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Vocal: Cantatas BWV 1-224 | Motets BWV 225-231 | Latin Church BWV 232-243 | Passions & Oratorios BWV 244-249 | Chorales BWV 250-438 | Lieder BWV 439-524
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Bach Books
General Discussions - Part 3

Continue from Part 2

New books about Bach

John Pike wrote (March 24, 2005):
Sorry for cross-posting but wanted to reach a wide audience. Some of you may be interested in some new books from Cambridge UP:

J. S. Bach and the German Motet (Paperback)
Daniel R. Melamed
An exploration of Bach's motets in the context of the German motet tradition.

The Clavichord (Paperback)
Bernard Brauchli, Foreword by Christopher Hogwood
- Series: Cambridge Musical Texts and Monographs
This is a richly illustrated history of the clavichord, the forerunner of the modern piano.


"Kurtzer, iedoch höchstnöthiger Entwurff einer wohlbestallten Kirchen Music"

David Glenn Lebut Jr. wrote (March 25, 2005):
Could anyone point out to me where I could find (online or in print) a copy of Bach's 1730 "Kurtzer, iedoch höchstnöthiger Entwurff einer wohlbestallten Kirchen Music; nebst einigem unvorgreiflichen Bedenkken von dem Verfall derselben." in the original language and in an (authoritative) English translation?

Liesbeth van der Sluijs wrote (March 25, 2005):
[To David Glenn Lebut Jr.] On this url is the site of the combined German antiquariats, and more specific, here is your title in German, in several versions:


U. Siegele, "Bachs Endzweck einer regulierten und Entwurf einer wohlbestallten Kirchenmusik". In: Festschrift G. von Dadelsen. Stuttgart, 1978, 313.

I found that on:

If I find more, I will inform you.

David Glenn Lebut Jr. wrote (March 26, 2005):
[To Liesbeth van der Sluijs] Thanks. I have actually found a copy (in The Bach Reader) of an English translation, so now I just need the German original.

Bradley Lehman wrote (March 26, 2005):
[To David Glenn Lebut Jr.] A facsimile is page 148 of the New Bach Reader, and an authoritative English translation is Appendix 3 in Andrew Parrott's book The Essential Bach Choir. It's also discussed closely and thoroughly in Joshua Rifkin's book Bach's Choral Ideal.

Charles Francis wrote (March 26, 2005):
[To David Glenn Lebut Jr.] The German original is in the Bach-Dokumente "Schrifstücke von der Hand Johann Sebastian Bach" and also in Andrew Parrott's "Essential Bach Choir" together with translation.

Marc wrote (March 26, 2005):
[To David Glenn Lebut Jr.] In his book 'The Essential Bach Choir', Andrew Parrott uses this memorandum for his point of view that Bach performed the cantates and passions OVPP. I must admit I haven't read Parrott's book myself, but I wouldn't be surprised if he offers the whole text of the 'Entwurff'.

PS: I myself have the text of the Memorandum in a Bach-biography by Luc-André Marcel. It's not an English but a Dutch translation, though.

John Pike wrote (March 29, 2005):
Matthew Westphal wrote:
< Parrott's THE ESSENTIAL BACH CHOIR includes the complete text of the Entwurff in the original German and in English translation. >
Yes. This is a reliable translation. One needs to be very careful about translations. There are plenty of rogue ones around, which are totally unreliable and say only what the translator wanted them to say. Rifkin has much to say on this matter in "Bach's Choral Ideal". This is difficult to get hold of in the UK. I had to get it from the publishers in Germany, but the main part of the book is written in English.

Thomas Braatz wrote (April 3, 2005):
[To John Pike] I have even had my doubts about the English translation in Parrott's book. A case in point is the rendering of 'per Choros' in paragraph 4 (p. 163 & 167) where the original reads:

From Bach's Entwurff (1730):
>>Derer [referring back to 'Chöre' which is definitely plural describing each and every choir of every church in Leipzig under Bach's jurisdiction] Concertisten sind ordinaire 4; auch wohl 5, 6, 7 biß 8; so mann nemlich per Choros musiciren will.<<

The translation in Parrott's book reads (p. 167):
>>Concertists are ordinarily four [in number], indeed even five, six, seven [and] up to eight -- if one wishes, that is, to perform music 'per choros' [i.e. for more than one choir].<<

The translation given in the NBR on p. 146 reads:
>>The concertists are ordinarily 4 in number; sometimes also 5, 6, 7, even 8; that is, if one wishes to perform music for two choirs ['per choros'].<<

Just what is implied or assumed here?

1) that Bach's main choir can be subdivided into two choirs as needed (as in the SMP (BWV 244) later version or in a Bach motet which the 'motet'-choir would not be able handle anyway)?

