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Music Johann Sebastian Bach
by
Stephen A. Crist

Introduction

Johann Sebastian Bach is widely regarded as one of the greatest composers in the history of European art music. During his lifetime (b. 1685–d. 1750), Bach ranked among the foremost musicians in Germany; he was active as organist, teacher, director, instrument technician, and composer. Bach’s compositional legacy includes examples in all major genres of the time except opera: nearly two hundred church cantatas; approximately two dozen secular cantatas; a handful of motets; the B-minor Mass and some shorter works with Latin texts; the St. Matthew and St. John Passions; the Christmas, Easter, and Ascension Oratorios; a large body of organ music (both free and based on chorales); many other important harpsichord works (e.g., Two- and Three-Part Inventions, English and French Suites, Well-Tempered Clavier, Italian Concerto, Goldberg Variations); chamber music; concertos (including the popular Brandenburg Concertos); the Musical Offering; and The Art of Fugue. Several of Bach’s contemporaries were equally or even more prolific, but the uniformly high quality of his output is unparalleled. Some of his music was known and esteemed in the latter half of the 18th century and the early decades of the 19th by Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, and others. In 1850, the centenary of Bach’s death, Robert Schumann and other leading musicians formed the Bach-Gesellschaft, with the goal of making his complete works available in print. Since then, admiration for Bach’s music has remained high, especially among musicians. Many composers have identified Bach’s style as an influential factor in the development of their own musical language. The milestones of Bach research—such as the biographies Forkel (see David and Mendel 1998 in Documents) and Spitta 1951 (see Biographies), the Bach-Jahrbuch (see Journals and Serial Publications), the Bach-Gesellschaft edition (1851–1900), and the Neue Bach-Ausgabe (see Modern Editions)—have mirrored the development of the field of musicology as a whole. The secondary literature on Bach has mushroomed to gigantic proportions. The present article provides some guideposts to assist in steering interested readers through this mass of material.

General Overviews

A broad survey, encompassing Baroque music in England, France, Italy, and Latin America, as well as Germany, is offered by Stauffer 2006; here one can view Bach through the wide-angle lens of 17th- and 18th-century art music. An excellent starting place for Bach in particular is the Wolff and Emery article in the venerable Grove Music Online. A bare-bones but up-to-date survey is found in Glöckner 2008. Küster 1999 touches on all of Bach’s music and is another good, general survey. Emans, et al. 2000– is a huge work in progress, jam-packed with information.

  • Emans, Reinmar, Michael Heinemann, Sven Hiemke, and Siegbert Rampe, eds. Das Bach-Handbuch. Laaber, Germany: Laaber-Verlag, 2000–.

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    A multivolume reference work, projected to encompass seven volumes; four volumes published as of 2010. Substantial articles by many different contributors. Four volumes have appeared to date: a Bach lexicon (2000), Bach’s Latin church music (2007), Bach’s keyboard and organ works (2007–2008), and Bach’s passions, oratorios, and motets (2009). Three others (cantatas, chamber and orchestral music, and Bach’s world) are in preparation.

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  • Glöckner, Andreas, ed. Kalendarium zur Lebensgeschichte Johann Sebastian Bachs. Enl. ed. Edition Bach-Archiv Leipzig. Leipzig: Evangelische Verlagsanstalt, 2008.

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    Chronological listing of documented events in Bach’s life and contemporary performances of his music.

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  • Küster, Konrad, ed. Bach Handbuch. Stuttgart and Weimar, Germany: Metzler, 1999.

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    A hefty tome, including the editor’s own four-hundred-page survey of Bach’s vocal music, plus in-depth treatment of the organ music, keyboard music, chamber and orchestral music, and several late works (Musical Offering, The Art of Fugue, canons) by other contributors. Includes important introductory essays on politics, reception, performance practice, and theology.

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  • Stauffer, George B., ed. The World of Baroque Music: New Perspectives. Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 2006.

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    An excellent introduction to Baroque music, this collection of a dozen essays includes contributions on Bach’s practice of reusing his own music and on the St. John Passion.

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  • Wolff, Christoph, and Walter Emery. “Bach, Johann Sebastian.” In Grove Music Online.

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    A bit dated since its first appearance in 1980, this (Grove Music Online) encyclopedia article nonetheless remains a good overview of Bach’s life and works. Includes a useful tabular list of works. Available by subscription.

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Reference Works

For basic information about a wide variety of Bach topics, Boyd 1999 is a handy tool. Melamed and Marissen 1998 is a fine introduction to the field of Bach research. Tens of thousands of citations can be found in Tomita 1997–. Schmieder 1990 (known as BWV) is the standard catalogue of Bach’s works; Dürr and Kobayashi 1998 is a more accessible version. Schulze and Wolff 1985–1989 is an indispensible resource for research on the vocal music. Bach Digital is under construction, but is already an impressive site with excellent high-resolution scans of original manuscripts of many Bach works.

  • Bach Digital.

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    A ongoing cooperative venture involving the Bach-Archiv Leipzig, Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin–Preußischer Kulturbesitz, Sächsische Landesbibliothek–Staats- und Universitätsbibliothek Dresden, and several other institutions. Website provides information about Bach’s works and their written transmission, including high-resolution scans of autograph manuscripts and original performance parts.

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    • Boyd, Malcolm, ed. Oxford Composer Companions: J. S. Bach. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999.

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      An A (Friedrich Abel, Carl) to Z (Zugtrompete) guide to names, terms, and music associated with Bach, with entries by many leading Bach scholars.

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    • Dürr, Alfred, and Yoshitake Kobayashi, eds. Bach-Werke-Verzeichnis: Kleine Ausgabe (BWV2a) nach der von Wolfgang Schmieder vorgelegten 2. Ausgabe. Wiesbaden, Germany: Breitkopf & Härtel, 1998.

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      Concise presentation of essential material from Schmieder’s catalogue, with updated references to secondary literature. Less than half the size of the complete BWV, but hardly “klein” (nearly 500 pages).

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    • Melamed, Daniel R., and Michael Marissen. An Introduction to Bach Studies. New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998.

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      An excellent, user-friendly guide to the main tools and bibliographic materials of Bach research at the end of the 20th century.

