Dimension: 23.3 x 15.5 x 1.7 cm
||BACH: The Orgelbüchlein by Russell Stinson
||Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999. xv + 208p. £10.99.
||Oxford University Press,
Great Clarendon Street, Oxford OX2 6DP, UK.
||the only substantial monograph on the Orgelbüchlein
written in English currently available on the market; first published by
Schirmer in 1996.
||BWV 23, 26, 60, 77, 83, 105-6, 125, 132, 180, 227, 243-5,
248, 540, 547-8, 552, 546, 574, 582, 599-644, 651-68, 678, 680,
683, 688-9, 691, 695, 700-1, 703, 709, 713-4, 724-5, 727, 734, 738, 742,
753, 764, 768-9, 772-801, 825-30, 846-93, 922, 988, 993, 1001-12, 1079-80,
1087, 1090-1120, Anh.200.
||musicology students and organists studying this popular
work by Bach
|revised chronology of individual pieces; detailed discussion
of Bach’s compositional process in BWV 608, 612 and 622; reception history
No other work is so popular among organists
as Bach’s Orgelbüchlein; for many generations of organists this was
the music to grow up with, as they saw in it immense pedagogical values.
In a sense, it is comparable with the Well-Tempered Clavier for pianists.
For Bach, it was one of the most ambitious projects he set upon himself,
and was certainly the earliest one that he attempted to produce a collection
of this magnitude. Being the earliest, it in turn played an important role
in Bach’s own development as composer; it attests to the development of
his personal idiom for expression, which we now know as a new type of organ
chorale as the ‘Orgelbüchlein type’. Although only forty-six chorales
were entered out of 164 that were initially intended, the present collection
sufficiently demonstrates Bach’s masterful skill in composition.
The literature on the work is equally numerous, covering a diverse range
of issues surrounding the work’s origin, process of revision, reception
as well as those dealing with theological significance. There are also
several important developments in recent research, such as those addressing
the chronology of individual movements in the collections (by Christoph
Wolff) and Bach’s understanding of the basic corpus of hymnody (Robin Leaver).
This is the first substantial monograph in English devoted to the Orgelbüchlein.
When compared with the classic three-volume set by Peter Williams (The
Organ Music of J. S. Bach, Cambridge, 1980-4) or the Kritischer
Bericht of Neue Bach Ausgabe by Heinz-Harald Löhlein, Stinson
clearly has the advantage over his predecessors from the recent research.
Through a detailed and critical examination of Bach’s autograph manuscript,
Stinson not only points out the tenuous ground on which Löhlein proposed
his version of the chronology and offered a more plausible alternative,
but also demonstrates how Bach wrote the Orgelbüchlein in the order
that he set each piece into the autograph manuscript, and how the work
was developed stylistically.
Good quality facsimile of these pages is also supplied, which is very helpful.
There are certainly lots of technical details to take in, and this may
prove to be a tough reading for some readers; it may be helpful to have
in front of you the NBA Kritischer Bericht, which gives a table
of Bach’s corrections.
||The Orgelbüchlein Project.
||Historical Position; The Layout of the Autograph; Genesis;
||Background; Precomposition and the Order of Events; Three
Case Studies; Compositional Process and the Pursuit of Perfection
||The Music in its Historical Context
||Significance; Chorale Types and Musical Style
||The Early Chorales
||The Middle Chorales
||The Late Chorales
||The Eighteenth Century; The Nineteenth Century; The Twentieth
Century; Degrees of popularity
||"Ich ruf zu dir, Herr jesu Christ", BWV Anh. 73
||Transcriptions of Orgelbüchlein Chorales
In addition, there are two more areas where Stinson’s contributions can
be considered valuable. The one is the issue of compositional process;
for those readers who are interested in this subject, Stinson’s analysis
of three pieces, i.e. BWV 612, 622 and 608, will be a fascinating reading:
by carefully reading Bach’s change of mind attested to the corrections
recorded on the page, he unfolds quite successfully a hitherto untold story
of Bach’s workmanship.
For a more general readership, his one-page commentary of individual
pieces in Chapters 4-6 is perhaps more immediately useful. Written in a
style similar to Peter Williams, his discussion addresses certain stylistic
issues as well as the interpretation offered by the previous scholars.
The main difference between his and Williams’ is somewhat superficial,
i.e. the arrangement: while Williams discusses them in the order of BWV,
Stinson does it in a hypothetical order of compilation. By dividing the
collection into three chronological groups, i.e. early, middle and late,
Stinson attempts to draw our attention to Bach’s stylistic development
over the years. While his intention is good, there is an unfortunate drawback:
since each piece is discussed individually, there is little narrative drive
or connection to the other pieces. Furthermore, some readers may find it
difficult to consult each piece at a second reading using either the contents
or index provided: it is a mistake, in my view, not to have supplied BWV
number in the ‘contents’ page. Moreover, the index gives the pieces in
BWV order, but since the works are discussed and referred to so frequently,
it can be frustrating to locate the pages where the main discussion of
the piece is made. This could have resolved by simply highlighting the
page number(s) in bold or italics.
The other contribution by Stinson is the engaged, scholarly discussion
on the work’s reception in eighteenth, nineteenth and twentieth centuries
(Chapter 7). The reception history is a hot topic in recent Bach Studies,
and Stinson’s contribution is particularly welcome here, filling in an
important gap left by the scholars in the past.
Published online on 30 September 2000