BACK SOURCES REUNITED: Johann Sebastian Bach.
The item under review here is a facsimile edition of original sources for a church cantata that received its premiere in Leipzig's Thomaskirche on 3 September 1724, the Thirteenth Sunday after Trinity. Allein zu dir, Herr Jesu Christ (BWV 33) was composed when Johann Sebastian Bach was thirty-nine years old. Fifteen months earlier, in May 1723, the composer relocated from Kothen, where he had served for five-and-a-half years as Kapellmeister at the court of Prince Leopold. During the first few years of his tenure as music director in Leipzig, where he remained until his death in 1750, Bach immersed himself in the task of creating an inventory of cantatas for performance in the liturgies at the principal churches on Sundays and other feasts. Since it was possible to adapt several works that had originated in Kothen, and others from the period when he was Konzert-meister in Weimar (1714-16), it was necessary for Bach to write about forty new cantatas during his first year in Leipzig. Thereafter, beginning in June 1724, he embarked on the most ambitious project of his entire career: the composition of fifty-two additional works in as many weeks (though not evenly distributed throughout the year), most of them based on traditional Lutheran chorales (i.e., hymns dating from the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries). The result was more than sixteen hours of complex and nuanced music for four voices with instrumental ensembles of varying sizes. BWV 33 is the twelfth cantata of this second cycle (the so-called chorale cantata Jahrgang), an ordinary work for an ordinary Sunday but produced within the context of an extraordinary creative enterprise.
The decision to publish a facsimile of the sources for this particular composition was influenced by the convergence of several factors. The original performing parts were sold shortly after Bach's death by his widow, Anna Magdalena, to the city of Leipzig, where they remain to this day as part of the Thomana Collection at the Bach-Archiv Leipzig. The autograph score was inherited by Bach's eldest son, Wilhelm Friedemann. After his death in 1784, it came into the possession of several collectors, including Felix Mendelssohn's friend Julius Schubring, before being acquired in 1965 by the Scheide Library in Princeton, New Jersey. William H. Scheide, who also holds the 1748 version of Elias Gottlob HauBmann's famous portrait and other important Bachiana, is a Bach scholar of long standing and a member of the board of the Bach Archive Foundation. Cooperation between the owners of the two primary musical sources is therefore not surprising. The decisive event, however, was the recent discovery of a booklet containing the texts of BWV 33 and four other cantatas dating from September 1724 (BWV 78, 99, 8, 130) among the holdings of the National Library of Russia in St. Petersburg (see Tatiana Shabalina, " 'Texte zur Music' in Sankt Petersburg--Weitere Funde," Bach-Jahrbuch 95 : 11-48, esp. 16-20, 37-40). Although pamphlets of this kind were common during Bach's time--they were in fact available for purchase from the Thomas-kantor himself--only a few have survived the ravages of time. Two from the year 1731 have long resided in the Music Library of the City of Leipzig (on permanent loan to the Bach-Archiv); nearly forty years ago a Telemann scholar discovered three others from 1724 and 1725 in what was then known as the Saltykov-Shchedrin State Public Library in Leningrad (see Wolf Hobohm, "Neue Texte zur Leipziger Kirchen-Music," Bach-Jahrbuch 59 : 5-32); and during the past three years Shabalina has turned up more than 300 additional printed sources relevant to Bach and his contemporaries in the same library, including the text of Cantata 33 (see also her " 'Texte zur Music' in Sankt Petersburg: Neue Quellen zur Leipziger Musik-geschichte sowie zur Kompositions- und Auffuhrungstatigkeit Johann Sebastian Bachs," Bach-Jahrbuch 94 : 33-98; and her "Recent Discoveries in St. Petersburg and their Meaning for the Understanding of Bach's Cantatas," Understanding Bach 4 : 77-99). With autograph score, parts, and contemporaneous printed text all now available, the time was ripe for such an edition of BWV 33.
