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On-line Book Review

YO TOMITA


FRONT COVER OVERVIEW

Dimension: 24.1 x 16.2 x 5.4 cm

TITLE The Cantatas of J. S. Bach. With their Librettos in German-English Parallel Text by Alfred Dürr, revised and translated by Richard D. P. Jones.
PUBL. DETAILS Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press, 2005. xvi+967p. Price: £184 (hard back); £40 (paperback)
ISBN 0-19-816707-5 (hard back); 0-19-929776-2 (paperback)
TO ORDER Oxford University Press, Great Clarendon Street, Oxford, OX2 6DP, UK.
SUMMARY
DESCRIPTION A much awaited English edition of Dürr's Die Kantaten von Johann Sebastian Bach (1971), a definitive monograph on Bach's cantatas. It is not just an English translation but a revised edition, reflecting the most recent scholarship.
WORKS COVERED BWV 1-224, 244a, 248-9, 1045, Anh. I 1-20, I 190-199, I 209-212, deest.
READERSHIP Students and scholars studying Bach's cantatas.
RESEARCH CONTRIBUTION Dürr's latest thoughts on Bach's cantatas.

S

ince the publication of his first article in Bach Studies in 1950, and subsequently his pioneering work on the new chronology of Bach’s Leipzig cantatas, Alfred Dürr has been seen as a central figure in Bach scholarship for more than half a century. During this time he edited nineteen volumes of the Neue Bach-Ausgabe, which is by far the greatest contribution to this highly significant ‘Gesamtausgabe’ project.

This book under review was first published in German in 1971, and has been frequently updated; it is a highly successful and popular reference work intended for general readership. But until 2005, the book was not available in English language despite the repeated calls made by the reviewers such as Karl Geiringer in Notes 29/3 (1973) and Stephen Draw in the Musical Times 121/1649 (1980). I can only assume that it was its sheer volume of text, which made the task of translation formidable.

Contents

List of illustrations

Abbreviations

Part I  Introduction to Bach's Cantatas

1  History of the cantatas before Bach

2  Development of the Bach cantata

3  Performance practice in Bach's cantatas

Part 2  Church Cantatas

1  Cantatas for the church year: Advent to Trinity

2  Cantatas for the church year: First to Twenty-seventh Sunday after Trinity

3  The Marian Feasts

4  The Feast of St John the Baptist

5  The Feast of Archangel Michael

6  The Reformation Festival

7  Church and Organ Consecration

8  Council Elections

9  Weddings

10  Funerals

11  Various occasions

Part 3 Secular Cantatas

1  Festive music for the courts of Weimar, Wei ßenfels, and Cöthen

2  Festive music for the Electoral House of Saxony

3  Festive music for Leipzig university celebrations

4  Festive music for Leipzig council and school celebrations

5  Leipzig music of homage for nobles and burghers

6  Weddings

7  Various occasions

Appendix

Bibliography

Index of names

Index of terms and glossary

Index of cantatas

The Cantatas of J. S. Bach. With their Librettos in German-English Parallel Text by Alfred Dürr, revised and translated by Richard D. P. Jones. (Oxford University Press, 2005)
'Dürr’s perceptive discussion comes alive' --- Bach Bibliography, Book Review by Yo Tomita

Dürr’s perceptive discussion comes alive

When compared with the German edition (for which I used the 6th updated edition dated May 1995 that was most likely the model for this English edition), it becomes immediately apparent that the English edition is prepared with great care to make the book accessible to wider readership. The contents page, for instance, is greatly expanded, accommodating useful information such as which works are discussed under each subsection by citing the corresponding BWV numbers. The English translation – the most important part of this book -- is excellent. I particularly like Jones’ felicitous choice of words and good narrative flow through which Dürr’s perceptive discussion comes alive. Their decision to use asterisks to highlight the musical / musicological terms (which point the reader to the explanation given at the back of the book) will surely be useful to those who are not familiar with these terms. For students studying Bach’s cantatas, this book is the best reading material currently available.

Established scholars cannot ignore this book either, for this book contains Dürr’s latest thoughts. When compared with the 1995 German edition, the updates are significant. Unlike the German editions where the updated information is summarised in the author’s ‘Vorwort’, this English edition does not say which parts of the text were revised. Thus to find out where Dürr changed his view, one must read this book. So far as I noticed, two of the most significant updates are his discussion of “Weimar cantatas of the newer type (1713-16)” and “Performance practice in Bach’s cantatas” (where he promotes Rifkin’s arguments). Although I have not seen the latest, 8th updated German edition published in 2000, it is highly likely that this English edition currently represents Dürr’s latest thoughts, which will remain authoritative for the foreseeable future. I particularly like the way Jones retained the original German text in footnote which Dürr had quoted from the 18th century sources. This is a book that every university library must have on its shelf.

Published online on 3 December 2006