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On-line Book Review


Bach's Clavier-Übungen 
in facsimiles

Part Three

'German Organ Mass'
(BWV 552, 669-689, 802-805)

Original size of plate: c.16.5 x 23.5 cm
Original size of paper: ranging from 22.7 x 28.4 cm 
to 25.6 x 30.5 cm.
Click it to view an enlarged image
Dimension: 21.9 x 30.8 cm
TITLE Johann-Sebastian Bach: Clavier-Übung 3e Partie (Orgue) 1739. Présentation par Philippe Lescat. Fac-similé Jean-Marc Fuzeau: Collection Dominantes. No. 2812
PUBL. DETAILS Courlay: Editions J. M. Fuzeau (1989), 29p text, 77p facs; paper back. Price: Fr.F 198,00; Euro 28,61.
ISBN n/a
TO ORDER J.M.Fuzeau, Boîte Postale 6, 79440 Courlay, France. Email:
DESCRIPTION Facsimile of a copy in the Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris (Res. Vm1 499) in high-quality paper / print / binding; can be used for performance purposes.
READERSHIP Scholars and music students who need to study Bach's original prints.

The so-called ‘German Organ Mass’ is Bach’s first published collection of organ works; it appeared in the autumn of 1739. The work consists of several settings of Kyrie and Gloria (in German), a pair of settings of the six catechism chorales and four duets, all of which being sandwiched by the prelude and fugue in E-flat major. For what occasion Bach composed this collection remains to be established, as definitive evidence is still lacking; yet it is often assumed that Bach wrote it in an attempt to secure the Royal title of Dresden, as his earlier attempt of 1733 did not materialise. He may also have been aware that 1739 was the bicentenary year for both Luther’s historic sermon at the Thomaskirche in Leipzig (25 May 1739) and the Augsburg Confession (12 August 1739). His involvement in the publication of the Schemellisches Gesangbuch (1736) is another, which must have brought to his mind closely this sort of compositions exclusively dealing with the chorale tunes. Yet the most striking is the fact that it contains many modern stylistic elements, as well as those of stile antico, when compared with his other collections for organ, such as the ‘Great 18’; it is thus reasonable to associate the work with Scheibe’s attack on Bach’s compositional styles made in 1737. Such assumption may seem well-founded when we read Mizler's following remarks made in 1740:
The author has here given new proof that in this field of composition he is more practiced and more fortunate than many others. No one will surpass him in it, and few will be able to imitate him.  This work is a powerful refutation of those who have made bold to criticize the composition of the Honorable Court Composer. (NBR, 333).
The fact that it was the longest and most problematic of all printed works that appeared during his lifetime suggests Bach’s great effort and commitment towards it. As Gregory Butler demonstrates convincingly, the engraving of the work was initially pulled in Leipzig at Johann Gottfried Krügner’s workshop, but then the project was transferred to Nurenberg where Balthasar Schmid took it on to finish; Butler relates Krügner’s abandonment of the project with Bach’s change of mind as to the scope of the work, which was much expanded during the engraving process. For the fascinating sequences of Bach’s planning, engraving process and corrections, the interested readers should consult Butler’s excellent monograph, Bach’s Clavier-Übung III: The Making of a Print (Duke Univ. Press, 1990).
In the original edition, four hands can be distinguished, whom Butler identified as follows: 

(a) Johann Gottfried Krügner (page 1)
(b) Krügner’s assistant I (page 13)
(c) Balthasar Schmid (page 23)
(d) Krügner’s assistant II (page 24)

As regards Bach’s manuscripts, there survives no autograph of the work. The Stichvorlage (exemplar for the printer) is reported to have been possessed by C. P. E. Bach, but this was lost as well. All the surviving manuscript copies apparently derived from the printed edition of which only twenty of them survive today. Except two copies, all the surviving copies of the original edition contain corrections, which Manfred Tessmer, the editor of Neue Bach Ausgabe, distinguishes in three stages. Together with the two that do not contain the corrections (as they were proof copies produced at an intermediate stage of engraving), careful analysis reveals an interesting history of the work’s process of development and perfection by the composer.

The facsimile edition reviewed here is probably the only one that is available today. There are other editions published in 1980–90s, such as Edition Peters (1984) and Brescia (1985), but these were not made available for my review and I cannot therefore comment at present.
The Fuzeau edition is a reproduction of the copy in the Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris. This copy belonged to Johann Jacob Pflaum, organist at St Peter’s, Heidelburg, which gives the date ‘25 May 1752’. It contains Bach’s corrections of Stage II and III. This facsimile edition is designed for practical use; it gives perfectly legible text. Using thick, high-quality paper and strong but flexible binding, it sits well on the music stand on any music stand (see the picture on the right). It also includes a very brief introduction in French, English and German, covering some of the historical background of this work and the liturgy in Leipzig, as well as all the chorale tunes with the text in three languages. 

Musicologists may find its clear and high-contrast, single-colour ink reproduction slightly problematic, as it does not help to distinguish either corrections on the plates or Bach’s later corrections from the printed symbols.

Fuzeau edition on the organ at St. George’s, Belfast

Published on-line on 6 June 2000

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