On-line Book Review



Dimension: 22.8 x 14.8 x 2.6 cm

TITLE Nekrolog or Obituary Notice of Johann Sebastian Bach [by Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach, Johann Friedrich Agricola, Lorenz Christoph Mizler] Translated with an Introduction, Notes and Two Appendices [by] Walter Emery.
PUBL. DETAILS London: Travis and Emery Music Bookshop (2009) xx, 231p. Price: £24.95 (hardback)
ISBN 978-1-906857-79-0 (hardback); 978-1-906857-80-6 (paperback)
TO ORDER Travis and Emery, 17 Cecil Court, London, WC2N 4EZ, UK. Email: neworders@travis-and-emery.com
DESCRIPTION Facsimile reproduction of a recently-resurfaced fair copy manuscript of Walter Emery's translation of Bach's obituary notice (1754).
WORKS COVERED Bach's works known to the authors of the featured primary sources at the time of writing.
READERSHIP Any reader wishing to consult Emery's alternative English translation of Bach's obituary notice.
RESEARCH CONTRIBUTION Emery's view (at the age of 33) of the state of Bach research in 1942, and his candid views of various issues he encountered in his study.

I his book is a facsimile reproduction of a recently-resurfaced fair copy manuscript of Walter Emery (1909-74), the influential English Bach scholar, active in the mid-20th century. The manuscript is Emery’s own English translation of Bach’s obituary notice, written jointly by C.P.E. Bach and J.F. Agricola, originally published in Mizler’s Neu Eröffnete Musikalischer Bibliothek, volume 4, part 1 in Leipzig 1754. Also included are two short biographical excerpts on Bach: J.G. Walther’s Musikalisches Lexicon (1732) and the Genealogy which Bach himself compiled in c.1735.

From the facsimile it appears that the MS is neatly assembled and comes complete with title-page, dedication, contents page and notes. Dates are given in several places: ‘1942’ on the title-page; the heading of the dedication (p.i): ‘To Betty: 29 March 1942’ (Emery’s first wife); and at the end of the volume (p.231): ‘Begun at Bedford in October 1941; continued at Market Warsop, and finished 19 Jan. 1942’.

The MS comes from the period when Emery’s musical career was interrupted by the War and he served in the Royal Army. However, the methodical approach with which the MS is put together clearly reflects that Emery was a fully-focused scholar of Bach’s organ works. Had it been published immediately, it would have been the first English translation of these primary source references in Bach studies, preceding The Bach Reader - A Life of Johann Sebastian Bach in Letters and Documents, edited by Hans T. David and Arthur Mendel (New York: W.W. Norton, 1945).


Dedicatory Note
Text of the Nekrolog
Appendix I
Appendix II

Nekrolog or Obituary Notice of Johann Sebastian Bach by Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach, Johann Friedrich Agricola, Lorenz Christoph Mizler, Walter Emery.
London: Travis and Emery Music Bookshop (2009) xx, 231p
a better alternative English translation

The appearance of The Bach Reader must have come as a shock to Emery. His annoyance is clearly felt in his critical review of the work, published in The Musical Times, lxxxvii/1243 (Sept. 1946), pp.268-269. In addition to listing numerous errors (which were all corrected in the revised edition of 1966), Emery concludes on a bitter note: ‘owing to its [Bach Reader’s] plan and its frequently unidiomatic English, it is less readable than the standard works’. His frustration becomes more understandable if we compare the openings of both translations:

Emery (1942): Johann Sebastian Bach belonged to a family whose every member seems to have had, as a natural gift, a fondness for music and ability in its practice. At least it is certain that, from the founder of the family (Veit Bach) to his descendants of the seventh and present generation, all the Bachs have been devoted to music; and further, with one or two possible exceptions, they have all made it their profession.

Bach Reader (1945/1966; New Bach Reader 1998): Johann Sebastian Bach belongs to a family that seems to have received a love and aptitude for music as a gift of Nature to all its members in common. So much is certain, that Veit Bach, the founder of the family, and all his descendants, even to the present seventh generation, have been devoted to music, and all save perhaps a very few have made it their profession.

Unlike the text presented in The Bach Reader, Emery not only provides a helpful introduction but also supplements numerous and extensive endnotes, which occupy almost two thirds of the book. There he records not only corrections and additional information which he had sourced in then available literature (mainly from C.S. Terry’s Bach. A Biography of 1928, the book he considered to represent ‘the latest modern research’), but also his own insightful ‘guesses’ and notes for future research. This is in fact the most valuable part of the manscript. While it is true that some of Emery’s information now requires correction (e.g. St John Passion was first performed in 1723 [recte 1724]; the Goldberg Variations were published in 1742 [recte 1741]), the volume reminds us that some of the old debates should not be forgotten. One of these debates regards the validity of C.P.E.’s claim that Volumier arranged the Dresden contest of Bach and Marchand; Emery wonders if Bach visited Dresden in order to hear Marchand, and the contest was arranged there and then (p.112).

Emery, unfortunately, never found an opportunity to publish his book. In the next two decades, Bach scholarship evolved very rapidly -- a fact of which Emery was fully aware, as we learn from the numerous reviews he wrote in the subsequent years. To the 21st-century researcher, the publication of this manuscript, with all its defects, represents a valuable historical record of a young and brilliant scholar who sought to uncover the facts about Bach’s life and strove to produce a superior English translation of one of the most important primary sources.

Published online on 12 May 2009