2) that Bach would have to send some concertists (from 1 to 4 concertists) from his main choir to one of the other choirs to help out when necessary, thus depleting his pool of concertists in the main choir?

3) that Bach, if he wanted to combine, for instance, the 1st choir with the 2nd choir would then need section leaders (concertists) from both choirs, thus meaning that the pool of singers (including extra concertists) would not need to be depleted.

4) that, although Bach, in the preceding paragraph, had just referred to "vocalists" being divided into two categories: concertists and ripienists, he may have anticipated here including the instrumentalists which he mentions in the second sentence that follows it so that Bach could possibly be referring to certain pupils who would function as concertists, let's say, in the violon and viola sections. This might explain why Bach does not state simply "generally 4 concertists, but sometimes 8." Is it possible that Bach can refer to a choir ['Chor' and 'Chöre'] as including both voices and instrumentalists? Walther, in his 'Musicalisches Lexicon..." [Leipzig, 1732] defines 'Concertisten' as "ein Auszug der besten Sänger und Instrumentisten" ["a selection of the best singers and instrumentalists."] There is also a very real problem with the phrase/term 'per Choros' which hearkens back to Michael Praetorius who uses this term frequently, often in combination with another word: 'variatio per choros' which means obtaining contrast by means of varying sound groups ["Kontrastierung der Klanggruppen"] where instrumental groupings are considered on a par with vocal ones. Anyone who has read my translation of the MGG I article on 'Congregational Singing' will know what I am talking about here (See: Congregational Singing [Articles]).

I am somewhat confused about the term 'per choros' grammatically as well. Classical Latin has 'chorus' with a plural 'chori' coming from the Greek 'choros' [also singular.] It would seem logical that 'choros' in 'per choros' would be singular (in Late Latin or is this a hodge-podge of Latin and Greek?) and that the preposition 'per' would imply: 'by means of the unit known as 'choros' (which in ancient Greek meant a band or group of dancers, singers, {and instrumentalists?}) The implication seems to be a plurality of types under a common designation somewhat like the phrase "The family are not at home today" implying the existence and recognition of the individual members. Likewise, could it be that 'choros', although appearing to be singular, would be construed as a plural, revealing the fact that 'choros' can be divided in numerous ways?

One of the few references using this term, 'per Choros' in the Grove Music Online [Oxford University Press, 2004, acc. 4/3/05] is one translated by Clytus Gottwald from the German original on Praetorius by Walter Blankenburg:

>>But he [Praetorius] further developed the theological understanding of music, which culminated in the eschatological concept of the heavenly choir (cf Walter's Lob und Preis der löblichen Kunst Musica, 1538), saying (in the'Commefactio' of Urania), with reference to Isaiah: 'Musica per Choros Caelestia canens . because the art of choral singing is truly the correct, heavenly way of making music'. In its theoretical foundations and practical aims and in its realization through composition, Praetorius's work thus displays an unusual degree of uniformity at a time of great change in musical history.<<

Knowing what Praetorius stood for in the performance of church music, we have to assume that this "Musica per Choros" refers to Praetorius' recommendation to use varying sound groupings of instruments and voices [not only singing as translated above] as evidence of the art of heavenly music making.

Is there any similar implication in Bach's way of using this term in the Entwurff? And if this is the case, then how could this impinge upon Rifkin's tightly organized and strictly logical interpretation of the 'Entwurff'? Are the concertists (those 1, 2, or 3 from the group greater than 4 but less than 8)possibly referring to those in the string section of Bach's orchestra?


Bach Books

Eric Bergerud wrote (April 29, 2005):
<< See also several 17th- and 18th-century sources cited by John Butt in Bach Interpretation (, in the section devoted to "The 'Cantabile' Style" (pp. 11-15). >>
Bradley Lehman wrote: < Yes, that's an excellent book. I had taken it back to the library a few days ago with the end-of-term due date, but I'll get it again in the summer. I should probably just buy a copy of it someday..... Thanks for mentioning that reference again.
Richard Troeger's new book about Bach keyboard interpretation is good, too. >

I've just stumbled onto a splendid Bach book for non-specialists. The English title is Twenty-Four Inventions on Johann Sebastian Bach by Wolfgang Sandberger. It was published to accompany the Teldec Bach 2000 cycle (everything the master did). Anyway, it's a splendidly written and wonderfully illustrated interpretative biography of Bach and his music. Just what the doctor ordered for Bach lovers that would be stumped by a score of the SMP (BWV 244). I'd think that even wiser heads would find the visuals most satisfying. It's not hard to recognize the jacket - it's got the big yellow-blue BACH 2000 on it.


