and (2) to give a few suggestions for further reading. Please refer to the Bibliography for full citations of the publications cited here by author and date or by title.
Primary sources for information about Bach are those written or published by him. We can extend the definition to include sources made by those who knew him, such as friends, colleagues, and pupils, but the reliability of information diminishes as we move away from Bach himself. The relevant sources can by divided between biographical and musical ones, the former comprising documents of various kinds, the latter scores and parts. Both types of sources may exist in either manuscript or printed forms. Today even specialists usually access them in modern editions, but the latter may substantially alter the appearance, sometimes also the substance, of the contents. Hence a Bach scholar must have some first-hand experience of the various types of sources to be able to evaluate any information purportedly extracted from themwhether a date of birth, a description of an organ, a musical score for a cantata, or a violinist’s part for the latter.
For Bach’s biography we have less ample primary source material than for the major European musicians of the next few generations, such as Haydn and Mozart, or even for a contemporary such as Handel, who worked in larger and wealthier cities and rubbed shoulders with a greater number of influential, literate people. Roughly two hundred letters and other documents survive in Bach’s hand, but most are famously laconic, typically a few lines of generic recommendation for a student. The longest, including several organ reports and a few memos relating to the controversies of the 1730s, rarely tell us anything about Bach as a person or about his most important professional activities, that is, composing and directing performances. Hence scholars have had to piece together a more or less conjectural picture of Bach from fleeting references in court personnel lists, payment receipts, records of his presence at weddings and christenings, and similar official and archival documents. Some of these are preserved in German government and church archives; some remain in private hands, others in special collections in research libraries.
Many such documents have been cited in the preceding chapters. Virtually all the ones then known were assembled and translated into English in The Bach Reader, first published in 1945 and subsequently reissued in an expanded version (The New Bach Reader, usually cited here as “NBR”). During the interim, a more complete German edition of the same material in its original languages began to be issued and now encompasses seven thick volumes (Bach- Dokumente or BD). The first three volumes contain the most important items, from before the nineteenth century. These volumes came out from 1963 to 1984; volume 5 (2007) added documents subsequently discovered.
Included in both BD and NBR were the earliest biographical documents about Bach and the Bach family. These begin with the so-called Genealogy, a list of family members drawn up by J. S. Bach himself, tracing, in the words of its original title, the “origin of the musical Bach family” (Urpsrung der musicalische bachischen Familie). Dated 1735, it must have drawn on older family records; it survives in a copy made by the daughter of C. P. E. Bach, who himself added further notes and updates. C. P. E. Bach was also the principal author of the first published biography of his father, the Obituary, published in 1754 in Mizler’s musical journal. The first book on the subject, by Johann Nicolaus Forkel, did not come out until 1801, and it was a slim volume based, apparently, on Forkel’s conversations with W. F. Bach, with whom the author had studied, as well as letters from C. P. E. Bach and other unnamed sources. Both the Obituary and Forkel’s book resemble less a modern biography than a compilation of anecdotes, a popular genre during the period in question; the content of any such work could be rendered unreliable not only by failures of memory but also by the deliberate shading or selectivity of information. By the time Bitter and Spitta published genuinely scholarly biographies during the later nineteenth century, many documentary sources had disappeared. This makes the Obituary and Forkel’s biography indispensable, but they require the type of critical reading offered in Peter Williams’s three biographical studies, each of which is a successively more extended commentary on the Obituary. BD also contains extensive commentaries, and these have proved influential on subsequent biographical writings, but they focus on providing basic information about the documents themselves, including the identification of names and other references within them.
Musical sources comprise both manuscripts and printed editions, and either type may consist of scores or individual performing parts. Manuscripts containing Bach’s handwriting are called autographs (short for “autograph manuscript”); others are copies. A manuscript entirely in his hand is a holograph, but many copies made by students or assistants include autograph titles, corrections, or performance markings (such as continuo figures) in Bach’s hand. Such a manuscript might have been checked or revised by Bach, but determining whether that was the case requires careful study of every detail in which his handwriting can be identified. In any case, it is a mistake to refer simply to “the manuscript” of a given composition; one must identify whose hand or hands it contains, when and where it was made, and for what purpose.
For instance, among autographs and holographs one can distinguish between first drafts or composing scores, which survive mainly for some of the Leipzig cantatas; later drafts or revision copies containing updated versions; and fair copies. Some instances of the latter (e.g., those for keyboard works) turned into revision copies as Bach added corrections and revisions, sometimes even before completing the initial copying. Only a few autographs intended for presentation to a patron or a printer (such as those for the Brandenburg Concertos and one or two movements from the Art of Fugue, respectively) are more or less pristine. Among copies, some were made for Bach’s own use, replacing worn-out or heavily revised autographs. Bach’s pupils and family members sometimes copied his music as part of their studies, but they also produced manuscripts for sale to others.
