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An Introduction to Bach Studies.

By Daniel R. Melamed and Michael Marissen. New York: Oxford University Press, 1998. [xi, 189 p. ISBN 0-19-512231-3. $45.]

An Introduction to Bach Studies, edited by Daniel Melamed and Michael Marissen, is one of the most useful reference books on Johann Sebastian Bach to have appeared recently. Although the selection of material is inevitably conditioned by the knowledge and preferences of its editors, their personal touch and guidance throughout the various categories of research are engaging. Many should be grateful for the advice that comes directly from the editors' experience in research, such as very useful remarks on how to use the bibliographies that regularly appear in the Bach-Jahrbuch (pp. 7-8), or a comparison of the English and German versions of Philipp Spitta's Bach biography (p. 33).

The book is formatted in eleven sections that lead us from the basic bibliographic tools of Bach research, biography, and context through studies of sources, transmission, and editions. Chapters on vocal and instrumental music are followed by studies of performance practice and compositional process. The closing chapter, "Approaches to Bach's Music," covers virtually all forms of interpretation and analysis - including theology, music and society, reception, numerology, and formal analysis - in a meager seven pages. To many, the hermeneutic, critical, and analytical evaluation of Bach's music would surely represent the peak (or at least an important goal) of Bach scholarship. However, given that one of the editors, Michael Marissen, has himself embarked on several studies concerned intimately with questions of meaning and allegory, one might conclude that the paucity of this final section does not reflect the editors' distaste for interpretation. Perhaps they regard a book of this kind as working more at the "lower" levels of scholarship, the bibliographical spadework that seemingly supports the hermeneutic heights. But, as the editors show so admirably well in the volume as a whole, scholarly work at any level requires a tacet critical facility, and even the choice of topics is not a feature of automated bibliographic etiquette. One would not generally expect introductions to research on specific composers (like those published by Garland) to make such historical-critical observations as Melamed and Marissen's remark that the Bach Compendium of Hans-Joachim Schulze and Christoph Wolff (Frankfurt: C. F. Peters, 1985-) "reflects the emphasis on source studies of Bach's music characteristic of the years between 1950 and 1985" (p. 6).

The editors are to be commended for providing so much useful information clearly, intelligently, and concisely. Particularly welcome is the liturgical calendar (pp. 55-60) that provides the German and English titles for each feast together with the relevant cantatas and the readings from the Epistles and Gospels. Other lists include the full contents of the Bach-Gesellschaft edition (Johann Sebastian Bachs Werke, ed. Bach-Gesellschaft [Leipzig: Breitkopf & Hartel, 1851-99]) and the Neue Bach-Ausgabe (Kassel: Barenreiter, 1950-), complete with the dates and editors of each volume, which renders the lists rather more useful than those in The New Grove. It is also extremely helpful to have in one place the addresses of all the principal libraries containing Bach sources (pp. 77-80).

The editors often present the same material in several formats and in several places so that the reader is less likely to miss valuable information. One page, providing a list of abbreviations for important research tools and instructions on how to find information on any particular work, is printed not only on page xi, but also on both inner covers. Sometimes the duplications can be irksome (e.g., there are almost identical sections on the Austrian National Library on pp. 80 and 82), but this is a small price to pay for the ease of use throughout. If the writing ever runs the risk of appearing paternalistic, no one could feel patronized for long by authors who also manage to slip in jokes, such as the reference to the young Weimar prince, Johann Ernst, as "the Ernst formally known as 'Prince'" (p. 40).

There are only a few serious omissions. It is odd that no reference is made to the relevant materials by Howard Cox and Robin Leaver at the first mention of Bach's personal Bible (pp. 34-35). It is also strange to cover Bach's direction of the Leipzig collegium musicum with a reference to a somewhat dubious article from the Musical Quarterly, yet not to mention the various writings on the subject by Christoph Wolff.

The volume seems generally free of errors. I found only one factual error: Bach did not hire a "student" to teach Latin for him at the Leipzig Thomasschule (p. 42), but a junior colleague. It is also not quite true that the Neue Bach-Ausgabe "is based on the text-critical methods employed by Karl Lachmann" (p. 89). The editors might use the stemmatic method in order to propose a relationship of sources, but the full-blown Lachmann method is only applicable when the archetype (i.e., autograph or original printed material) is missing. Even then, the editors will usually try to reconstruct Bach's latest thoughts on the pieces concerned, should these apparently supersede the autograph materials (as in the case of the Well-Tempered Clavier); again, this is contrary to the search for a single, authentic, "original" text - a search that was fundamentally appropriate for Lachmann's New Testament editing.

