Sacred Cantatas of J.S.Bach>
4 part Chorales
> from Riemenschneider's Preface to "371 Harmonized Chorales" (Schirmer, 1941)
PROBABLY NO MUSIC publication in existence today has enjoyed so long a period of continued popularity and usefulness as the present one, the 371 four-voiced chorales (371 vierstimmige Choralgesänge) harmonized by Johann Sebastian Bach.
In the field of harmony, this collection has guided students and artists alike for over 150 years. During that time it has undergone only slight alteration. The most extensive changes were those made in 1831 for the so-called third printing (dritte Auflage). At that time the format was altered and the upper staff throughout was changed from the soprano C-clef to the more popular G-clef. In the original edition, moreover, two chorales had been given the same number, 283; in the 1831 edition, the chorales beginning with 283b were renumbered, thus making a total of 371 instead of 370. Aside from these and a few minor changes, the publication has carried on its extremely useful career without interruption and without other alteration. Further on in this preface a short history of it will be given, along with a history of other important editions of the chorales.
In 1764 the firm "Breitkopf und Sohn" announced for sale manuscript copies of 150 chorale harmonizations by J. S. Bach, and also manuscript copies of 240 chorale melodies with figured basses. These are the first known references to the sale of a group of collected chorales by J. S. Bach.
In 1765 the first publication of 100 of these chorales was issued by F. W. Birnstiel at Berlin. They were started by F. W. Marpurg, but completed and supplied with a preface and List of errors by C. P. E. Bach as editor. A second volume of 100 was issued by the same publisher in 1769. These were edited by J. F. Agricola, a son-in-law of J. S. Bach. The book was received with indignation by C. P. E. Bach in Hamburg, who proceeded to write on article condemning the new work in the Staats- und Gelehrte Zeitung des Hamburgischen unpartheyeschen Correspondenten on May 30, 1769. He claimed that the volume was full of mistakes and even contained chorales not composed by his father.
Beginning in April, 1777, and continuing for several years, Kirnberger started an active campaign to induce Breitkopf to publish the "complete" set of chorale harmonizations by J. S. Bach. His letters form an extremely interestirg episode in this history, emphasizing as they do his desire to have the chorales published for the benefit of generations to come. The manuscript to be used once belonged to C. P. E. Bach, who sold it to the music-loving Princess Amalia through Kirnberger for twelve louis d'or. The greatest calamity in the history of these chorales is that the one who made this collection of chorales in manuscript did not think to include the texts and perhaps some reference to the larger work from which each chorale was taken. With the benefit of modern research these texts would have been of immeasurable assistance in present-day study. Just after Kirnberger died in 1783 without seeing the fruit of his labors, C. P. E. Bach was induced by Breitkopf to undertake the editing of these chorales. He accomplished the work in four parts, one part appearing in each of the following years: 1784, chorales 1-96; 1785, chorales 97-194; 1786, chorales 195-283; 1787, chorales 283-370. This edition was republished as a "neue Auflage" in 1804 and possibly accounts for the missing "zweite Auflage". In 1831 the so-called "dritte Auflage" mentioned above was published by Breitkopf & Härtel. C. F. Becker was called upon after the music was in type to write the preface. Attention has previously been called to the change of format and the change in the numbering beginning with No. 283. Since that time the edition has gone through untold printings and was published by a new process as the "vierte Auflage" in 1885 under the editorship of C. F. Becker and A. Dörffel. Another edition was sponsored by E. Naumann in 1897.
That C. P. E. Bach's edition, issued so early, should have faults and shortcomings can readily be understood in view of the lack of critical editorial standards existing at the time. Erk, in his splendid edition of the chorales issued by Peters in two volumes in 1850 and 1865 respectively, calls attention to these errors in such a comprehensive manner that they need not be enumerated here.
Again in 1841 C. F. Becker edited the chorales and had them published by Robert Friese of Leipzig. This edition was, in a way, an advance over previous publications since a return to the manner used by J. S. Bach himself in writing the chorales was undertaken. They were published in open score and in the original C-clefs, as they had appeared in J. S. Bach's own scores. For some reason, however, Becker chose to publish all of the harmonizations of the same melody in the same key. Since this called for transposition, it threw the range of the voices out of their natural limits and made the chorales worthless for singing. He, moreover, did not think of adding the words. Owing to these faults his edition was almost useless for practical purposes.
An important contribution was made by Ludwig C. Erk in his two volumes published by C. F. Peters in 1850 and 1865. Erk's work was accomplished largely before the advent of the Bachgesellschaft and represents a tremendous task of scholarly research. To his credit it should be stated that, influenced mainly by Rochlitz, he recognized the role that the text had played in the composition of the chorales. He therefore supplied the text to the chorales taken from all of the larger works that could still be located. Later he attempted to supply the missing words to those chorales taken from the larger works which had been lost. His work here was very valuable, but modern investigation based upon the methods of André Pirro should be able to improve upon his efforts to a very large extent. Erk's very excellent edition was thoroughly revised by Friedrich Smend in 1932 and republished by Peters.
The work of the Bachgesellschaft in publishing the compositions of Bach was a tremendous and heroic task. In this great edition every chorale of which the originally associated words are known was given its natural place in the larger composition of which it formed a part. This left 185 chorales that found no place because the works to which they originally belonged had been lost. Dr. Franz Wüllner collected these on the basis of their publication in the 1784-1787 edition, and issued them in Volume XXXIX of the Bachgesellschaft edition. He also included the melodies with figured bass. His work does not represent any particular advance over the researches of Erk.
When Breitkopf & Härtel published its edition of Bach for practical purposes, Dr. B. F. Richter edited the Chorales. This edition consisted of 389 harmonized chorales supplied with texts based largely upon the work of Erk.
ALBERT RIEMENSCHNEIDER, Mus. D.
Director, Baldwin-Wallace Conservatory