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    • Schmieder, Wolfgang, ed. Thematisch-systematisches Verzeichnis der musikalischen Werke von Johann Sebastian Bach: Bach-Werke-Verzeichnis (BWV). 2d ed. Wiesbaden, Germany: Breitkopf & Härtel, 1990.

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      “The Book,” in which Bach’s works are arranged according to genre and assigned catalogue (BWV) numbers. Includes information about early manuscript and printed sources, editions, chronology, and bibliography, as well as musical incipits for each movement.

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    • Schulze, Hans-Joachim, and Christoph Wolff. Bach Compendium: Analytisch-bibliographisches Repertorium der Werke Johann Sebastian Bachs (BC). Vol. 1, Vokalwerke. Leipzig: Edition Peters, 1985–1989.

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      Originally projected to encompass all of Bach’s music; only the first volume (published in four parts) on the church cantatas, motets, passions and oratorios, Latin church music, chorales and sacred songs, secular cantatas, and vocal chamber music has yet appeared. This 1,724-page torso remains an important summation of source-critical and bibliographic information up through the 1980s.

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    • Tomita, Yo. Bach Bibliography. 1997–.

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      A searchable database of scholarly materials, especially books and articles, pertaining to all aspects of Bach research.

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      Modern Editions

      The least expensive study scores in general circulation are likely to be reprints of the Bach-Gesellschaft edition (1851–1900), which has been superseded by the Neue Bach-Ausgabe (NBA). In addition, Bärenreiter also publishes editions for practical use, based on the NBA. Good-quality editions are available from Carus (Stuttgart), Henle (Munich), and the Wiener Urtext Edition (Vienna) as well.

      • Neue Ausgabe sämtlicher Werke (Neue Bach-Ausgabe). Edited by the Johann-Sebastian-Bach-Institut (Göttingen) and the Bach-Archiv (Leipzig). Kassel, Germany: Bärenreiter, 1954–2007.

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        This authoritative critical edition of Bach’s complete works engaged a team of more than sixty scholars and was published in 103 volumes (plus 101 critical reports, five volumes of addenda, a supplementary volume, index, and eight volumes of Bach-Dokumente). The critical reports are monographs in their own right, containing a cornucopia of information about sources, genesis, earlier editions, and a host of other matters.

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        Documents

        Serviceable English versions of the most important Bach documents can be found in David and Mendel 1998. For the original German of these and many other materials, one should turn to the multiple volumes of Bach-Dokumente (Neumann, et al. 1963–). Hübner 2004 is a nice supplement, focused specifically on Anna Magdalena Bach.

        • David, Hans T., and Arthur Mendel, eds. The New Bach Reader: A Life of Johann Sebastian Bach in Letters and Documents. Rev. ed. Revised and enlarged by Christoph Wolff. New York: Norton, 1998.

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          English translations of selected items from Bach-Dokumente. Includes the 1754 obituary by Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach and Johann Friedrich Agricola, and the 1802 biography by Johann Nikolaus Forkel. Originally published in 1945; enlarged and revised in 1966; completely overhauled in 1998.

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        • Hübner, Maria, ed. Anna Magdalena Bach: Ein Leben in Dokumenten und Bildern. Edition Bach-Archiv Leipzig. Leipzig: Evangelische Verlagsanstalt, 2004.

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          Provides a chronological list of events in the life of Bach’s second wife, Anna Magdalena, and information about their documentary basis, along with a biographical essay by Hans-Joachim Schulze and numerous illustrations.

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        • Neumann, Werner, Hans-Joachim Schulze, et al., eds. Bach-Dokumente. 7 vols. to date. Kassel, Germany: Bärenreiter, 1963–.

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          A supplement to Neue Bach-Ausgabe (cited under Modern Editions), this is the standard and most authoritative collection of documents pertaining to Bach. All volumes include extensive commentaries. Vol. 1 (1963): documents in Bach’s own handwriting; Vol. 2 (1969): other documents from Bach’s lifetime; Vol. 3 (1972): documents from the half century after Bach’s death; Vol. 4 (1979): iconography; Vol. 5 (2007): updates pertaining to the periods covered by vols. 1–3; Vol. 6 (2007): documents from the first half of the 19th century; Vol. 7 (2008): materials concerning Forkel’s 1802 Bach biography David and Mendel 1998. One additional volume, pertaining to transmission of sources through 1850, is projected.

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        Conference Proceedings

        The essays by White, Stockigt, Butler, Franklin, Leaver, Butt, Tomita, and Schulze are the most substantial scholarly contributions in Leahy and Tomita 2004. Leisinger 2002 documents the proceedings of a landmark conference in Leipzig. The six volumes from the Dortmund Bach symposia (Geck, et al. 1997–2009) include many interesting and significant articles. The older collections from the International Bach Academy in Stuttgart (Prinz 1990–1993) also contain some essays that are still worth reading.

        • Geck, Martin, Reinmar Emans, et al., eds. Dortmund Bach Symposium. 6 vols. Dortmund, Germany: Klangfarben Musikverlag, 1997–2009.

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          Six biennial symposia were held in Dortmund, Germany, from 1996 to 2006. These are proceedings of the meetings, with contributions by many distinguished Bach scholars. The topics, with year of symposium and date of publication, are as follows: Bach’s orchestral works (1996, 1997); Bach and styles (1998, 1999); Bach’s first Leipzig cantata cycle (2000, 2002); Bach’s music for keyboard instruments (2002, 2003); issues of authenticity (2004, 2009); and Bach and the German compositional tradition (2006, 2009).

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        • Leahy, Anne, and Yo Tomita, eds. Bach Studies from Dublin: Selected Papers Presented at the Ninth Biennial Conference on Baroque Music, Held at Trinity College, Dublin, from 12th to 16th July 2000. Irish Musical Studies 8. Dublin, Ireland: Four Courts, 2004.

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          Fourteen papers that were presented at the Ninth Biennial Conference on Baroque Music at Trinity College, Dublin, in 2000, the 250th anniversary of Bach’s death. Includes historical studies and contributions on compositional process, theology, performance practice, and reception.

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        • Leisinger, Ulrich, ed. Bach in Leipzig—Bach und Leipzig: Konferenzbericht Leipzig 2000. Leipziger Beiträge zur Bach-Forschung 5. Hildesheim, Germany: Olms, 2002.

