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On-line Book Review


Dimension: 17.1 x 11.1 x 1.9 cm
TITLE Johann Nikolaus Forkel: Ueber Johann Sebastian Bachs Leben, Kunst und Kunstwerke. Herausgegeben und eingeleitet von Claudia Maria Knispel.
PUBL. DETAILS Berlin: Henschel Verlag, 2000. xiii + 184p. Hard back. Price: DM 36,--.
ISBN 3-89487-352-3
TO ORDER Henschel Verlag, Dircksenstraße 48, D-10178 Berlin, Germany. Tel: +49-(0)30-28447  -112 (oder  -113); Fax: +49-(0)30-28447  -123. Email:
DESCRIPTION A reprint (and not a facsimile) of the first biography of Bach by Forkel (1802) with the editorís introduction on its historical significance. Supplement includes three of the most important references made available to Forkel for his writing the biography, all conveniently packaged in a handsome volume.
WORKS COVERED BWV 38, 53, 144, 198, 212, 225-29, 232, 238, 244-5, 432, 525-30, 533, 535, 538-41, 543-8, 552, 641, 645-50, 653, 769, 772-786, 806-17, 825-31, 846-93, 903, 906, 933-8, 944, 961, 971, 988, 1001-12, 1014-19, 1060-1, 1063-5, 1079-80, Anh.III 167.
READERSHIP All music students, esp. scholars dealing with biographical aspects in Bach Studies.
RESEARCH CONTRIBUTION Forkelís biography has been available for almost 200 years, but still retaining validity and requiring further research

About 12 months ago, I reviewed here a facsimile edition of Forkelís ground-breaking biography of Bach (1802) published by Bärenreiter edited by Axel Fischer.

This book under review is not a facsimile of the original edition but a new edition. While retaining the original spelling used by Forkel, it gives a crisp-clear text which is newly typeset and cleanly laid out with a different pagination; for this reason, the hyphenation is also completely modernised. Unlike the original edition where all the music examples are gathered at the back, this edition is formatted in a more reader-friendly way: each example is placed in the text where it is referred to. For this reason, it is much easier to read the text when compared to reading from the facsimile reproduction.

Two recent reprint of Forkelís
legendary biography of Bach:
Knispelís edition (left)
Fischerís edition (right)
Contents in brief


I. Herkunft
II. Lebensgeschichte
III. Der Klavierspieler
IV. Der Orgelspieler
V. Der Komponist
VI. Der Komponist
VII. Der Lehrer
VIII. Der Mensch
IX. Werke
X. Künstlerische Entwicklung
XI. Würdigung des Genies

Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach:

  Nekrolog auf Johann Sebastian Bach (1754)
und Briefe an Johann Nikolaus Forkel (1774, 1775)
Johann Sebastian Bach:
Genealogie "Ursprung der musicalisch-Bachischen Familie" (1735)
mit Zusätzen Carl Phjilipp Emanuel Bachs an Johann Nikolaus Forkel (1774/75)
Johann Nikolaus Forkel:
Allgemeine Geschichte der Musik (1778)
§1 und 2 der Einleitung
an ideal copy for students 
Those readers who need to refer to the original edition for whatever reasons will be pleased to find that this edition gives the page numbers of the original edition in the margins. The scholars who wish to refer to Forkelís original text can therefore make easy reference to the original. 

There are a number of excellent features added by the editor for students and non-specialist readers, e.g. the editorís notes (27 of them, which you can access directly to from Forkelís text), a list of Forkelís other major publications, a list of the translations, secondary literatures about Forkel and the significance of his influence to Bach studies, and the glossaries / indices of terms, names and Bachís works. 

The most valuable feature of this book is the supplement consisting of various documents as shown left. In fact, they are also reproduced in both Bach Dokumente (1963f) and New Bach Readers (1998)ótwo of the most important reference books for biographical studies of J. S. Bach, except the last item (i.e. Allgemeine Geschichte der Musik, 1778). Nevertheless, it will be very useful if you do not have them at hand. What interests me most is the text of the third item, Genealogie: Knispelís text seems to give an intermediate reading between what we find in Bach Dokumente I/184 (which gives the version of 1735 by Bach) and New Bach Reader, no. 303 (which incorporates the additions by CPE Bach and others, c.1774). As I do not have further sources (e.g. Müller-Blattauís edition of 1950 from Bärenreiter), I was unable to determine whether or not the differences between the latter and this edition reflect something significant. (Compare, for example, entry No.21 for Joh. Valentin Bach).

Other potential problems in the edition are the music examples; if you think that they are the accurate reproduction of the original edition, they are unfortunately not. Although they are mostly accurately re-typeset, their original layout is not retained. Furthermore, I noticed some errors in Figure 16.8 (the positions of two custos) and Fig.16.9 (ĎFugaí in which all the ornament symbols are given incorrectly). There is one instance where the direction of stems in Fig.16.5 is given inaccurately, too.

As can be seen in the picture above, this new edition from Henschel Verlag is considerably smaller than the facsimile issued by Bärenreiter in 1999: the main text is given in 9 pt, which may be normal for this size of book; yet unless your eyesight is very good, you may find the supplements (7 pt) and all the notes (6 pt) difficult to read.

This is a beautifully-produced book, which will fit in your inner pocket. It is an ideal copy for students who need to read the Forkel. It costs the half the price of the facsimile edition from Bärenreiter.

As a bonus, it includes sixteen black/white facsimile pages featuring the portraits of JS Bach (Hausmann and Kütner), WF Bach, CPE Bach, GF Handel, J Kuhnau, JK Kerll, G Frescobaldi, F Couperin,  GP Telemann, JA Hasse and his wife as well as various drawings of Leipzig.

Published online on 19 March 2001

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