Generally speaking, the most important sources for the Bach cantatas are autograph scores and original performing parts. When Bach was working under extreme time pressure, as in the mid-1720s, he seems to have penned his scores with few if any prior notations. Accordingly, these manuscripts are generally filled with false starts, corrections, and revisions of all kinds (the classic study is Robert L. Marshall, The Compositional Process of J. S. Bach: A Study of the Autograph Scores of the Vocal Works, 2 vols., Princeton Studies in Music, 4 [Princeton, NT: Princeton University Press, 1972]). In order for these pieces to be performed, however, individual parts had to be copied out from the score. This task was normally assigned to the composer's students. Bach supervised the copying process, and frequently made corrections and added dynamics, articulation, and other performance indications. Unlike scores and parts, the text booklets are printed sources rather than manuscripts, so they reveal relatively little about Bach's creative process. On the other hand, they provide valuable information about matters such as the chronology and location of the original performances. For example, it is from the heading for BWV 33 in the text booklet--"Zu St. Thoma"--that we know where this work was first performed.
Truth be told, there is no real shortage of Bach facsimiles, even for the cantatas. The present publication is the fifth volume in a "new series" (Neue Folge) of the Faksimile-Reihe Bachscher Werke und Schriftstucke (2001-), edited by the Bach-Archiv Leipzig. The original twenty-two-volume run (1954-88) included the performing parts for War Gott nicht mil uns diese Zeit (BWV 14), and autograph scores of several (mostly secular) works such as the "Coffee Cantata" (BWV 211). A number of individual church cantatas (e.g., BWV 22, 29, 51, 61, 79, 105, 110) have also appeared hither and yon since the 1980s. Even the autograph score of BWV 33 has been published before, among a group of eight Bach manuscripts in the United States (see Cantata Autographs in American Collections: A Facsimile Edition, ed. by Robert L. Marshall, Music in Facsimile, 2 [New York: Garland, 1985], esp. 49-72). Then in the late 1990s and early 2000s, K. G. Saur in Munich released microfiche of the huge collection of Bach manuscripts in the Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin--Preu[beta]ischer Kulturbesitz. Moreover, the Bach-Archiv Leipzig is currently coordinating an effort to create a digital library of high-resolution scans of autograph manuscripts and other original sources (at www.bach-digital.de). The text prints available at the time were reproduced in Werner Neumann's edition of Samtliche von Johann Sebastian Bach vertonte Texte (Leipzig: VEB Deutscher Verlag fur Musik, 1974), and more recently as individual booklets in Texthefte zur Kirchenmusik aus Bachs Leipziger Zeit: Die 7 erhaltenen Drucken der Jahre 1724--1749 in faksimilierter Wiedergabe, ed. and in-trod. by Martin Petzoldt, Jahresgabe der Internationalen Bach-Gesellschaft Schaffhausen (Stuttgart: Carus, 2000).
The distinctive contribution of this new edition of BWV 33, then, is that it includes high-quality reproductions of all three categories of sources for the same cantata--composing score, original performing parts, and contemporaneous text booklet--along with a concise commentary by Christoph Wolff and Peter Wollny, two leading researchers at the Bach-Archiv Leipzig. Gathering all these materials is possible for only a small number of Bach cantatas. The scarcest sources, as noted above, are printed texts, which survive for only twelve of the forty-five cantatas premiered in 1724 (BWV 73, 81, 83, 144, 181, 67, 104; 33, 78, 99, 8, 130--i.e., the latter portion of the first cycle and first part of the second cycle), plus BWV 112 from 1731. But for only five among this baker's dozen (BWV 81, 67, 33, 130, 112) have both score and parts been preserved.
By taking advantage of the rare opportunity to present a complete set of sources, this edition enables one to engage a typical Bach church cantata from several different perspectives. One way to begin to approximate the experience of a congregant in Leipzig's main churches on Sunday morning (about which Tanya Kevorkian has written, in Baroque Piety: Religion, Society, and Music in Leipzig, 1650-1750 [Aldershot, Eng.; Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2007], esp. 29-52) would be to turn to the first three pages of the pamphlet and follow along while listening to a recording. In that case, one would of course have to forgo the parallel English translations so ubiquitous in printed concert programs, and be comfortable with reading Fraktur. A potentially more fruitful pedagogical exercise would be to take the replicas of the manuscript parts in hand, or place them on music stands, as the case may be, and attempt to perform from them. When I tried this with a vocalist at a recent symposium on the Bach arias, her response was immediate, visceral, and ultimately quite instructive--owing primarily to the significant differences between reading from a handwritten rather than a printed part, the use of C clefs rather than treble clefs, and the like. By making use of the parts in live situations, one would undoubtedly gain valuable insights into Bach's performance milieu and develop greater appreciation of the challenges faced by his musicians.