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          Thirty-one papers and two round tables that were presented in Leipzig during the most recent “Bach Year” (250th anniversary of his death). Diverse contributions are grouped into the usual categories, such as “Works: Style and Analysis,” “Works: Sources and Chronology,” and “Biography: Commentaries—Documents—Contemporary Historical Matters.”

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        • Prinz, Ulrich, ed. Stuttgart, International Bach Academy. 3 vols. Kassel, Germany: Bärenreiter, 1990–1993.

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          A number of lectures and “summer academies” featuring eminent Bach scholars were held in Stuttgart from 1980 to 1990. These were gathered and published in three volumes. The topics, with years of presentation and dates of publication are as follows: B-minor Mass, BWV 232 (1980, 1983, 1989, 1990), St. Matthew Passion, BWV 244 (1985, 1990), St. John Passion, BWV 245 (1986, 1990, 1993).

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        Collections of Essays

        These volumes include many useful contributions in English. Butt 1997 and Melamed 1995 contain much important material; the former is intended for a broader audience, the latter for experts. Franklin 1989 and Williams 1985 are primarily specialist volumes as well, but a bit older. Wolff 1991 and Marshall 1989 are compilations of essays by two leading scholars in North America. Dadelsen 1983 and Dürr 1988 gather articles by two top researchers in Germany.

        • Butt, John, ed. The Cambridge Companion to Bach. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1997.

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          A fascinating compilation that includes several “Profiles of the Music,” flanked by introductory chapters on “The Historical Context: Society, Beliefs and World-view,” and others that assess the composer’s “Influence and Reception.”

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        • Dadelsen, Georg von. Über Bach und Anderes: Aufsätze und Vorträge 1957–1982. Edited by Arnold Feil and Thomas Kohlhase. Laaber, Germany: Laaber-Verlag, 1983.

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          A heterogeneous set of twenty-five essays published in as many years by this notable Bach scholar who taught at the University of Tübingen. Dadelsen’s studies of the chronology of Bach’s music, published in the late 1950s, helped to lay the foundation for subsequent phases of Bach research.

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        • Dürr, Alfred. Im Mittelpunkt Bach: Ausgewählte Aufsätze und Vorträge. Edited by Kollegium des Johann-Sebastian-Bach-Instituts Göttingen. Kassel, Germany: Bärenreiter, 1988.

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          Two dozen of this scholar’s most influential Bach essays, originally published from the 1950s through the mid-1980s. Dürr served as coeditor of the Bach-Jahrbuch and as director of the Johann-Sebastian-Bach-Institut (Göttingen). His work in the late 1950s led to the establishment of the so-called new chronology of Bach’s vocal music.

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        • Franklin, Don O., ed. Bach Studies. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1989.

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          A wide-ranging collection of essays by leading scholars, organized under four headings: “Magnificat, Cantata and Passion,” “Parody and Genre,” “The Well-Tempered Clavier I and II,” and “Transmission and Reception.” Reflects the state of Bach scholarship in the late 1980s.

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        • Marshall, Robert L. The Music of Johann Sebastian Bach: The Sources, the Style, the Significance. New York: Schirmer, 1989.

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          Sixteen essays that originally appeared from the late 1960s through the late 1980s, by a major Bach scholar. Marshall is best known for his intensive investigations of original manuscript sources, several of which are included here, along with his classic study of the later works, “Bach the Progressive.”

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        • Melamed, Daniel R., ed. Bach Studies 2. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1995.

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          A dozen more contributions to augment Franklin 1989 by a different, yet equally eminent, group of Bach researchers, reflecting a diversity of approaches in the mid-1990s. Topics include aspects of Bach’s instrumental music (especially keyboard music, concertos, and the Musical Offering), vocal music (St. Matthew Passion and Trauerode), and his relationship to predecessors and contemporaries.

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        • Williams, Peter, ed. Bach, Handel, Scarlatti: Tercentenary Essays. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1985.

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          Published to mark the 300th anniversary of the birth of these three important composers, the collection includes five Bach essays and eight others that treat Bach in relation to one or both of his contemporaries.

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        • Wolff, Christoph. Bach: Essays on His Life and Music. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1991.

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          Thirty-two essays, originally published from the late 1960s through the late 1980s, by this extraordinarily prolific and influential scholar. Includes biographical studies, investigations of influences on Bach (Palestrina, Buxtehude, Reinken, Vivaldi), discoveries of new sources such as the Neumeister collection of organ chorales at Yale, and research on the original prints of several works.

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        Festschriften

        Having reached his seventieth birthday in 2010, Christoph Wolff has been feted with several Festschriften, including Gallagher and Kelly 2008 and the Bach-themed Butler, et al. 2008. Nearly a decade earlier, the dedicatee bestowed a similar honor on his longtime colleague and collaborator, Hans-Joachim Schulze, in Wolff 1999. Paul Brainard coedited a volume of essays in honor of William H. Scheide (Brainard and Robinson 1993), then was himself an honoree three years later in Knowles 1996. The 1939 vintage of Bach scholars received their due in Crist and Marvin 2004 and Zager 2007.

        • Brainard, Paul, and Ray Robinson, eds. A Bach Tribute: Essays in Honor of William H. Scheide. Kassel, Germany: Bärenreiter, 1993.

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          Scheide owns the famous portrait of Bach painted by Elias Gottlob Haußmann in 1748 as well as several original manuscripts of the composer’s works, and he has himself penned a goodly number of influential essays on Bach. The present volume includes a bumper crop of contributions by renowned Bach scholars.

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        • Butler, Gregory G., George B. Stauffer, and Mary Dalton Greer, eds. About Bach. Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2008.

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          Essays in honor of Christoph Wolff by fifteen students and colleagues, covering Bach’s vocal music, instrumental music, genealogy, and one of his pupils.

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        • Crist, Stephen A., and Roberta Montemorra Marvin, eds. Historical Musicology: Sources, Methods, Interpretations. Eastman Studies in Music 28. Rochester, NY: University of Rochester Press, 2004.

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          This volume in honor of Robert L. Marshall includes essays on Bach’s organ chorales, a cantata, and performance practice.

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        • Gallagher, Sean, and Thomas Forrest Kelly, eds. The Century of Bach and Mozart: Perspectives on Historiography, Composition, Theory, and Performance. Isham Library Papers 7. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Department of Music, 2008.

