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Dimension: 21 x 17 x 1.6 cm
TITLE Johann Nikolaus Forkel: Ueber Johann Sebastian Bachs Leben, Kunst und Kunstwerke. Reprint der Erstausgabe Leipzig 1802. Herausgegeben, kommentiert und mit Registern versehen von Axel Fischer.
PUBL. DETAILS Kassel: Bärenreiter-Verlag (1999) 113p; hard back. Price: DM 68.
ISBN 3-7618-1472-0
TO ORDER Bärenreiter-Verlag, Heinrich-Schütz-Allee 35, D-34131 Kassel, Germany.
SUMMARY
DESCRIPTION The first biography of Bach with commentary on its historical significance
WORKS COVERED BWV 38, 144, 198, 212, 225-30, 232, 237-8, 240-1, 243, 244, 244a, 253-438, 525-30, 533, 535, 538-41, 543-8, 552, 582, 592-6, 645-50, 646, 668a, 669-89, 766-70, 772-817, 825-31, 846-93, 903, 906, 933-8, 944, 961, 971-88, 1001-12, 1014-19, 1021, 1023, 1027-30, 1032, 1034-5, 1039, 1052-58, 1060-1, 1063-5, 1079-80.
READERSHIP All music students, esp. scholars dealing with biographical aspects in Bach Studies.
RESEARCH CONTRIBUTION Forkel's biography has been available for almost 200 years, but still retaining validity and requiring further research; editor's commentary is very useful; indices extremely handy.

For many people, this book requires no introduction: it is the first biography of Bach, which is still considered indispensable for Bach Studies. The significance of Forkel's contribution lies in the fact that Forkel was able to collect first-hand information about Bach and his works from his eldest sons, Wilhelm Friedemann and Carl Philipp Emanuel. Despite being written at the time of growing German nationalism and the fact that a number of shortcomings have been pointed out ever since its publication in 1802, the work has not lost its historical value: some primary source information made available to Forkel was subsequently lost, thus itself attesting to the valuable information. Forkel's reference to the "Handexemplar" of the Goldberg Variations is the case in point, as the very copy resurfaced in Strasbourg only less than three decades ago. His view of Bach is also fundamental to the study of "Bach reception", a topic pursued vigorously by many scholars in recent years.

In the past this biography has been available in various forms--in both facsimile and new edition--and was translated in many different languages. It is a recent trend that scholars tend to quote passages from historical documents in original language in original spelling, let alone having to give the page number of the original edition. In English literatures, scholars used to quote Forkel from The Bach Reader (1945 / R1966 / N1998) for many decades, but we are now at the turning point: musicologists would soon need to have an convenient access to the original.
 
This facsimile is the reprint of the original edition (1802), produced from a copy in the Herzog August Bibliothek Wolfenbüttel (shelfmark M: Db 149). Using a light grey paper for the portion of the facsimile, it gives the feel of an old, precious book--a very nice feature of this reproduction. Even ink smudges and other stains look quite real. Some pages appear noticeably darker than others, but this irregularity in print quality may be reflecting faithfully the character of this exemplar.
Compared with another facsimile I own (which was produced by Grahl of Frankfurt in 1950), this production is superior in a number of areas. Firstly, the present facsimile is accompanied by an introduction (pp. 7-26) and an excellent commentary (pp. 74-99) provided by Axel Fischer. For non-specialist, they will be very useful. This is followed by a table of figures and indices (pp.100-113), which are extremely handy for reference purpose. Secondly, it is a very handsome book, which has a unique nostalgic feel. The book is bound in highest of standards (as you can see in the picture on the right). If you do not own a facsimile copy of Forkel, why do you hesitate?  
Beautifully produced

Published on-line on 11 February 2000

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