Return to Homepage

On-line Book Review

Associate Professor of Music
University of Houston, Texas, USA


Dimension: 24 x 16.5 x 3.5 cm

TITLE The English Bach Awakening. Knowledge of J.S. Bach and his Music in England, 1750–1830, edited by Michael Kassler.
PUBL. DETAILS Aldershot: Ashgate Publishing, December 2004. xiv+314p. Hard back. Price: $114.95/£65.00
ISBN 1-84014-666-4
TO ORDER Ashgate Publishing Limited, Gower House, Croft Road, Aldershot, Hants GU11 3HR, UK.  [15% discount order form available!]
DESCRIPTION A collection of articles examining how Bach's works were introduced into England, and how they were received there.
WORKS COVERED BWV 1, 27, 80, 174, 225-231, 232, 236, 243, 244, 253-438, 525-530, 538, 545, 552, 572, 575, 599-644, 669-689, 690-713, 769, 772-817, 825-830, 846-893, 898-903, 905, 911, 913-4, 933-38, 944, 951a, 953, 988, 1001-6, 1014-19, 1029, 1074, 1079, 1080.
READERSHIP Scholars working in the field of the reception of Bach's works.
RESEARCH CONTRIBUTION Reception of Bach's works (esp. Well-Tempered Clavier) in England between 1750 and 1830.

W ith substantial contributions by Yo Tomita, Philip Olleson and Michael Kassler,  who also edited the volume, The English Bach Awakening is the first book of essays to treat the rise of interest in Bach and his music in late eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century England.

Such a volume has long been needed: aside from Samuel Wesley’s well-known Bach Letters, little else from this area of Bach reception history has generated much scholarly interest to date. Now, instead of yet another piquant tale about men named Wesley, Horn, Jacob and Kollmann and their fascination with Bach preludes and fugues, we have sustained inquiries into the central artifacts and events of this phenomenon.


Chronology of the English Bach Awakening


The Dawn of the English Bach Awakening Manifested in Sources of the ‘48’ (Yo Tomita)


The English Translations of Forkel’s Life of Bach (Michael Kassler)


Kollmann’s Proof of the Regularity of Bach’s Chromatic Fantasy (Michael Kassler)


Samuel Wesley and the English Bach Awakening (Philip Olleson)


The Bachists of 1810: Subscribers to the Wesley/Horn Edition of the ‘48’ (Michael Kassler)


Pursuit of Perfection: Stages of Revision of the Wesley/Horn ‘48’ (Yo Tomita)


Samuel Wesley as Analyst of Bach’s Fugues (Yo Tomita)


Portraits of Bach in England before 1830 (Michael Kassler)

Appendix: The Horn/Wesley Edition of Bach’s ‘Trio’ Sonatas (Michael Kassler)

Index of Persons

Index of Bach’s Compositions

how it looks

The first of Yo Tomita’s two source studies, “The Dawn of the English Bach Awakening Manifested in Sources of the ‘48’,” is a model of its kind: a meticulous, detailed discussion of every known source of the Well-Tempered Clavier in England during the chronological boundaries announced in the volume’s title.

The second, “Pursuit of Perfection: Stages of Revision of the Wesley/Horn ‘48’,” performs a similar service for the various stages of the best-known Bach edition from this time and place: Wesley and C. F. Horn’s edition of the WTC, first published in four installments between 1810 and 1813 and subsequently revised and reissued in 1819. Michael Kassler’s multiple contributions include a detailed chronology of the English Bach “awakening” (his more semantically accurate term for the “revival” described by previous writers), a searching detective story about the unknown translator of Forkel’s Life of Bach, a lengthy explication of Kollmann’s general theory of tonality (as window into his 1806 analysis of Bach’s Chromatic Fantasy), a brief social history of the subscribers to the Wesley/Horn edition of the WTC, an essay on the provenance and history of the various Bach portraits and engravings in England before 1830, and finally, a brief discussion of the Horn/Wesley edition of the Bach trio sonatas. Philip Olleson supplies the central narrative, a step-by-step account of Samuel Wesley’s Bach activities, which draws heavily on his intimate knowledge of the Wesley letters and surviving memorabilia.

Any volume that addresses such a broad range of issues in reception history necessitates difficult editorial choices about what to include. The WTC clearly needed to be a major focus, given its central place within turn-of-the-century English Bach reception, but the sheer length of Tomita’s source studies (which comprise more than a third of the volume), plus the recounting of its publication history by both Kassler (in the chronology) and at greater length by Olleson gives rather short shrift to the trio sonatas, the first edition of which is relegated to an appendix. Surprisingly, none of the authors seems very interested in the attempts by various English Bach enthusiasts to promote the vocal works. The essay on Kollmann’s theory, which his own contemporaries largely ignored, has perhaps the least to contribute to our understanding of the English Bach Awakening, though it shows how Kirnberger’s theories percolated quietly among the most fervent of Bach’s followers even after the turn of the century. Kassler’s opening chronology provides a useful context, though it injects quite a bit of overlap into the whole.

One rather startling omission is the lack of an explanation for the 1830 terminus. The starting date of 1750 must have seemed obvious, given Bach’s death in that year and the appearance during that decade of the first English sources (and perhaps even performances) of his music. But one is left to wonder whether the English were fully awakened to Bach’s music by 1830, or whether this was simply a convenient place to call it quits, before Mendelssohn and Moscheles’s respective Bach activities in England got started. Organization and presentation are, on the whole, first-rate, and throughout one learns just as much from the generous footnotes as from the main text.

Published online on 20 October 2005