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          Papers were originally presented at Harvard University in 2005 for a conference honoring Christoph Wolff. Included among the eighteen contributions are six essays on aspects of Bach’s passions, cantatas, creative process, and comparison with Mozart.

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        • Knowles, John, ed. Critica Musica: Essays in Honor of Paul Brainard. Musicology 18. Amsterdam: Gordon and Breach, 1996.

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          Brainard edited three volumes of vocal works for the Neue Bach-Ausgabe (see Modern Editions) and published a number of articles on Bach between the late 1960s and the early 1990s. These essays in his honor are mostly about other topics, but include Bach contributions on arias, tempo, and performance practice.

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        • Wolff, Christoph, ed. Über Leben, Kunst und Kunstwerke: Aspekte musikalischer Biographie: Johann Sebastian Bach im Zentrum. Leipzig: Evangelische Verlagsanstalt, 1999.

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          The twenty-two essays in this volume honoring Hans-Joachim Schulze include seven about Bach, concerning his personality, theological figures in his circle, Bach and other composers (J. G. Graun, Zelenka), various cantatas, and an aria about pipe smoking (BWV 515).

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        • Zager, Daniel, ed. Music and Theology: Essays in Honor of Robin A. Leaver. Lanham, MD: Scarecrow, 2007.

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          Eight of the essays honoring this prodigiously prolific scholar concern Bach, but not all of them involve theology, the volume’s title notwithstanding.

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        Journals and Serial Publications

        Between the journals Bach, Bach Perspectives, and Understanding Bach, English-only readers can gain some impressions of the multifaceted nature of Bach research. Tapping into the leading edge of scholarship in this field, however, requires the ability to read the German-language Bach-Jahrbuch and Leipziger Beiträge zur Bachforschung. Much useful information can also be found in the older Bach-Studien, Cöthener Bach-Hefte, and Beiträge zur Bachforschung.

        • Bach-Jahrbuch. 1904–.

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          The oldest and most prestigious Bach journal, published nearly every year since the early 20th century by the Neue Bachgesellschaft. This is the place to find the most important recent contributions in Bach research, especially those involving manuscript and printed sources.

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        • Bach: Journal of the Riemenschneider Bach Institute. 1970–.

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          Many significant articles have appeared in the pages of this journal. In addition to original studies, it sometimes includes English translations of work that previously appeared in German or other languages.

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        • Bach Perspectives. 8 vols. Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2003–2011.

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          A series of books sponsored by the American Bach Society and published under the guidance of its editorial board. Each volume has a thematic focus (with the exception of the first) and its own editor. Future volumes are scheduled to appear approximately every two years. University of Nebraska Press published volumes 1–4: Vol. 1 (1995): untitled; Vol. 2 (1996): J. S. Bach, the Breitkopfs, and Eighteenth-Century Music Trade; Vol. 3 (1998): Creative Responses to Bach from Mozart to Hindemith; Vol. 4 (1999): The Music of J. S. Bach: Analysis and Interpretation. University of Illinois Press published volumes 5–8: Vol. 5 (2003): Bach in America; Vol. 6 (2007): J. S. Bach’s Concerted Ensemble Music: The Ouverture; Vol. 7 (2008): J. S. Bach’s Concerted Ensemble Music: The Concerto; Vol. 8 (2011): J. S. Bach and the Oratorio Tradition.

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          • Bach-Studien. 10 vols. Leipzig: Breitkopf & Härtel, 1922–1991.

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            The first four were monographs published in Leipzig between 1922 and 1951. After a lengthy interregnum, five collections of essays—including a few contributions that have stood the test of time—appeared from 1975 to 1991 (Vol. 8 is a 1984 monograph on Albert Schweitzer).

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            • Beiträge zur Bachforschung. 10 vols. Leipzig: Nationale Forschungs- und Gedenkstätten Johann Sebastian Bach der DDR, 1982–1991.

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              Volumes 1 (1982), 2 (1983), 4 (1985), 6 (1987), and 9/10 (1991) are collections of essays; the remaining issues are monographs, including Andreas Glöckner’s important study of music at the Neukirche in Leipzig (Vol. 8, 1990).

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              • Cöthener Bach-Hefte. 13 vols. Köthen, Germany: Historisches Museum Köthen, 1981–2006.

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                Thirteen volumes on topics pertaining to the years 1717–1723, when Bach served as Kapellmeister to Prince Leopold of Anhalt-Köthen. Volumes 7 and 9 are brief monographs; the others are collections of essays.

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                • Leipziger Beiträge zur Bachforschung. 8 vols. Edited by the Bach-Archiv (Leipzig). Hildesheim, Germany: Olms, 1995–2006.

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                  Much weightier post–Cold War successor to Beiträge zur Bach-Forschung. Vol. 1 (1995): Passionsmusiken im Umfeld Johann Sebastian BachsBach unter den Diktaturen 1933–1945 und 1945–1989; Vol. 2 (1997): Die Bach-Quellen der Bibliotheken in Brüssel: Katalog; Vol. 3 (2d ed., 2005): Die Briefentwürfe des Johann Elias Bach (1705–1755); Vol. 4 (2000): Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach: Dokumente zu Leben und Wirken aus der zeitgenössischen Hamburgischen Presse (1767–1790); Vol. 5 (2002): Bach in Leipzig—Bach und Leipzig: Konferenzbericht Leipzig 2000; Vol. 6 (2004): Die Anfänge einer Bach-Gesamtausgabe: Editionen der Klavierwerke durch Hoffmeister und Kühnel (Bureau de Musique) und C. F. Peters in Leipzig 1801–1865: Ein Beitrag zur Wirkungsgeschichte J. S. Bachs; Vol. 7 (2005): Musik, Kunst und Wissenschaft im Zeitalter Johann Sebastian Bachs; and Vol. 8 (2006): Die Bach-Quellen der Sing-Akademie zu Berlin: Katalog.

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                  • Understanding Bach. 2006–.

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                    A relative newcomer, this online journal has so far been populated mainly by papers originally presented at conferences, especially those of the Bach Network UK. Fresh, new perspectives can be found here.