New Bach Bio

Eric Bergerud wrote (May 18, 2005):
Just finished a New York Review by Joseph Kerman concerning a new volume in the Cambridge "Musical Lives" series on Bach: The Life of Bach by Peter Williams. The reviewer is pretty kind to the work (typical of NYR unless the political or social occasion requires a nasty hatchet job). Anyway, the author has taken the CPE Bach Obit as the central vehicle to structure his brief account around (214 p. But available for $22 paper, a bargain compared to some volumes recently talked about.) Anyone seen this thing?

Doug Cowling wrote (May 18, 2005):
Eric Bergerud wrote:
< The reviewer is pretty kind to the work (typical of NYR unless the political or social occasion requires a nasty hatchet job). >
Well, the purpose of the NYR is to provide book summaries so we don't have to actually read the book.

By the way, the Time has an online service though which you can read the first chapter of books on the best-seller list.

I'll check to see if the Williams biogrpahy has been posted.


Baroque Beatles Book

Uri Golomb wrote (February 21, 2007):
Someone on this list -- I think it was Doug Cowling -- asked whether Rifkin's Baroque Beatles Book is currently available. The answer is yes: a CD re-issue was published by a label called "Collectors' Choice Music" last year:

By today's standards, it's a pretty short disc -- less than 40 minutes. According to the re-issue notes, Rifkin planned a sequel, which was abandoned -- but not before he composed some items for it; so maybe one day he'd re-record it, with those other items -- and on period instruments. I would like to hear that: Rifkin's writing is so idiomatically baroque that it would sound better on period instruments... (according to Rifkin, in the re-issue notes, one review of the original recording described it as containing "some of the most enlightened examples of baroque practice" -- and by the standards of the time, this was probably true; but the standards have shifted since then -- thanks, among others, to Rifkin himself). I understand that Rifkin did (or does) perform pieces from the Baroque Beatles Book with his Bach Ensemble from time to time (including some pieces from the abandoned sequel) from time to time); he even did the Bach-style cantata in one-per-part (even though he wrote it for a chorus...). So a re-recording would be a good idea on several grounds (though, given a choice, I'd still prefer to just have more Bach from him). Meanwhile, the CD is available, and it's very enjoyable.


Bach Bibliography

Jean Laaninen wrote (August 6, 2007):
I'm interested in knowing if anyone has used either of the following texts, and in hearing some general impressions about these two books.

The first is Handbook to Bach's Sacred Cantata Texts by Melvin Unger (pricey even used) and the second is J. S. Bach, J. S. Bach The Complete Cantatas by Martin Neary.

I believe I have previously used Analyzing Bach Cantatas, by Eric Thomas Chafe, when I was a student.

Thanks for any thoughts on these texts. I might mention that as I have before that I found the Dürr text valuable, and have added it to my library. I discovered early this afternoon that our music library has eighty-five web pages of material on Bach, and significant resources on the Cantatas, almost to the point of overwhelming me. Another book that sounds quite interesting is A Conductor's Guide to the choral-orchestral works of Johann Sebastian Bach. I'd be interested in hearing if any of you have used this book.

Thanks in advance for any comments anyone can provide.

Paul T. McCain wrote (August 7, 2007):
[To Jean Laaninen] I have Unger and it is, simply put, wonderful! I know it is pricey. A friend overheard me expressing interest in it and bought a copy for me. What a surprise! I love it.

I do not have the Neary book.

Jean Laaninen wrote (August 7, 2007):
[To Paul T. McCain] Thanks Paul. Wish I had a friend like yours, but actually if I wait until Christmas my husband probably would be that friend. He knows I've had my eye on a couple of texts from Germany that are not published in English, and a couple others on used. However, I will check with inter-library loan for them first and determine with the available shelf space here if they are a good choice for me. So far the library system here has been able to help with most of the articles and texts I wish to see. That's how I have built my small music and language library My book habit has been pretty extensive, historically. But for the right book a choice to purchase eventually takes place. I thought Unger looked very good. and probably is worth every penny.

I also might mention that I went ahead and finished The Hammer of God. I laughed, cried, got frustrated and enjoyed the trip through the latter half. What a journey!

Paul T. McCain wrote (August 7, 2007):
[To Jean Laaninen] Glad you enjoyed "Hammer of God." It's a terrific book. Bo Giertz was a gifted writer and bishop.

Peter Smaill wrote (August 7, 2007):
[To Jean Laaninen] Melvin Unger's handsome tome is in the style of a concordance, with biblical references for every line if the texts. Not all expressions in the Cantatas actually have a close biblical connections - the mystical images and the Trinitarian references are quite remote- so some of the cross connections are rather tenuous. Nevertheless, it more than any other works opens up the intense biblical learning of the writers of the texts. It also has useful indices such as lists of the known librettists, and Cantatas derived frtexts in Revelation or the Apocrypha.

