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On-line Book Review


Dimension: 23.8 x 16 x 1.5 cm 
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TITLE Zur Interpretation der Orgelmusik Joh. Seb. Bachs, von Evald Kooiman, Gerhard Weinberger und Hermann J. Busch.
PUBL. DETAILS Kassel: Verlag Merseburger Berlin GmbH, 1995. 239p. Paper back. Price DM 54.
ISBN 3-87537-215-8
TO ORDER Merseburger, Postfach 10 38 80, D-34038 Kassel, Germany
DESCRIPTION holistic approach to the performance study of Bach’s organ music; not a practical guide of individual works, but a essential reading material + reference tool.
WORKS COVERED BWV 525-38, 540-50, 552-, 562, 564-6, 569, 572, 577-8, 582, 588-90, 592-4, 596, 600, 602-3, 606-8, 610-2, 614-5, 617-9, 622, 628, 631, 633-5, 639, 641-3, 645-8, 650-6, 658-64, 667-71, 678-80, 682, 684, 686-8, 695, 718, 720, 731, 733, 735-6, 766-70, 870a.
READERSHIP serious students specialised in organ performance
comprehensive discussion on the historical performance practice, mainly of organ, of the 18th century.

The criteria with which we evaluate, interpret and perform music change all the time. Radically different ideas can emerge quite suddenly, as we saw one such case in early 1980s with Bach’s vocal works (thanks to Joshua Rifkin for his unique contribution to Bach’s performing force—see my review of Parrott’s Essential Bach Choir). As we continue to research into the performance practice of Bach’s music, it is often expected that every performance must make some specific musicological points; it may be the realization of the ‘lost tradition’, ‘sound image’ or the establishment of ‘authenticity’ in performance, to list but a few popular themes.

As far as Bach’s organ works are concerned, however, one may feel that there were no such dramatic changes to the style of performance of equal verve when compared to those on their vocal counterparts. (The single most noticeable development when compared with the performances of the 1960s and 70s may be the tempi). The instruments (i.e. organs) remain the same, of course, which must be the single most critical factor. More importantly, however, there have been few radical proposals that affected significantly the ways Bach’s organ music should be executed. This was mainly due to the lack of primary source evidence with which to demonstrate how Bach’s organ music should be interpreted: while one may make use of evidence found in his clavier pieces for the discussion of such issues as Bach’s fingering and ornaments, it is essential that one should also extend the search into many other sources for potential evidence.

It does not mean that little has been discussed or gained by the recent scholarship. This is abundantly clear by just looking at the volume of research in recent decades. This book includes a fairly comprehensive bibliography (‘Literaturverzeichnis’, pp. 226–236) where a short list of c.200 literatures are listed: they consist of primary (i.e. 18th century) and secondary (i.e. more recent + contemporary) sources.

To describe this book briefly, it is a collection of essays by three authors written for the eager students learning how to play Bach’s organ music with ‘some ideas’; it is not a practical guide for performance but an essential reading material in their academic study, i.e. learning how to acquire knowledge about the works and the performance practice of the day. Numerous citations and facsimile reproductions were taken from the 18th-century treatises (such as those by Mattheson, Quantz, C.P.E. Bach and Kirnberger), all of which are essential for any serious studies of music of the Baroque.  
Numerous facsimile reproductions

Ewald Kooiman takes charge of central issues addressing the manner of performance in the 18th century: articulation, tempo, motion, time, the interpretation of various time-signatures, as well as more technical issues such as fingering and pedal. Gerhard Weinberger examines the issues of ornamentation, the use of manual keyboards in Bach’s works, and the way Bach’s large, free works were interpreted in the past, and identifies various problems therein such as instruments, variety, modes of performance, registration and the use of manuals. Finally, Hermann J. Busch assumes the remaining tasks of making this book a useful reference tool by covering the discussion of Bach’s organs, editions and the comprehensive list of Bach’s organ works including the references to NBA + Peters editions, as well as literatures and supplementary notes.

The most impressive aspect of this book is the diversity of their approaches; while the examination of various pieces of historical evidence provides an essential background in which Bach’s works should be interpreted, the critical examination of various interpretations in the past adds another dimension to the recipe for our consideration. My only criticism is the quality of some of facsimile reproductions used by Weinberger, which are clearly out of focus.

Published online on 30 October 2000
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