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                  Biographies

                  The best portal for most general readers is Boyd 2000. A more detailed portrait can be found in Wolff 2000. Geck 2006 and Williams 2007 are fascinating alternatives, both a bit idiosyncratic but well worth reading. Spitta 1951 and Schweitzer 1966 are important classic studies.

                  • Boyd, Malcolm. Bach. 3d ed. Master Musicians series. New York: Oxford University Press, 2000.

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                    First published in 1983 (London: J. M. Dent). An excellent overview, arranged in alternating chapters on Bach’s life and works. Boyd had a special knack for sifting through mountains of material, culling the most essential information, and not getting hung up in secondary details. The best English-language book of its kind.

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                  • Geck, Martin. Johann Sebastian Bach: Life and Work. Translated by John Hargraves. Orlando, FL: Harcourt, 2006.

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                    English translation of Bach: Leben und Werk, first published in 2000 (Reinbek, Germany: Rowohlt). An intriguing study by a seasoned scholar active in Bach research since the 1960s. The composer’s life, vocal music, and instrumental music are treated in three separate sections, preceded and followed by short essays on specialized topics.

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                  • Schweitzer, Albert. J. S. Bach. 2 vols. Translated by Ernest Newman. New York: Dover, 1966.

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                    Originally appeared in French (Leipzig: Breitkopf & Härtel, 1905) and German (Leipzig: Breitkopf & Härtel, 1908, enlarged). English translation from German edition, first published 1911 (Leipzig and New York: Breitkopf & Härtel). A widely available overview by the famous humanitarian, theologian, and organist. Valuable for its insights into Bach’s music, despite many historical inaccuracies.

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                  • Spitta, Philipp. Johann Sebastian Bach: His Work and Influence on the Music of Germany, 1685–1750. 3 vols. bound in 2. Translated and revised by Clara Bell and J. A. Fuller-Maitland. New York: Dover, 1951.

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                    English translation of Johann Sebastian Bach, which first appeared in 1873–1880. Translation first published 1889. A remarkable achievement for its time, and still the starting point for Bach research today, though out of date in some details (e.g., chronology of Bach’s Leipzig church cantatas) and prone to rhetorical and ideological excesses.

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                  • Williams, Peter. J. S. Bach: A Life in Music. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2007.

                    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511481864Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                    Expanded version of The Life of Bach (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2004). This chronological survey is organized around Bach’s published obituary (1754), authored by the composer’s son Carl Philipp Emanuel and a former pupil, Johann Friedrich Agricola.

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                  • Wolff, Christoph. Johann Sebastian Bach: The Learned Musician. New York: Norton, 2000.

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                    The standard English-language Bach biography for the 21st century. A cornucopia of information, based in large part on research emanating from the Bach-Archiv (Leipzig), a center of international Bach scholarship for which the author serves as director.

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                  Vocal Music

                  Because of the different ways these books and websites are structured, there is of course some overlap between the three subdivisions Cantatas, Passions, and Other Vocal Works.

                  Cantatas

                  Bach composed nearly two hundred sacred cantatas, most of them for performance in services at the St. Thomas and St. Nicholas churches in Leipzig. He also wrote cantatas for secular occasions, such as birthdays and name days of royalty. The Bach cantatas rank among the finest examples of this genre. For most readers, the best place to start will be Dürr 2005. Another recommended early destination is Wolff 1997, but unfortunately only Volume 1 is available in English. The brief commentaries in Schulze 2006 are in fairly accessible German. Chafe 2000, on the other hand, is in rather opaque English. We are blessed with two fine translations of cantata texts (Unger 1996 and Ambrose 2005), which are quite different from one another. Many more translations, and much else, can be found via Oron’s Bach Cantatas Website.

                  • Ambrose, Z. Philip. Texts of the Complete Vocal Works with English Translation and Commentary. 2005–.

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                    Good translations of the texts for virtually all of Bach’s vocal works, including many whose music has not been preserved. Ambrose’s translations mirror the meter and word division of the German originals but are unrhymed. Website includes several useful indexes.

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                    • Chafe, Eric. Analyzing Bach Cantatas. New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000.

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                      A dense but rewarding study of selected cantatas that devotes particular attention to Bach’s use of tonality and modality to project aspects of Lutheran theology. Includes entire chapters on BWV 21 and 60, two chapters on BWV 77, and substantial treatment of BWV 2, 9, 18, 46, 109, 121, and 153.

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                    • Dürr, Alfred. The Cantatas of J. S. Bach. Revised and translated by Richard D. P. Jones. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005.

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                      English translation of Die Kantaten von Johann Sebastian Bach, first published in 1971 (Kassel, Germany: Bärenreiter-Verlag). Parallel German original and English translation of the text, plus a few pages of descriptive commentary, is provided for each cantata. Includes a useful introductory overview. An accessible work by a distinguished Bach scholar.

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                    • Oron, Aryeh. Bach Cantatas Website.

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                      Maintained by a self-described Israeli “Bach and Jazz Music Fan,” this site contains an enormous amount of useful information along with an admixture of oddities (e.g., “Bach Yard Signs” and “Bach Smoking Objects”).

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                    • Schulze, Hans-Joachim. Die Bach-Kantaten: Einführungen zu sämtlichen Kantaten Johann Sebastian Bachs. Edition Bach-Archiv Leipzig. Leipzig: Evangelische Verlagsanstalt, 2006.

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                      Format is similar to Dürr 2005: several pages on each cantata; entries arranged according to order of the church year. Originated in connection with radio broadcasts in the early 1990s and therefore intended for general readership. An important resource by an exceedingly astute researcher.

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                    • Unger, Melvin P. Handbook to Bach’s Sacred Cantata Texts: An Interlinear Translation with Reference Guide to Biblical Quotations and Allusions. Lanham, MD: Scarecrow, 1996.

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                      The chief virtue of this book, which encompasses the church cantatas and the Christmas, Easter, and Ascension oratorios, is that the English translations are placed directly beneath each line of the German original. Especially useful for those less experienced with German who wish to consider text-music relations.

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                    • Wolff, Christoph. The World of the Bach Cantatas. Vol. 1, Johann Sebastian Bach’s Early Sacred Cantatas. New York: Norton, 1997.