Bach and his heirs were not sentimental about his manuscripts, discarding composing scores when they could be replaced by revised copies or printed editions. Further losses have occurred subsequently, not least due to war and fire. Surviving autograph manuscripts nevertheless number in the hundreds (the exact tally depends on how they are counted). Far greater numbers of copies are known. Even for works that are extant in autographs, copies may be essential for understanding a work’s revisional history or its final state if only Bach’s composing score survives.
Although Bach published only a small fraction of his output, the printed editions that he issued passed through his hands and therefore have a status similar to that of autograph manuscripts. Individual copies of printed works are sometimes described as “exemplars.” Several of these contain handwritten additions by Bach and are thought to have been his personal copies (Handexemplaren), used for making corrections and small revisions. The number of exemplars printed for any of Bach’s published works was never greater than a few hundred; they are therefore almost as rare as manuscripts, and at least one published composition (the second council installation cantata for Mühlhausen) is lost.
Like other types of documents, most manuscripts and early editions are preserved in the special collection sections of large public research libraries: above all the former Prussian State Library in Berlin but also the Library of Congress in Washington, the British Library in London, and similar collections as far from Leipzig as Tokyo. Although access to Bach’s autographs is now severely restricted (to reduce physical deterioration of the often fragile originals), the majority of these as well as hundreds of manuscript copies can be viewed online at Bach-Digital. This is a product of several German institutions devoted to preserving Bach’s legacy. The same website includes a database that incorporates much of the information about musical sources originally published by Paul Kast (1958, rev. 2003) and in the volumes of the NBA (see below). This matter is given in both English and German. Other online databases, including the lists of Bach’s works on imslp.org and various Wikipedia pages, may be easier to use but must be consulted with caution, as the sources of information are not always identified or up-to-date. (Bach-Digital is not always accurate either, but at least its sources can generally be assumed to be the most recent relevant volumes of the NBA and BJ, listed below.)
Naturally, the various types of sources vary with respect to completeness, accuracy, and legibility. Bach’s composing autographs are often messy, with revisions that can be hard to read, and they typically lack performance markings that he added only in individual parts made by copyists. Some copyists were better than others at interpreting his autographs, and not all copies were carefully proofread; the sale copy of the cello suites by Anna Magdalena is neatly written but contains uncorrected errors as well as many imprecisely drawn slurs. In the case of the cello suites, one or two anonymous copies made from a lost revision autograph are more reliable and give a later version than the manuscript made by Bach’s second wife. But earlier editors were unaware of this, and errors or misinterpretations of sources can be found in scores and parts for many of Bach’s works, even in recent editions from reputable publishers.
When the first collected edition of Bach’s music appeared, beginning in 1850 under the auspices of the German Bach Society (Bachgesellschaft), editors often worked from whatever copies were conveniently available locally. Sometimes this meant manuscripts that happened to belong to their personal collections. Although Spitta and others advocated for a more professional or scientific approach to the evaluation of sourcesparallel to that developed for literary sources such as the bibleeditors of Bach’s music have been surprisingly inconsistent. Even the second German collected edition, the “New Bach Edition” (Neue Bach-Ausgabe or NBA), founded a century after the first in 1950, contains some rather casually edited volumes that have had to be redone to reflect modern standards. On the other hand, the first collected edition or BG already contained some remarkable editorial scholarship (notably for the Well- Tempered Clavier), a tradition continued especially in the many volumes prepared by Alfred Dürr for the NBA, ranging from keyboard music to cantatas.
This is not the place for an account of specific musical sources, many of which are mentioned in the discussions of individual works. Particularly famous are the autograph scores of the B-Minor Mass and the two extant passions; the Brandenburg Concertos and the violin solos; and the Well-Tempered Clavier (although the “autograph” of Part 2 is really a set of separate little manuscripts for each prelude and fugue, a few of which are actually copies by Anna Magdalena). These manuscripts have been known since the nineteenth century, but discoveries continue to be made, as in the identification of Bach’s personal exemplar of the Goldberg Variations; this included a page with his autograph manuscript of fourteen canons (BWV 1087). Detailed descriptions of these and other sources appear in the kritischer Bericht (critical report) that accompanies every volume of the NBA; these reports are in German, but essential information from them is available online in English on Bach-Digital (as mentioned above).