Deliberately Unger translates very close to the order of the German (BWV 110/6, for example, talks of singing from the heart's bottom!) ("Herzens grund").

I think the other book you refer too may in fact be the Stokes text translations produced at the same time as the Bach Cantata Pilgrimage for John Eliot Gardiner. Martin Neary, the controversial ex Organist of Westminster Abbey wrote the preface, a fine summation of the importance of the Cantatas though he dates the discovery of the Calov Bible a quarter century after the usual date. Here the other extreme of translation occurs; in creating fine English some German words with theological significance disappear.

The rhyming English translations in the Harnoncourt/Leonhardt series are woeful either as poetry or translations, I'm afraid (e.g., as I recall, "Schoss" is translated as castle ("Schloss" ) instead of "breast")! The French versions here are much better if that is a second language.

Chafe has a meticulous musical approach to the Cantatas with much interest in the hermeneutics of Bach's use of keys.

Duerr really is the best for both musical and textual emphasis (full translations are given),Wolff excellent on history and context, whereas the Stokes and Unger works are text-oriented. However the nature of Bach scholarship is such that no single author dominates the field. Whittaker despite its many mistakes remains often the most detailed analysis and Robertson is still the best quick guide. In German, Schulze is the most interesting and for imagery, there is in any language nothing to match Haeselbock, also in German but in discrete short entries so easily translated with the help of a dictionary. All IMHO.

Jean Laaninen wrote (August 7, 2007):
[To Peter Smaill] Thank you Peter. I will take your letter to the library with me as I look at the available resources, or make requests for inter-library loan. I can work with French even though on occasion I need to look up a word or two. I wish I could speak it also, but I have not had the social opportunity to pursue the language in person. My German is more limited, but I can work with it--therefore I am glad to know Unger's texts origins. Although it has been a while since I worked with Greek I can cross-reference his materials from a good Greek source if something seems confusing to me. It is really helpful to know which texts are most reliable for different aspects of study. Thanks again.


Two new books on positive and negative religious aspects of Bach

Michael Marissen wrote (July 6, 2016):
This is to let you know about two new books that contribute to serious discussion of the positive and the occasionally contemptuous religious aspects of Bach's music.

Michael Marissen, Bach & God (New York: Oxford University Press, 2016); details:

Lauren Belfer, And After the Fire: A Novel (New York: HarperCollins, 2016); details:

You might also find interesting an interview about these two books that was published recently in The New York Times: A Literary Couple Grapple With Bach And His God, by James R. Oestreich (May 25, 2016)

Many thanks,

James Janzen wrote (July 6, 2016):
[To Michael Marissen] Interesting to note that according to the interview the two authors are married.

Thank you for making us aware of these books.


New book

Jean-Pierre Grivois wrote (July 6, 2016):
An original and very well documented book published in France.
Entre les notes de Bach.
Edited by Heloise d’Ormesson.
Bach tells his own story with a lot of facts verified historically among which many are unpublished until this day.
Available on Amazon among other sites.


Book Review: New Bach Books To Come

William Hoffman wrote (July 26, 2016):
Marcus Rathey, Christmas Oratorio (OUP),

Peter Williams, Bach: A Musical Biography, Bach
Peter Williams revisits Bach's biography through the lens of his music, revealing the development of the composer's interests and priorities.

Robin A. Leaver, ed. Routledge Research Companion: Bach, The Routledge Research Companion to Johann Sebastian Bach (Hardback) - Routledge
The Ashgate Research Companion to Johann Sebastian Bach provides an indispensable introduction to the Bach research of the past thirty-fifty years. It is not a lexicon providing information on all the major aspects of Bach's life and work, such as…

William Hoffman wrote (July 28, 2016):
Petzoldt, Martin: Bach-Kommentar Band 3 - Die Passionen, Motetten, Messen und Magnificat, geistliche Kantaten für Kasualien und ohne Bestimmung (Kassel u.a.: Bärenreiter), publication January 1, 2017 (Amazon on-line),
Bach-Kommentar - Band 3: Passionen, Messen, Motetten, Fest- und Kasualkantaten (Schriftenreihe der Internationalen Bachakademie Stuttgart)


Marissen, Gardiner, Chafe, and Butt books on Bach in THE NEW YORKER 2-Jan-2017

William Hoffman wrote (December 31, 2016):
From: Michael Marissen
Sent: Dec 26, 2016 10:13 AM
Hope you enjoy this 2-Jan-17 New Yorker essay discussing recent Marissen, Gardiner, Chafe, and Butt books on Bach and religion: ine/2017/01/02/bachs-holy- dread

Please forward to others you think might be interested.

My best, MM

Michael Marissen
New York, NY, USA
Daniel Underhill Emeritus Professor
of Music - Swarthmore College


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