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                      First of three volumes, each of which includes general essays by leading scholars concerning a group of cantatas. This volume covers church cantatas composed before 1723. Other volumes in the trilogy (available in Dutch, German, Italian, and Japanese, but not English) treat Bach’s secular cantatas (Vol. 2) and Leipzig church cantatas (Vol. 3).

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                    Passions

                    The St. John Passion and St. Matthew Passion are generally considered to belong among the masterpieces of choral music. They are long works that present the story of Christ’s crucifixion and were originally performed as part of the vespers service on Good Friday. Marissen 2008 offers top-notch translations of the texts, and Melamed 2005 an excellent general orientation to these compositions. Dürr 2000 is a fine introduction to the St. John Passion, and Marissen 1998 engages a difficult but important facet of the same work. Platen 1999 and Dirksen 2010 provide similar coverage for the St. Matthew Passion, but they are unfortunately not available in English. Butt 2010 is an important and challenging recent publication. See also the volumes from the International Bach Academy in Stuttgart (Prinz 1990–1993), listed under Conference Proceedings, and Emans, et al. 2009 (Vol. 3 of Das Bach-Handbuch), listed under General Overviews.

                    • Butt, John. Bach’s Dialogue with Modernity: Perspectives on the Passions. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2010.

                      DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511674778Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                      A stimulating study that considers the messages and music of the John and Matthew passions in relation to attitudes associated with modernity. Available as an e-book.

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                    • Dirksen, Pieter, ed. De geheimen van de Matthäus-Passion: Ambacht en mystiek van een meesterwerk. Amsterdam: Uitgeverij Balans, 2010.

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                      Ten essays on aspects of the St. Matthew Passion, including its genesis, style and instrumentation, arias, and chorales.

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                    • Dürr, Alfred. Johann Sebastian Bach, St. John Passion: Genesis, Transmission, and Meaning. Translated by Alfred Clayton. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000.

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                      English translation of Die Johannes-Passion von Johann Sebastian Bach: Entstehung, Überlieferung, Werkeinführung, first published in 1988 (Kassel, Germany: Bärenreiter, 1988). The best place to find a concise summary of this work’s complex manuscript transmission and performance history as well as its music.

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                    • Marissen, Michael. Lutheranism, Anti-Judaism, and Bach’s St. John Passion. New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998.

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                      A long essay concerning anti-Judaism in the Gospel of John, the writings of Martin Luther, and the libretto of the St. John Passion, and its implications for understanding and performance of Bach’s composition. Includes an annotated literal translation of the work’s text. Available as an e-book.

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                    • Marissen, Michael. Bach’s Oratorios: The Parallel German-English Texts with Annotations. New York: Oxford University Press, 2008.

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                      Meticulous translations of the texts of the Christmas Oratorio, St. Matthew Passion, St. Mark Passion, St. John Passion, Easter Oratorio, and Ascension Oratorio. Brief introductions to each work and annotations are a treasure trove of information, especially about biblical criticism and Lutheran theology.

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                    • Melamed, Daniel R. Hearing Bach’s Passions. New York: Oxford University Press, 2005.

                      DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195169331.001.0001Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                      An exceptionally well-informed yet accessible book, which examines the passions from the vantage point of problems such as the significance of Bach’s original performing forces, the existence of multiple versions of a work, parody, and authenticity.

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                    • Platen, Emil. Johann Sebastian Bach: Die Matthäuspassion; Entstehung, Werkbeschreibung, Rezeption. 3d ed. Kassel, Germany: Bärenreiter, 1999.

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                      A useful, if somewhat idiosyncratic, handbook that includes information about the genesis of the St. Matthew Passion, the structures of its text and music, the work’s reception, and related matters.

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                    Other Vocal Works

                    Pride of place in this category belongs to the B-Minor Mass, represented by three volumes—Butt 1991, Stauffer 2003, and Wolff 2009—all somewhat different from one another but equally fine as points of entry. Walter 2006 is to the Christmas Oratorio what Wolff 2009 is to the Mass: a brief, up-to-date survey in German (both replace outdated Bärenreiter handbooks on these works by Walter Blankenburg). Bossuyt 2004 is a good English-language alternative. For the motets, one should turn first to Melamed 1995; Hofmann 2006 is the Bärenreiter handbook on this repertoire. See also Vols. 2 and 3 of Das Bach-Handbuch (Emans, et al. 2000–, listed under General Overviews).

                    • Bossuyt, Ignace. Johann Sebastian Bach: Christmas Oratorio (BWV 248). Translated by Stratton Bull. Ancorae 19. Leuven, Belgium: Leuven University Press, 2004.

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                      English translation of Het Weihnachts-Oratorium (BWV 248) van Johann Sebastian Bach, first published in 2002. A useful general study, with detailed descriptions of all sixty-four movements preceded by introductory sections on “General Context” and “The Textual and Musical Components.”

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                    • Butt, John. Bach: Mass in B Minor. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1991.

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                      An excellent introductory handbook, which includes the obligatory information about origins, reception, and overall structure, but substitutes for the commonplace movement-by-movement discussion a more engaging set of chapters tracing Bach’s use of ritornello forms, dance influences, counterpoint, and figurae.

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                    • Hofmann, Klaus. Johann Sebastian Bach: Die Motetten. 2d ed. Kassel, Germany: Bärenreiter, 2006.

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                      An important study by Alfred Dürr’s successor as deputy director of the Johann-Sebastian-Bach-Institut (Göttingen). Substantial introduction, followed by chapters on each of eight motets (BWV 225–230 and BWV Anh. 159–160). Part 1 of each chapter concerns questions of compositional history, transmission, and the like; Part 2 provides detailed musical descriptions.

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                    • Melamed, Daniel R. J. S. Bach and the German Motet. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1995.

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                      The authoritative study of Bach’s motets; the motet style in his cantatas, oratorios, and Latin works; the composer’s understanding of what qualified as a “motet”; and his knowledge of 17th-century German motets.

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                    • Stauffer, George B. Bach: The Mass in B Minor; The Great Catholic Mass. Yale Music Masterworks. New Haven, CT, and London: Yale University Press, 2003.

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                      Originally published in 1997. A fine account of this important work, including information about its liturgical context, compositional history, reception, and performance practice, in addition to analysis and description of each movement.

