Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Who wrote the 8 little preludes and fugues? (part five)

It's been a while since I've been to the library and apparently my skills are rusty. It takes me too long to find what I want, and ultimately I zero in on one source. But that is plenty material for one blog. For one thing, it is historiographical and thus discusses the work of several other scholars. It also begins by listing the known sources, the available manuscripts for the pieces. Namely:

"no autograph MS; complete source P 281; a lost complete source used for Peters VIII (1852); not known in BG 38 (1891)."

I'll break that down in a minute.

I started my investigation on the internet some time ago. There mention was made of the preface to an edition of the Eight by Alfred Durr.  My first trip to the library was to find this edition, and copy the preface. The preface contained what all scholarly works should contain: citations. Mr. Durr identified five musicologists who had worked on the problem of authorship, and listed, in the footnotes, what their works were. The first principle of scholarly investigation is to follow the footnotes.

Since three of them were in German I decided to wait on them--you can't check out old journals from the library, and my German reading is pretty slow. One of the other sources was apparently not available. Most of this scholarship dates from the 1930s to 1950s, which means it is probably outdated, superseded by new evidence; or, at least it is likely that a more recent source will sum up the conclusions of earlier scholars.

This is certainly the case with the source I found, a book by Peter Williams called "The Organ Music of J. S. Bach" (Cambridge University Press, 1980, rev. 2003). It is in three volumes--or was. I think it is in one enormous volume now, but I can't recall whether the 2003 revision split or joined the volumes. In any case, I copied the relevant pages to take home and digest.  They are from the 2003 edition.

The section begins by listing what we have. There is no copy of these works in Bach's handwriting. There is a complete manuscript known as P 281, which is presumably a cataloging system for identifying manuscripts in a particular collection, though I know no more about it than that, and it is not explained here. There was also one other manuscript which is now lost, but was consulted for an edition of Bach's works brought out by the publishing firm Peters in 1852 ( the "Eight" must be in volume VIII). The Bach-Geselleshaft, which published the first "complete" edition of Bach's works (and took most of Brahms's lifetime to do it, I seem to recall), did not include these pieces.

What follows are two pages of discussion about what previous scholars have had to say, and what Mr. Williams thinks about their conclusions. It is too long to quote here. It is quite dense, and includes the names of several composers that only music students with advanced degrees would know (such as myself) and a few that I've never heard of either. This is followed by entries on all eight preludes and fugues in turn, of about a page each (for prelude + fugue). I think I'll choose one of these entries to discuss in detail next week.

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