Almost the only works of Bach published during his lifetime were the instrumental collections, most of which he engraved himself. Of the church cantatas only one, Gott ist mein König (written when he was nineteen, but a very great work), was published in his lifetime.

Of modern editions that of the Bach-Gesellschaft is, of course, the only complete one. It is, inevitably, of very unequal merit. Its first editors could not realize their own ignorance of Bach's language; their immediate admiration of his larger choruses seemed to them proof of their competence to retain or dismiss details of ornamentation, figured bass, variants between score and parts, etc., without always stopping to see what light these might shed on questions of tempo and style - especially in the arias and recitatives, which they regarded as archaic almost in direct proportion to the depth of thought really displayed in them. In the 9th Jahrgang Wilhelm Rust introduced scholarly methods, with the happiest results. The Wohltemperirtes Klavier (Jahrgang xiv.) was edited by Kroll, who also made his text accessible in the Edition Peters (which till then had only Czerny's - an amazing result of corrupt tradition, still widely accepted). Kroll's and Rust's volumes are far the best in the B. G. On Rust's death the standard deteriorated; his immediate successor seems more interested in reprinting in full an early version of a work of which Rust had given only the variants, than in digesting his own materials (Jahrgang xxix.); and in his next volume (Jahrgang xxx. p. 109) the bass and violin are a bar apart for a whole line.

The last ten volumes, however, are again satisfactory, and in Jahrgang xliv. the French and English suites are re-edited. Part of the B minor mass was also worked over again; and Kroll's text of the Wohltemperirtes Klavier was supplemented by the evidence of the British Museum autograph. The Steingräber edition of the clavier works, edited by Dr Hans Bischoff, is incomparably the best, giving all the variants in footnotes and clearly distinguishing the extremely intelligent nuances and phrasing signs of the editor from the rare but significant indications of Bach himself. Nor does this wealth of scholarship interfere with the presentation of a straightforward, single text; though in addition there is every necessary explanation of the ornaments and kindred matters.

We have seen no other editions that distinguish Bach's text from the editor's taste - the disappointing publications of the Neue Bachgesellschaft[4] by no means excepted. We may remark that the older vocal scores of cantatas in the Edition Peters are, though unfortunately but a selection, far better than the complete series issued by Breitkopf and Härtel in conformity with the Bach Gesellschaft, and therefore accepted as authoritative (see Instrumentation). The English vocal scores published by Novello are generally very good though covering but small ground. The Novello score of the Christmas oratorio contains a fine analytic preface by Sir George Macfarren.


J. N. Forkel, über Bach's Leben, Kunst und Kunstwerke, translated (London, 1820); C. H. Bitter, John Sebastian Bach (Berlin, 1865); Ernest David, La Vie et les oeuvres de Bach (Paris, 1882); P. Spitta, Johann Sebastian Bach (Leipzig, 1873 and 1880); E. Heinrich, Sebastian Bach's Leben (Berlin, 1885); A. Pirro, L'Esthétique de Jean Sebastian Bach (Paris, 1907); and L'Orgue de Jean Sebastian Bach (Paris, 1907); A. Schweitzer, J. S. Bach: Le Musicien poète. Spitta's biography superseded everything written before it and has not since been approached. With corrections in the light of Rust's B. G. prefaces it contains everything worth knowing about Bach, except the music itself.

(D. F. T.)

[1] Spitta points out that this cannot mean singing in the choir at a service, but making music in church privately.

[2] The same surgeon operated unsuccessfully on both composers.

[3] See the wild conjectures of the editor of the Four Short Masses as to the "displacing" of structure in the kyrie of the G minor Mass (B.-G., Jahr. viii. preface, with Rust's answer in the preface to Jahr. xxiii.).

[4] The object of the Neue Bachgesellschaft is to render the completed results of the first Bachgesellschaft generally accessible by holding frequent Bach festivals and issuing cheap and practical editions. The activities of this society, together with the new movement to restore Bach's vocal music to its place in the Lutheran Church, cannot fail to have a salutary effect on the future of music.