Breitkopf – Bach: Complete Organ Works, Vol 9 & 10

Johann Sebastian Bach: Complete Organ Works
Breitkopf & Härtel10 Volumes

Volume 9: Choral Partitas / Individually transmitted Choral Settings I
Ed. Reinmar Emans and Matthias Schneider
Edition Breitkopf EB8809.
184 pages | 32 x 25 cm | 783 g | ISMN: 979-0-004-18378-6 | Softbound

Volume 10: Individually transmitted Choral Settings II
Ed. Reinmar Emans and Matthias Schneider
Edition Breitkopf EB8810.
200 pages | 32 x 25 cm | 847 g | ISMN: 979-0-004-18379-3 | Softbound

Breitkopf & Härtel bring their ten-volume edition of the Complete Organ Works of Johann Sebastian Bach to an end with these two final and the offer of a complete package of all ten volumes. Volumes 9 and 10 bring together the Chorale Partitas and choral settings that have been individually transmitted rather than appearing in published collections (Clavierübung, Schübler, Orgelbüchlein, Leipzig/18). My reviews of previous Volumes can be read at these links: Volume 1, 2 & 4; Volume 3; Volume 5, 6 & 7; and Volume 8.

Editing Bach’s organ works is a minefield, even when there are autograph sources available. In many cases that is not the case, so the role of the editors and the availability and accuracy of available sources becomes an important consideration. Breitkopf & Härtel are perhaps the most appropriate of all publishers to be involved with Bach. They are the oldest music publishing company in the world and were the first to publish the complete works of Bach – between 1851 and 1900 for the Bach-Gesellschaft. Scholarship and editorial practice has moved on considerably since then, and they have kept up to date with the implications of both.

Volumes 9 and 10 are a special challenge. The transmission of the chorale arrangements is more complex than any other genre of organ works. Questions of authorship remain the subject of much controversy and debate. The editors of these two volumes are aware that the selection of pieces chosen is a “thoroughly debatable snapshot”. Each piece has been subject to analysis by the two specific volume editors, together with the other two general editors, Pieter Dirksen and Jean-Claude Zehnder. Christine Blanken and Peter Wollney of the Bach-Archiv Leipzig were also involved in the process, not least in sharing documents that they had used in preparing the new edition of the Bach work catalogue (BWV: Bach-Werke-Verzeichnis).

One cause of particular controversy was the so-called Neumeister Collection, a manuscript of 82 chorale pieces gathered together about 40 years after Bach’s death. They included several unknown chorale settings that were considered to be early works by Bach. They were added to the BWV catalogue as BWV 1090–1120 and published in 1985. In these two volumes, 34 of them have been included within the alphabetical order of the other settings, with the indication of “Neumeister-Sammlung“ to identify them.

Volume 9 includes the four chorale partitas (with rather easier editing questions) and chorales starting with the letters A to G. Volume 10 covers the remaining chorale setting from H to Z. The links include the full contents of each volume as well as a link to the introduction and sample pages. The fact the chorales are arranged alphabetically is understandable and sensible. Trying to work out a chronological order is fraught with problems, but would be a fun exercise for anybody to attempt on their own. The detailed introduction is in German and English. Although the very detailed concluding commentary is only in German, there is an online English version.

These chorale-based pieces are particularly interesting examples of Bach’s musical language from his very earliest days to maturity. It includes, for example, what it considered to be his earliest known autograph, Wie schoen leuchtet der Morgenstern, BWV 739. It shows obvious influence from the North German chorale fantasia genre initiated by Scheidemann and continued up to Buxtehude and beyond. There are several other similar examples of Buxtehude-influenced early works. It also includes large-scale pieces that could easily have been included in his major chorale-based publications.

The commentary is essential reading to fully understand the nature of the edition and the possible interpretation of individual notes. For example, I found one note which seemed to be very clearly wrong. I thought that it might be a ‘copyright trap’, but the (English) commentary revealed that the editors had spotted it as a wrong note, and suggested an alternative, leaving the performer to decide. That is a marked change from most earlier music editions where there was a tendency for editors to change what they deemed to be errors, often without indicating that in the score or the commentary. Some editorial comments are included within the text, including a few suggested alternative readings.

As with all the other volumes, the text is very clear and well-spaced. The landscape format suits an organ console layout, and the comparatively large size of the volume makes for easy reading.

The ten individual volumes are priced from €24.90 to €32.90, based on the number of pages. The whole ten-volume edition is also available at €269.

Johann Sebastian Bach: Complete Organ Works
Breitkopf & Härtel
New Edition: 10 Volumes in slipcase
Edition Breitkopf EB 9035
1676 pages | 7,934 g | ISBN: 979-0-004-18738-8