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On-line Book Review

YO TOMITA

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List of articles in this book

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TITLE Bach Handbuch. Edited by Konrad Küster.
PUBL. DETAILS Kassel: Bärenreiter-Verlag / Stuttgart und Weimar: J. B. Metzler (1999) x+997p; hard back. Price: DM 158.
ISBN 3-7618-2000-3 (Bärenreiter); 3-476-01717-6 (Metzler)
TO ORDER Bärenreiter-Verlag, Heinrich-Schütz-Allee 35, D-34131 Kassel, Germany.
SUMMARY
DESCRIPTION Collection of scholarly articles covering both historical background and Bach's works themselves.
WORKS COVERED Almost all the genuine works by Bach, with a particular emphasis on major works. Not covered in this book are those now proved not to be by Bach (i.e. BWV 53, 141-2, 160, 216-24, 231, 239-41, 567, 580-1, 584, 597, 746, 748, 751, 759-61, 771, 835, 838, 840, 844, 897, 905, 920, 957, 960, 962, 969-70, 1025, 1036-7, 1082, 1086 and 1088-9) as well as those of doubtful authenticity (e.g. 553-61, 519-23, 576-7, 598, 716, 721, 723, 740, 743-5, 747, 749-50, 754-8, 762-3, 765, 824, 834, 839, 845, 895-6, 898, 907-9, 923, 945, 956, 958-9, 964, 967-8 and 1024). What appears to be genuine omissions are: Arias and Lieder (BWV 508-518); Organ Chorales (BWV 717, 719, 724-5, 730-1, 736-7, 742, 752-3, 764, 1085); some Keyboard Fugues (BWV 946-55, 961); Sonata (BWV 963); Aria and Variations [fragment] (BWV 991); and Fuga for violin and continuo (BWV 1026).
READERSHIP Music students and scholars who need more recent, more in-depth discussions from a larger historical context by some of the leading German scholars in their fields of specialization.
RESEARCH 
CONTRIBUTION
Siegele's article is most significant, while the others are mostly neat and useful summaries of information already available elsewhere
 

Clearly aimed at the Bach year celebration, this huge volume attempts to discuss every aspect on Bach, his life and works. Has it accomplished the task successfully? Are there any serious omissions? Is there any new or significant information that is not available elsewhere?

The timing of this publication is also interesting: Laaber Verlag also published a hefty volume called Bach Lexikon almost at the same time, and it is less than a year after the publication of the Oxford Composer Companion, and two years after Cambridge Companion to Bach. For this reason, many English readers would also want to know the major differences among them, too.

c.1000 pages -- 6 cm thick !
The Bach-Handbuch is broadly organized into two sections: (1) some historical aspects of the background of Bach's life and works, and (2) detailed discussion of Bach's works, genre by genre, mainly from historical perspectives. There are altogether 21 chapters written by twelve authors, the majority of whom being recognized as the authority of international standing on the given subject. Each chapter is a self-contained essay in which the given topic is approached highly systematically; there are a generous number of informative sub-headings, greatly assisting readers to retain a comprehensive overview of the topic. This editorial stance is maintained throughout, so that as a book it gives a cohesive appeal. At the end of each chapter, a fairly extensive bibliography is provided for further reading. Footnotes or endnotes are not used, however. Thus, in essence, it resembles the Oxford Composer Companion in editorial principles, although the Bach-Handbuch handles each subject much more comprehensively. In other words, the Bach-Handbuch concentrates on major historical issues or works in depth, thus ignoring such information as Bach's minor works, people around him, instruments, towns, etc.

The first part of this book is dedicated to the discussion of historical issues, i.e. U.Siegele on Bach's career within the political context of his age, H-J.Hinrichsen on the reception, M.Elste on changing performance practice, and M.Petzoldt on theological issues. It is not clear why such important biographical issues as Bach's family and the musicians of his time are not discussed independently in this book (though covered from time to time under the discussion of Bach's works). While all these articles are written by the most informed scholars of their respective fields, the most original and significant is Siegele's contribution, which is a much extended version of his article published in Cambridge Companion to Bach (1997). Yet with the absence of footnotes, readers may find it frustrating for not being able to pursue his sources of reference or to cross-examine his evidence. One would naturally hope that his on-going research will soon be updated and published as monograph in the near future.

The second part starts with Bach's vocal works by K.Küster, to which nearly the half of this book is dedicated. Dividing his discussions into Sacred Cantatas, Secular Cantatas, Passions and Oratorios, Latin Church Music, and Motetts and Lieder, Küster addresses admirably a diverse historical issues as well as on some musical matters in depth. The discussion of Bach's cantatas has been dominated almost completely by Dürr's books, and Küster's latest contribution is particularly welcome here.

The works for organ is placed next, written by M.Kube on Chorale-based works and W.Breig on the remaining free organ works. While Kube's task appears to be quite straightforward (as he basically summarizes the discussions by various scholars), Breig takes the more difficult task of discussing the issues of Bach's technique and style of composition and chronology, while systematically categorizing free organ works into 10 groups; it is a remarkable chapter.

The works for clavier is approached by five authors, covering general historical matters, Suites, Clavierübung series, Capricci, Toccatas and Fantasias, the Well-tempered Clavier, Inventions and Sinfonias, and the other small pedagogical pieces. Overall, this section is rather disappointing: while it certainly covers many issues that need to be addressed, it offers little new information or challenging debate. In fact, this tendency continues in the last two chapters as well--Chamber and Orchestral music and Bach's late works, namely the Musical Offering, the Art of Fugue and Canons. So, while the readers can expect a good, objective overview of the latest findings and understandings of these works unearthed by various scholars, the emphasis of this book is clearly laid on Küster's discussion on Bach's vocal works, with a special bonus from the contribution of Siegele and Breig.

To sum up, this remarkable book puts together enormously detailed aspects of Bach's works that scholars discussed in the past in various books and journals. By having clear headings in several levels, they are very easily accessible, too. Surely it will serve as an excellent general reference material for any school or university libraries or in your private study.

Published on-line on 10 February 2000


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