Any modern edition worthy of the name describes and evaluates its sources, just as writings about particular repertories should include accounts of relevant manuscripts and early printed editions. Unfortunately, non-specialists may be easily misled by editions, writings, and recordings that do not represent current understanding of Bach sources. Although cheap reprints of nineteenth-century “annotated” editions are not as popular as they once were, they have been replaced by electronic scans of the same editions that can be downloaded from any number of websites, such as imslp.org. The latter does contain many reputable editions, as well as an increasing number of primary sources (including Bach autographs). Yet users need to distinguish scholarly editions from the heavily marked-up scores and parts (with anachronistic slurs, dynamics, and other added markings) that are still produced as supposed aids for students. More sophisticated users may prefer to play from manuscripts or early printed editions, but with these one must understand whether a downloaded source is a trustworthy autograph or an unreliable copy. Even an autograph may be of little value if it gives an early version and one is looking for a more familiar revised form of a piece.
The literature on Bach is enormous. Fortunately there exist works that can lead readers to serious writings on the subject. Daniel Melamed and Michael Marissen’s Introduction to Bach Studies (1998) is now more than two decades old, but it remains a useful guide to traditional research tools and is available as an e-book. More recently, Robin Leaver (2017) has compiled a collection of essays by specialists on topics ranging from manuscripts to households and schools; these furnish not only useful background but also handy references to recent scholarship. An online Bach Bibliography originally created by Yo Tomita at Queen’s University, Belfast, is now maintained by the Bach-Archiv, a research library and institute in Leipzig; the bibliography is particularly useful for finding articles and reviews in scholarly journals and chapters in books comprising contributions by multiple authors (a common type of publication in Bach studies).
Readers of this book may be especially interested in proceeding to more comprehensive or interpretive biographical writings. That of Williams (2016) may be the most critical, commenting on issues in the life and works equally. More strictly biographical are works by Wolff (2001) and Geck (2000; Eng. trans., 2006), the former emulating Spitta by providing a comprehensive view of Bach derived strictly from contemporary documents, the latter somewhat more speculative. On specific musical repertories, one might consult Williams (2003) on the organ music, Schulenberg (2006) on other keyboard compositions, and Ledbetter (2009) on the works for solo violin, cello, and flute; Dürr (trans. Jones, 2005) provided a guide to the cantatas, and Melamed (2005) introduces the passions, as does Rathey (2016a) together with the other major vocal works. There are no comparable recent English-language books on the works for instrumental ensemble, but these are adequately covered in several German publications and in individual entries in Boyd’s Oxford Bach Companion (1999).
Those with German who wish to keep up with current scholarship can do so by reading the specialized articles in the Bach-Jahrbuch. This annual publication is especially notable for its detailed reports of newly uncovered documents. Some of those reports have eventually appeared in English versions (alongside other articles) in Bach: The Journal of the Riemenschneider Institute. Another publication, Bach Perspectives, issued at irregular intervals by the American Bach Society, contains further scholarship, often focusing more on the music and its cultural context than on strictly biographical subjects.
Finally, a word about the standard list of Bach’s compositions, the Bach-Werke- Verzeichnis (“catalog of Bach’s works,” abbreviated BWV). Originally compiled in the 1930s by Wolfgang Schmieder, this was finally published in 1950, a second edition appearing in 1990. Although incorporating lists of sources and bibliography, as well as titles and incipits (opening themes in musical notation), this is too outdated to serve as a useful reference tool. The BWV numbers remain in use, however, despite the subsequent appearance of four volumes of the much more detailed Bach-Compendium (BC). The latter is now also out of date, the most recent volume having appeared in 1989, nor has it proceeded from the vocal to the instrumental music. Neither BWV nor BC ever appeared in English, and both are now superseded by Bach-Digital as a source for basic information about Bach’s works, although the latter lacks incipits.
Both BWV and BC numbers are non-chronological, grouping works by genre. Within categories, the BC list aims at chronological order, but the sequence of BWV numbers is often random or arbitrary, reflecting accidents of transmission or first publication in the nineteenth century. The original list ended with BWV 1080 (Art of Fugue), and subsequent discoveries have been appended, with higher numbers. Spurious and doubtful works originally listed in the appendix (Anhang) bear “BWV Anh.” Numbers. The most recent edition of BWV divides these into three groups: (I) lost works known only from printed librettos and the like; (II) works of doubtful authorship; and (III) spurious works. But a number of compositions of all three types still bear regular BWV numbers and are included in the main list. Some numbers in the list include letter suffixes, as BWV 207a; these may be early, revised, or spurious versions of the same work listed without the letter.