Biennial Meeting of the American Bach Society
September 27–30, 2012
The lives of eighteenth-century musicians are notoriously difficult to reconstruct from available sources. Application letters and audition protocols, employment and account ledgers document extraordinary events, and seldom offer much insight into the matters that concerned professional musicians on a daily basis. Historians have sought to develop a composite picture by amalgamating the details provided in many different sources, but the image that emerges is inevitably diffuse. A detailed account of the life of a single musician over an extended period of time would be a welcome addition to the historical record.
Through recent archival research in Germany I was able to discover an account book kept by an organist active in the mid-eighteenth century named Carl August Hartung (1723–1800). Hartung's only prior mention in the scholarly literature stems from his having briefly taught composition and theory to the teenage Louis Spohr. The discovery of this previously unknown account book, however, suddenly makes him the best-documented Germany organist of the century. On 358 pristine pages Hartung recorded nearly every Pfennig he spent and received between the ages of 29 and 42, while serving as an organist in Cöthen (1752–1760) and Braunschweig (1760–1765). Though his life was unique, many of the activities, challenges, and rewards documented in the book were familiar to thousands of other musicians throughout the eighteenth century. In this presentation I will present what is known of C. A. Hartung's biography on the basis of his account book, focusing in particular on his diverse sources of income, his relations with students, colleagues, patrons and family members, and his fascination with the music of J. S. Bach.
The paper consists of two parts. The first, introductory part will review briefly the history of research into the pupils of J. S. Bach, beginning with Bach's obituary and Forkel, and extending down through B. F. Richter, to the findings of Hans Löffler, whose final list appeared in 1953. Almost sixty years have passed since Löffler's death, and his list, although still valuable, is seriously outdated. The emergence of new documents and information over the past six decades warrants a new and comprehensive lexicon of all students of Bach, based on both earlier findings and new materials that have come to light since 1953.
The second and preponderant part of the paper will focus on the Czech organist and composer, Matthias Sojka, who was presumably a student of Bach in the late 1740s. I shall concentrate my remarks on Sojka, since his case ideally illustrates several of the problems that are encountered in evaluating early sources, determining the reliability of manuscripts, both extant and lost, judging the veracity of contemporary eye witness reports, as well as a number of other issues, in which local lore must be weighed against documentary evidence.
In November 1717, Johann Sebastian Bach was engaged to examine the newly rebuilt and enlarged organ at the University of Leipzig's St. Paul's Church. According to contemporary reports, Bach not only declared the organ to be without any major faults but could not praise it enough, noting especially the organ's rare, recently invented stops. Modern scholarship, however, has tended to agree with the assessment of Johann Andreas Silbermann (nephew of Saxony's most famous organ builder, Gottfriend Silbermann), who on a visit to Leipzig in 1741 declared: "The tone and workmanship do not accord with the report of Herr Capellmeister Bach; the Pedal reeds are nothing worth a damn (Kein Teuffel nutz)." Scholars interpret Bach's report, written immediately after the examination, as lukewarm at best and, at worst, as severely critical of Johann Scheibe, the local Leipzig organ builder who moved, rebuilt, and enlarged the organ in a two-phase project in the years 1710 to 1712 and 1714 to 1716.
Scheibe's letters to the University provide a rare, behind-the-scenes glimpse into the circumstances prevailing at the time of Bach's examination. They reveal that Bach's comments were not pro forma—merely following the guidelines and language established by Andreas Werckmeister, for example—but, rather, actively engaged issues then existing between the builder and the University of Leipzig. Drawing on archival materials, my paper will demonstrate that Bach was not so much criticizing Scheide as acting on his behalf, thus confirming the assertion reported by Forkel that Bach's intervention on behalf of organ builders "went so far that, when he found the work really good and the sum agreed upon too small, so that the builder would evidently have been a loser by his work, he endeavored to induce those who had contracted for it to make a suitable addition—which he in fact obtained in several cases."