Obviously any guide to Bach research will be rendered obsolete in time, and new bibliographical materials and findings have appeared that are too recent to have made their way into this publication. The New Bach Reader (New York: W. W. Norton, 1998), newly edited by Christoph Wolff, is now published and not "in progress" as stated on page 28, and the references to Bach as a teacher (pp. 49-52) could be greatly expanded by the section on Bach's pupils in Wolff's publication. The new short edition of Wolfgang Schmieder's Bach catalog (see below) also appeared after this guide, and its improvements on the second edition of 1990 would have been worth noting. New material on J. A. Reincken (particularly the new conjectures about his lifespan) is also missing from the present volume. The section on analysis would have benefited greatly from inclusion of the recent work of Laurence Dreyfus (and, indeed, that of Ulrich Siegele). But one hopes that, in the fullness of time, the editors will be allowed to update what is basically an excellent bibliographic tool.

The short edition of the Bach-WerkeVerzeichnis has several advantages over Schmieder's "full" second edition (Thematisch-systematisches Verzeichnis der musikalischen Werke von Johann Sebastian Bach: Bach-Werke-Verzichnis (BWV), 2d ed. [Wiesbaden: Breitkopf & Hartel, 1990]) and the multiple volumes of the Bach Compendium (another detailed catalog of Bach's works). First, it is considerably more wieldy, both in its physical size and in the clarity with which the basic information is presented. Moreover, while not representing a thorough revision of Schmieder's 1990 edition (itself an entirely new version of his catalog of 1950), it contains both corrections and new findings, together with references to important secondary sources published since 1990. In this respect, it is even more up to date than the Bach Compendium (and more complete, given that the volumes devoted to instrumental music have yet to appear in the latter). Nevertheless, the new volume can hardly pretend to offer more than concise information on primary sources, and it provides references only to collected editions, a selective bibliography, and the most minimal of incipits (which are sometimes too concise to offer a clear indication of instrumentation).

The editors who have taken over the late Wolfgang Schmieder's mantle - Alfred Durr and Yoshitake Kobayashi - represent the very apex of postwar Bach philological scholarship and thus give the new version of the catalog a prestige it has never before attained. They are refreshingly candid about its shortcomings: their decisions about what to exclude from the canon of authentic works are to be viewed as temporary, pending further research (p. xiii); and the sequence of BWV numbers - especially for vocal works - is almost entirely arbitrary by today's standards of chronology or liturgical classification, but so deeply ingrained in present-day music culture that it is all but impossible to abandon. Moreover, given the "sanctity" of the numbering of 1950, any works that have surfaced since then have to be given the next available numbers from the very end of the catalog and then squeezed into their appropriate place (by genre) in its earlier sections. Another irritation inherited from the original catalog is a somewhat too rigid distinction between organ and harpsichord works: for instance, the four duets from Clavier-Ubung III, BWV 802-5, still appear only in the harpsichord section, and the new editors clearly did not see any reason to insert a cross-reference in the organ section.

In many ways, the Bach Compendium and this short edition of Schmieder form an ideal combination; the latter provides an accessible overview of the repertory that can be backed up with the greater detail (especially regarding sources) of the compendium. It is only unfortunate that the editors of the short edition did not include a cross-reference in each entry to the equivalent catalog number in the compendium (or perhaps a concordance as an appendix).

On the whole, these editors take a rather austere view of the Bach canon (parallel to that of the Neue Bach-Ausgabe), relegating several much-loved works whose authenticity has not been proven to appendix 2. (Schmieder himself tended to move problematic works out of the main catalog only when a new composer had been found.) Moreover, they are clearly suspicious of several "new" pieces that have been mooted for the Bach canon in recent years. There is no mention of the "Weimar Passion" (listed as "D1" in the Bach Compendium), often inferred - although hardly definitively - from some of the replacement movements in the second version of the St. John Passion. Moreover, Daniel Melamed's recent claim that the motet often attributed to Johann Christoph Bach, BWV Anh. III 159, is in fact by Sebastian is clearly not accepted by Durr and Kobayashi, since the work is still listed in the appendix (although a reference to Melamed's article is included). Perhaps there is a case for placing works like this (and, for instance, the "Jig" organ fugue, BWV 577, for which Bach should surely not be excluded as a possible author) not in an appendix conferring "doubtful authenticity" (as here) but - following that tantalizing verdict permitted in Scottish law - in a new category of "not proven."

JOHN BUTT King's College, Cambridge
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Title Annotation:Review
Author:Butt, John
Publication:Notes
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jun 1, 1999
Words:1729
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