In addition to the more external vantage points of contemporary churchgoers and performers, a degree of access to the internal realm of the composer's creative act is provided by the facsimile of the autograph score. We should beware, of course, of taking the notated record as representing anything like the sum total of Bach's compositional process. Given the complexity of human cognition, there were surely a great many factors involved in writing a new cantata beyond those that happen to be reflected in the composer's handwriting. That said, even the residue visible in this one particular score furnishes abundant food for rumination. For instance, the editors mention in their commentary, as did Marshall many years ago (Compositional Process, 1:99) and Werner Neumann even earlier (Johann Sebastian Bach, Neue Ausgabe samtlicher Werke, Serie I, Band 21, Kritischer Bericht [Kassel: Barenreiter, 1959], 45), that the first few measures of the tenor recitative (movement 4) were originally notated in G major, then transposed up a step to A minor. No one has yet ventured an explanation for this change, although Marshall later remarked that "it is hard to imagine what may have led Bach even to have considered G major as the opening tonality for this recitative at all" (Cantata Autographs, x). I will not attempt to eludicate this matter either, except to suggest that it almost certainly reflects the evolution of Bach's conception of key relationships among the four movements in the two recitative-aria pairs (movements 2-5). This review is not the place for it, but there is reason to believe that systematic examination of the sequence of tonalities within the chorale cantatas might yield a plausible explanation for this revision. Such analysis should of course take into account Eric Chafe's work (especially Tonal Allegory in the Vocal Music of J. S. Bach [Berkeley: University of California Press, 1991] and Analyzing Back Cantatas [New York: Oxford University Press, 2000]).
The editors, and Neumann before them (Neue Bach-Ausgabe I/21, Kritischer Bericht 19), also point out that Bach inadvertently omitted the continuo line for a passage in the middle of movement 5, the double duet for tenor, bass, and a pair of oboes (mm. 55-61), and added it only later at the bottom of the page. It might be fruitful to ponder the relative importance (or lack thereof) of the continuo line within this particular contrapuntal web, especially given its prominent exposition of crucial motivic material at the beginning of the movement. Another intriguing spot in the same aria is the crossing-out of an entire measure before the vocal entrance in measure 74 and the transfer of its melodic and rhythmic content to the continuo. I was struck in particular, however, by the heavy smudges in the vocal lines at measures 25-26, which indicate quite clearly that the voice exchange in the continuation of the A section after the motto opening was an afterthought. None of these corrections will revolutionize our view of Bach's music, or unlock any "hidden secrets" (a favorite pastime of too many Bach enthusiasts). But the pedagogical value--for musicologists, performers, and Liebhaber alike--of having these materials at hand cannot be overestimated.
The degree to which facsimile editions approximate the appearance of original sources varies a great deal. For Bach manuscripts and prints, on the whole, they have been steadily improving over the years. Even so, the quality of reproduction in this new edition is quite remarkable. Only a side-by-side comparison with the originals would reveal nuances that might be missing. The only one I am aware of, however, is the "illegible pencil notation, crossed out with ink, at the bottom right" (New Bach-Ausgabe I/21, Kritischer Bericht 18: "unleserliche, mit Tinte durchstrichene Bleistiftnotiz rechts unten") on the first verso of the wrapper for the score, which is only faintly visible in my review copy--and this is probably not very important. Even for those who have had the opportunity to examine Bach manuscripts at first hand, these reproductions will seem very authentic indeed. The nuances of ink color, the bleed-through from the opposite side of the paper, the call number in blue pencil at the bottom of the title page of the text booklet, the words added in red to the final chorale in the score (the work of Karl Friedrich Zelter, director of the Berlin Sing-Akademie, in the early nineteenth century)--all these details are captured quite vividly. It is worth mentioning, too, that the size of the pages is very close to the originals, especially since a complaint was leveled at the reduction of dimensions in the facsimile of the Weimar organ tablatures, a predecessor in this series (see David Yearsley, "Bach Discoveries," Early Music 37, no. 3 [August 2009]: 491).
The cost of the technology supporting such a handsome publication must be high. That is my conclusion, at any rate, from its steep price, which will unfortunately limit its availability in many quarters. Those individuals and institutions, especially research libraries, able to make the investment, however, should most assuredly do so.
STEPHEN A. CRIST