In the late 1990s, the Sächsische Landes- und Universitätsbibliothek Dresden acquired a remarkable eighteenth-century manuscript that contains an edited and slightly modernized version of Michael Praetorius' treatise on testing and keeping a newly built organ. The manuscript, obviously intended for publication, is furnished with a preface by the Mühlhausen cantor Johann Lorenz Albrecht (1732-1773) and an appendix with 56 dispositions of organs from Thuringia. A second appendix contains even more dispositions and highly interesting comments of important organs from towns such as Altenburg, Dresden, Eisenach, Freiberg, Halle, Merseburg, and Rötha. While the main body of the manuscript was all written by a single scribe (probably J. L. Albrecht himself), the second appendix is a miscellany of letters and papers in different sizes and written by different hands. In my paper I will give a preliminary overview of the source and try to trace its origins and provenance. Finally, I will focus on the second appendix and try to show that the information presented here was gathered by a person from Bach's immediate circle, who systematically collected materials on the important organs in central Germany.
In September of 1739 J. S. Bach played on the recently completed Trost organ in the Schlosskirche in Altenburgh and attested to its excellence. Published at the end of the same month, the composer's monumental published collection of organ music, Clavierübung III, has always been linked with Bach's performance on that occasion although there is no proof to support such a hypothesis. At the same time, Bach scholars have pointed to the Trinitarian symbolism, some of it overt, which permeates the collection.
The richly adorned cartouche mounted above the key desk of the Trost organ includes a dedication by the Landherr of Saxe-Gotha, duke Frederick III, headed by the words "to the triune glory of God." Eighteenth-century biographies of the prince make mention of his obsession with the Trinity and the symbolism around it and in the Staatsbibliothek, Berlin there is a bibliographic entry for a pamphlet (no longer extant) referring to the triunophilia of the duke ("die dreyfache Fürstenlust") as part of his birthday celebrations in 1740. In this paper I will link the façade of the Trost organ and a portion of the Clavierübung III collection that appears to have existed as a discreet entity independent of the collection as a whole with the triunophilia of the patron from whom both works of art were created.
The subject of my paper is Johann Matthias Holzhey († 1728), town organist in Schleusingen in southern Thuringia and apparently an ancestor of the south-German family of organ builders. Holzhey so far has not played any role in Bach scholarship and in musicology in general. To be sure, Holzhey neither left any compositions (at least none have come down to us), nor does his name appear in the known Bach documents. What makes him nevertheless an important, if not unique figure among the Thuringian organists is the fact that he left numerous manuscript documents about organ building, organ playing and networking of organists. These documents originated from his continuous efforts and petitions to his supervisors to have a new organ built in his church, which kept him busy for more than twenty years. Since Holzhey was a student of Johann Michael Bach, his documents are of great value especially for Bach scholarship. And indeed among the numerous Thuringian organists that Holzhey asked for support for his plans to get a new organ at Schleusingen, we also find that name of the Johann Sebastian Bach.
In September 1936 Eastman's Sibley Library acquired a mid-eighteenth-century manuscript Choral-Buch identified on the spine, in a contemporary hand, as "Sebastian Bach's Choral-Buch." Similarly, in a different eighteenth-century hand, the title-page declares: "Sebast. Bach, 4 Stimmiges Choralbuch." Contrary to this information, the melodies appear with figured bass, rather than with fully written-out inner parts. The chorales are given in a sequence similar to that found in contemporary Gesangbücher — beginning with the Sundays, festivals, and celebrations of the church year. The anthology was apparently intended as a source of organ accompaniments for congregational singing.
Spitta examined the manuscript briefly and concluded: "The volume exhibits, neither in Bach's handwriting nor in the composition of the chorales, a single trace of Bach's style or spirit." In 1981 Hans-Joachim Schulze examined the manuscripts and identified the hand on the spine as that of Carl August Thieme (1721-1795), a pupil of Bach at the Thomasschule between 1735 and 1745. But more recently, however, significant doubts have been raised about the identification. The watermark suggests a Dresden origin, dating from sometime around 1740.
