Manchester, 14th-18th July 2004


Yo Tomita (Queen’s University Belfast, UK)

Re-examining the role of Kirnberger in the compilation and dissemination of Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier II

During the period when Bach compiled the second set of The Well-Tempered Clavier, Johann Philipp Kirnberger (1721-1783)---who later became one of the most active promoters of the work---was studying with Bach in Leipzig.

His theoretical discussions of some movements from WTC II in his own treatises are widely known. There are also various pieces of evidence in the surviving manuscript copies which point to his active engagement in the wider dissemination of the work. In fact, nearly half of all the surviving 18th-century manuscripts can be considered to have originated from his circle in Berlin.

Still, it is not very clear exactly what roles Kirnberger played in the assembling, editing, and marketing of the copies for this cause, for there is no documentary evidence pointing to specific activities in which he was directly involved.

Traditionally it was widely believed that the so-called Kirnberger’s Handexemplar (Am.B.57 now in the Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin) was considered as one of the primary sources of the collection. While recent studies by Alfred Dürr, Richard Jones and myself amply indicated that it should not be considered as such, there are other pieces of evidence scattered among many other sources in a group of manuscripts stemming from Kirnberger’s circle indicating that he still holds many keys that may unlock some of the mysteries surrounding the process of compilation of the work, including the issue of authenticity of later corrections entered into Bach’s autograph manuscript, Add. MS. 35021 in the British Library.

This paper reassesses the evidence and hypothetically reconstructs from the forgotten phase of Bach’s compilation of the work that Kirnberger knew what he did in his role as the editor of one of most celebrated keyboard works.

Last updated on 09 May 2004