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                    • Walter, Meinrad. Johann Sebastian Bach, Weihnachtsoratorium. Kassel, Germany: Bärenreiter, 2006.

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                      Most of this handbook is devoted to discussion of every movement in the six parts of the Christmas Oratorio. Each chapter begins with a few paragraphs concerning what the autograph score reveals about Bach’s compositional process. An ample introduction covers the oratorio as a genre, the work’s origins in Bach’s secular cantatas, and other contextual matters.

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                    • Wolff, Christoph. Johann Sebastian Bach, Messe in h-Moll. Kassel, Germany: Bärenreiter, 2009.

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                      This handbook falls into two unequal halves. The first offers historical perspectives on the B-minor Mass, including description of its manuscript sources, musical and liturgical contexts, and reception in the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries. The lengthier latter half concerns musical aspects of the work, both its individual parts and as a whole.

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                    Organ Music

                    Bach was, by all accounts, a spectacular organist. It is therefore not surprising that he composed a large amount of music for this instrument. The most comprehensive study of Bach’s organ works is Williams 2003. Stauffer and May 1986 is a single volume with a similarly broad purview. Stinson 1999 and Hiemke 2007 are good introductions to the Orgelbüchlein. Stinson 2001 provides comparable coverage for the so-called Great Eighteen, a group of organ chorales. Butler 1990 and Clement 1999 are detailed studies of aspects of Clavierübung, Part 3. Stauffer 1980 treats the free organ preludes. See also Vol. 4 of Das Bach-Handbuch (Emans, et al. 2000–, listed under General Overviews).

                    • Butler, Gregory. Bach’s Clavier-Übung III: The Making of a Print, with a Companion Study of the Canonic Variations on “Vom Himmel Hoch,” BWV 769. Sources of Music and Their Interpretation. Durham, NC, and London: Duke University Press, 1990.

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                      Painstaking and illuminating investigation of the original prints of some of Bach’s most celebrated organ works, dating from the 1730s and 1740s.

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                    • Clement, Albert. Der dritte Teil der Clavierübung von Johann Sebastian Bach: Musik, Text, Theologie. Middelburg, The Netherlands: AlmaRes, 1999.

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                      A lengthy piece-by-piece discussion of this important collection of organ chorales, which examines their theological underpinnings as well as their musical characteristics.

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                    • Hiemke, Sven. Johann Sebastian Bach, Orgelbüchlein. Kassel, Germany: Bärenreiter, 2007.

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                      Short commentaries on each organ chorale in this collection, flanked by two sizeable chapters concerning the origins and uses of the work and another on editions, transcriptions, and other aspects of its reception.

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                    • Stauffer, George B. The Organ Preludes of Johann Sebastian Bach. Ann Arbor, MI: UMI Research Press, 1980.

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                      Remains a valuable study of the sources, chronology, stylistic development, function, and performance practice of the thirty-three free organ preludes.

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                    • Stauffer, George B., and Ernest May, eds. J. S. Bach as Organist: His Instruments, Music, and Performance Practices. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1986.

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                      An important and accessible collection of seventeen essays on Bach’s organs, his organ music, and issues of historical performance.

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                    • Stinson, Russell. Bach: The Orgelbüchlein. New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999.

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                      Originally published in 1996 (New York: Schirmer), this book remains the standard English-language introduction to Bach’s beloved collection of forty-six organ chorales. Three central chapters with brief descriptions of each piece are framed by several introductory chapters and a concluding discussion of the work’s reception.

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                    • Stinson, Russell. J. S. Bach’s Great Eighteen Organ Chorales. New York: Oxford University Press, 2001.

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                      Similar in format to Stinson’s earlier book on the Orgelbüchlein (Stinson 1999), this volume provides an introduction to this important group of organ chorales (BWV 651–668), treating their chronology, style, background, manuscript sources, reception, and other matters, and offering concise summaries of each piece.

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                    • Williams, Peter. The Organ Music of J. S. Bach. 2d ed. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2003.

                      DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511481871Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                      A revised and updated version of Volumes 1 and 2 (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press), which were originally published in 1980. Provides description, analysis, and background information for each organ work, in Bach catalogue (BWV) order. This standard resource can profitably be used alongside the as-yet-unrevised third volume (1984), which includes information about original performance contexts, organs, issues of historical performance, and similar matters.

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                    Harpsichord Music

                    Keyboard works by Bach, such as the Two- and Three-Part Inventions, the English and French suites, and the Well-Tempered Clavier, are still considered essential repertoire for pianists and harpsichordists today, as they have been for the past 250 years. Schulenberg 2006 is the best survey; see also Vol. 4 of Das Bach-Handbuch (Emans, et al. 2000–, listed under General Overviews). Williams 2001 is a fine introduction to the Goldberg Variations. For the Well-Tempered Clavier, Ledbetter 2002 and Dürr 2008 are two excellent introductory volumes, and Rampe 2002 has a more detailed collection of articles on Book 1. A group of Bach fugues are treated in Kerman 2005.

                    • Dürr, Alfred. Johann Sebastian Bach—Das wohltemperierte Klavier. 3d ed. Kassel, Germany: Bärenreiter, 2008.

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                      The bulk of this long book by a leading light of 20th-century Bach research consists of meticulous analyses of every prelude and fugue in both books of the Well-Tempered Clavier. Though accurate, this material is not very user-friendly, owing in large measure to the author’s extensive use of Greek letters and other arcana in descriptions and analytical diagrams. The introductory sections are, however, more accessible.

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                    • Kerman, Joseph. The Art of Fugue: Bach Fugues for Keyboard, 1715–1750. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2005.

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                      Intelligent, sensitive, and comprehensible discussions of sixteen selected fugues from both books of the Well-Tempered Clavier and elsewhere by one of the best minds (and writers) in the field.

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                    • Ledbetter, David. Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier: The 48 Preludes and Fugues. New Haven, CT, and London: Yale University Press, 2002.

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                      An exemplary study, in which detailed commentaries on each of the forty-eight pieces in Books 1 and 2 of the Well-Tempered Clavier are preceded by a collection of chapters (titled “Concepts”) dealing with keyboard instruments, tuning systems, compositional traditions, and the like.

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                    • Rampe, Siegbert, ed. Bach, Das Wohltemperierte Klavier I: Tradition, Entstehung, Funktion, Analyse: Ulrich Siegele zum 70. Geburtstag. Munich and Salzburg: Katzbichler, 2002.

