Earliest Music Manuscripts by Johann Sebastian Bach Discovered
Do, 31. August 2006
Researchers of the Bach-Archiv Leipzig have discovered the two earliest music manuscripts by Johann Sebastian Bach at the Herzogin Anna Amalia Bibliothek, Weimar; this was announced jointly by Hellmut Seemann, President of the Klassik Stiftung Weimar, and Prof. Christoph Wolff, Director of the Bach-Archiv Leipzig. In the course of a systematic search of archival material and library holdings in central Germany conducted by the Bach-Archiv since 2002, Dr. Michael Maul and Dr. Peter Wollny came upon two hitherto unknown manuscripts from Bach's youth containing copies of organ works by the composers Dietrich Buxtehude and Johann Adam Reinken; they were written in and shortly before 1700 and thus represent the earliest known documents in Bach's own hand, which makes them important sources for the musical development of the young composer.
The manuscripts, whose exceptional significance came to light only now, contain copies of the chorale fantasias "Nun freut euch, lieben Christen gmein" by Dietrich Buxtehude (1637-1707) and "An Wasserflüssen Babylon" by Johann Adam Reinken (1643-1722) prepared by the barely 15-year-old grammar school boy Bach at Ohrdruf and at Lüneburg. The Reinken copy, dated by Bach himself, contains the first documentary proof for the assumption that at Lüneburg Bach studied with the organist Georg Böhm (1661-1733); this is indicated by the note Bach added at the end of his copy: "â Dom. Georg: Böhme | descriptum ao. 1700 | Lunaburgi."
The two compositions are written in organ tablature notation, which uses letters and other symbols instead of the common musical staff notation. Transmitted jointly with them are two additional fantasias on the chorales "An Wasserflüssen Babylon" and "Kyrie Gott Vater in Ewigkeit", which turn out to be hitherto unknown works by Johann Pachelbel (1653-1706). The latter two tablatures are in the hand of Bach's student Johann Martin Schubart (1690-1721) and probably derive from a now lost Bach manuscript. Schubart became Bach's successor as organist at the court of Weimar in 1717; from his estate the four tablatures eventually found their way into the Herzogin Anna Amalia Bibliothek.
The significance of this discovery can hardly be overestimated. Technically highly demanding, these organ works document the extraordinary virtuosic skills of the young Bach as well as his efforts to master the most ambitious and complex pieces of the entire organ repertoire. Moreover, it becomes clear that even before 1700 the young Bach was familiar with and oriented himself by the North German organ school. Obviously his decision to leave Ohrdruf for Lüneburg was governed by the intention to learn, through Georg Böhm, more about the highly influential oeuvres of the senior organ masters at Hamburg and Lübeck and to gain access to the great Hanseatic instruments.
The long-term research project of the Bach-Archiv, which aims at a systematic exploration of the documents relating to the musical members of the Bach family, is supported by the Ständige Konferenz Mitteldeutsche Barockmusik and the Alfried Krupp von Bohlen und Halbach Foundation.
The manuscripts will be on exhibition at the Herzogin Anna Amalia Bibliothek from September 1, 2006, during the Weimar Kunstfest. From September 21, 2006, they will be on display in the exhibition "Expedition Bach" at the Bach-Archiv Leipzig, together with other documents and autographs discovered recently, such as Bach's congratulatory aria "Alles mit Gott und nichts ohn' ihn", which turned up last year also at Weimar.
For further information please contact Margit Adler at:
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