The paper offers a description of the manuscript, an overview of its content, and a discussion of its significance as a possible witness to the practices of the circle organists who studied with Bach in the 1740s.
This paper addresses an unexplored aspect of Bach's organ chorales, namely, his tendency when arranging tunes in bar form (AAB) to write a varied repeat of the "A" section of the melody, known as the Stollen, rather than restating it note for note. In writing bar-form chorales for the organ, Bach takes this tack about a fourth of the time—and in a total of twenty-one different works—which apparently is a far higher percentage than in his vocal compositions. The reason for this discrepancy has to do with the chronology and compositional influence, for most of Bach's organ works that include a varied Stollen seem to have been written at a very early date and in imitation of the north-German organ school. The latter conclusion is based on a survey of literally hundreds of bar-form organ chorales by Bach's predecessors and contemporaries.
Bach's preference for the varied Stollen is at its strongest in his so-called Neumeister chorales, where the variation techniques range from ornamentation to the use of a "migratory" cantus firmus. In the case of the miscellaneous chorale "Herzlich tut mich verlangen," BWV 727, Bach may have varied the Stollen to symbolize the chorale text, as Buxtehude does in his setting of "Durch Adams Fall." In "O Lamm Gottes, unschuldig," BWV 656, and the much later "Allein Gott in der Höh sei Ehr," BWV 676, invertible counterpoint in employed, in the manner of Johann Gottfried Walther.
Sometime before 1944, a rare manuscript of chorale preludes by one of J. S. Bach's students went missing from the private collection of Prof. George Benson Weston of Harvard University. Weston left a note about it on the single prelude he had personally copied out from it among items he later bequeathed to the Harvard Music Library. Somehow, the lost manuscript made its was to the music library at Smith College where it remained relatively undisturbed until 2002.
A formal study of the manuscript (VZOR H753) revealed that it contains several previously unknown chorale preludes by Gottfried August Homilius (1714-1785), many of which call specifically for organ plus obbligato instrument. The scribal hand and paper type indicate that the manuscript was produced in Homilius's immediate circle during his lifetime, rendering the collection a reliable witness to his compositional output and contemporary practice. Although Homilius is not famous among musicians today, his position in eighteenth-century musical life, as the Dresden Kreuzkantor and the Music Director in Dresden, identifies him as one of the most prominent Protestant composers in the German-speaking lands—arguably more prominent in his time than J. S. Bach. Although Homilius's chorale preludes for organ alone are of interest in themselves, the number of obbligato preludes in this collection contribute substantially to the information we have concerning the diversity of practice in chorale preluding among Bach's students.
Of eighteen works traditionally designated Bach's "preludes and fugues" for organ, at least seven comprise something other than two distinct, paired movements. Eight or more exist in alternate versions whose chronology or authorship in uncertain; two are probably misattributed. Serious textual errors have been perpetuated; most editions incorporate anachronistic ornaments and other details.
Originally diverse in genre, these compositions were reworked over the course of Bach's career; the very idea of the two-movement prelude and fugue emerged in the process. Some nevertheless retained echoes of the seventeeth-century multi-sectional praeludium; the transformation of certain pieces to conform with the new genre was probably completed only by copyists.
Nineteenth- and twentieth-century editors continued an eighteenth-century tradition of "improving" texts that began with Bach himself. But posthumous embellishment and updating of notation, accidentals, and voice-leading reflected later assumptions about musical style and performance practice. A fuzzy understanding of music history and of Bach's style—originally within the same small circle of Berlin organists—may also have led to the misattribution of two pieces, including the D-minor "toccata and fugue."
Case studies of mistaken readings of text, genre, and authorship show that these were plausible at the time because each conformed with an accepted view of Bach's style, if not of Bach himself. To avoid repeating such mistakes, editing might be viewed as an exercise as much in reception history as in establishing a text; understanding past editorial decisions is an essential part of the process.
2012 marks the 300th anniversary of the birth of King Frederick "the Great" (1712-1786). This presentation reevaluates Frederick as a keyboard collector and patron of keyboard music, identifies keyboard instruments (extant and lost) on which members of the Bach family may have performed, and illustrates the architectural spaces in which the Bachs or their music were heard.
Frederick studied harpsichord as a youth and collected keyboard instruments throughout his life. As Crown Prince and later king he maintained eight residences; one or more spaces in each were designed as music rooms. The most famous, in the palace of Sanssouci, was completed in 1747, shortly before J. S. Bach's visit.
Frederick furnished each music room with a keyboard instrument. Palace inventories and court records document the makers, types, cost, and precise location of many instruments, among them fortepianos, harpsichords and spinets which Frederick purchased from various German and English makers. He also inherited several instruments, including the Schnitger organ built for Charlottenburg.
My presentation will also address Frederick's sisters Amalia and Wihelmine as keyboardists and patrons of keyboard music at court. Like Frederick, Amalia both commissioned and received dedications of keyboard works by Bach family members; she also commissioned two house organs.
Over the last twenty years, "dual accompaniment" continuo has become common among leading practitioners of the Bach cantata repertory. More suggestions than prescription, this idea (as expounded in the literature by Laurence Dreyfus and others) generally results in the realization of rhythmically active bass lines on the harpsichord and sustained lines on the organ, with both instruments occasionally sounding together. Performances of the Bach Passions, in contrast, still rely overwhelmingly on organ as the sole chordal continuo instrument, despite original harpsichord and lute parts for these works and compelling evidence that Bach used the harpsichord regularly in his church music.
The first part of this paper offers a historical explanation for this anomaly, whose roots can be traced back to ideas about Bach, the organ, and continuo practice that became widespread in the early nineteenth century, when the Matthew and John Passions (though not the cantatas) were revived. This significantly expands Dreyfus' (1987) critique of the bias against harpsichord in Bach's sacred music, which he ascribes largely to Philipp Spitta's long influence. The second part of this paper proposes various ways of highlighting, in our own practice, the distinct role that Bach and his contemporaries assigned to the primary continuo instruments in such music. My principal interest here is the subtle distinction between organ and harpsichord continuo in German concerted music, as suggested by the music itself and as described by writers of this time, including Heinichen, Mattheson, Kittel and others.
Bach's cantata movements involving obbligato organ and his harpsichord concertos are well documented by original manuscripts. There exist, however, no musical sources that transmit concertos by Bach composed for organ with orchestral accompaniment. At the same time, one must wonder whether there may not be at least some indirect evidence for such works.
This paper will discuss the implications of a Dresden newspaper report from September 1724 that describes Bach performing concertos on the new Silbermann organ of the Sophienkirche with instrumental accompaniment. Moreover, a re-examination of the manuscript for the d-minor concerto BWV 1052a, prepared by C. P. E. Bach, suggests that this version of the concerto is not an independent keyboard arrangement by Bach's second son of a lost d-minor violin concerto, but rather an early version of BWV 1052 by the composer himself. A similar case can be made for the concerto BWV 1053 so that the compositional history of J. S. Bach's keyboard concertos appear in a new light.
Among J. S. Bach's surviving sacred cantatas there are eight instrumental movements where the organ takes on an obbligato role. Primarily in concerto form and often found in later harpsichord concertos, these movements are well-know examples of Bach's use of the organ in concerted works. Less well known are the remaining 25 movements from the extant cantatas where the organ adds an obbligato line to an aria, duet, or chorus. While the use of a concerto movement in an obbligato organ cantata appears to be unique to Bach, there are several hundred arias, duets, and choruses with obbligato organ found in sacred cantatas written by other eighteenth-century composers. The text and music of these other obbligato organ cantatas provide valuable insight into Bach's use of the organ in concerted works with voices.
This paper will focus on one aspect of the eighteenth-century obbligato organ cantata: the organ as a representation of heaven. Through an examination of iconography, treatises, and specific cantatas by Bach and his contemporaries, it will be argued that this association of the organ with heaven informs our understanding of Bach's use of the organ in his sacred cantatas.