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                      Eleven essays on specialized aspects of book 1 of the Well-Tempered Clavier and related topics, including a 150-page monograph on fugues by the dedicatee.

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                    • Schulenberg, David. The Keyboard Music of J. S. Bach. 2d ed. New York: Routledge, 2006.

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                      Three introductory chapters, followed by fifteen chapters on various collections of works, in roughly chronological order, from the early suites to The Art of Fugue. A splendid overview that skillfully weaves together background information of various kinds, analytical observations, and historically grounded discussions of performance issues.

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                    • Williams, Peter. Bach, the Goldberg Variations. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2001.

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                      An engaging, provocative, and sometimes entertaining handbook that discusses the Aria and thirty variations individually, as well as the overall plan of the work, its compositional history, and its reception.

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                    Instrumental Music

                    Their exalted reputation notwithstanding, Bach’s sonatas, suites, and concertos have received less scholarly attention than have other branches of his oeuvre.

                    Unaccompanied Sonatas and Suites

                    Ledbetter 2009 provides an excellent introduction to the entire repertoire. Lester 1999 and Sackmann 2008 are useful studies of the unaccompanied violin solos. Winold 2007 concerns the unaccompanied cello suites but is not a scholarly study.

                    • Ledbetter, David. Unaccompanied Bach: Performing the Solo Works. New Haven, CT, and London: Yale University Press, 2009.

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                      A splendid, up-to-date, and well-written account of the works for solo violin (BWV 1001–1006), cello (BWV 1007–1012), lute (BWV 995–1000, 1006a), and flute (BWV 1013), with important introductory chapters on German traditions of solo instrumental music, and concepts of style and structure.

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                    • Lester, Joel. Bach’s Works for Solo Violin: Style, Structure, Performance. New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999.

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                      A detailed analytical study (four chapters) of the Sonata in G Minor (BWV 1001), with a brief overview of the three partitas.

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                    • Sackmann, Dominik. Triumph des Geistes über die Materie: Mutmaßungen über Johann Sebastian Bachs “Sei Solo a Violino senza Basso accompagnato” (BWV 1001–1006), mit einem Seitenblick auf die “6 Suites a Violoncello Solo” (BWV 1007–1012). Jahresgabe der Internationalen Bach-Gesellschaft Schaffhausen. Stuttgart: Carus, 2008.

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                      A brief pamphlet with a lengthy title, which provides a good general introduction to matters such as the overall structure of the collection of violin solos, its manuscript sources, reception, and chronology; Bach as violinist in various periods of his life; and the types of string instruments for which he composed.

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                    • Winold, Allen. Bach’s Cello Suites: Analyses and Explorations. 2 vols. Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 2007.

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                      Eclectic analyses of all movements of the suites, grouped by type (preludes, allemandes, courantes, sarabandes, optional movements, gigues), formulated by an experienced performer.

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                    Chamber and Orchestral Music

                    An up-to-date, scholarly survey of Bach’s chamber music is sorely needed; at present, Vogt 1988 is the only available resource. Rampe and Sackmann 2000 provides an overview of the concertos and orchestral suites. Boyd 1993 is a valuable handbook on the Brandenburg Concertos. Read it first, then proceed to the Marissen 1995 interpretive study. Geuting 2006 covers both orchestral and chamber music.

                    • Boyd, Malcolm. Bach: The Brandenburg Concertos. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1993.

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                      An excellent general introduction, including brief descriptions of the six individual concertos, plus chapters on their origins and reception, instrumentation, and other matters.

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                    • Geuting, Matthias. Konzert und Sonate bei Johann Sebastian Bach: Formale Disposition und Dialog der Gattungen. Bochumer Arbeiten zur Musikwissenschaft 5. Kassel, Germany: Bärenreiter, 2006.

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                      A detailed analytical study of Bach’s concertos, sonatas, and works that share characteristics of both genres—e.g., the sonata “auf Concertenart” and concerto “auf Sonatenart” (the latter term invented by the author in analogy to the former).

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                    • Marissen, Michael. The Social and Religious Designs of J. S. Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1995.

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                      An insightful and stimulating examination of the relationships among musical, social, and theological factors in the structures and scoring of the Brandenburg Concertos.

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                    • Rampe, Siegbert, and Dominik Sackmann, eds. Bachs Orchestermusik: Entstehung, Klangwelt, Interpretation. Kassel, Germany: Bärenreiter, 2000.

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                      Compendious treatment of Bach’s concertos and orchestral suites, authored chiefly by the two editors but with a roster of more than a dozen other contributors. Includes detailed information concerning performing forces available to Bach in Weimar, Köthen, and Leipzig; descriptions of sources and style of the music; instrumentation and pitch; and performance practice.

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                    • Vogt, Hans. Johann Sebastian Bach’s Chamber Music: Background, Analyses, Individual Works. Translated by Kenn Johnson. Portland, OR: Amadeus, 1988.

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                      English translation of Johann Sebastian Bachs Kammermusik, first published in 1981. A spotty work by a German composer who died in 1992. Provides background information (chronology, instrumentation, performance practice) and quirky analyses of Bach’s compositions for unaccompanied instruments (violin, cello, flute); sonatas for violin, viola da gamba, or flute with continuo or obbligato harpsichord; and other works.

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                    Instrumentation

                    Prinz 2005 is the fundamental study of Bach’s instruments. Boresch 1993 contains many insights about the ways in which those instruments were used. Dreyfus 1987 is limited in scope to continuo instruments and vocal works only.

                    • Boresch, Hans-Werner. Besetzung und Instrumentation: Studien zur kompositorichen Praxis Johann Sebastian Bachs. Bochumer Arbeiten zur Musikwissenschaft 1. Kassel, Germany: Bärenreiter, 1993.

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                      A detailed study of Bach’s deployment of instrumental resources in selected vocal and instrumental works. Argues that instrumentation was an autonomous factor in musical composition as early as the first half of the 18th century.

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                    • Dreyfus, Laurence. Bach’s Continuo Group: Players and Practices in His Vocal Works. Studies in the History of Music 3. Cambridge, MA, and London: Harvard University Press, 1987.

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                      An authoritative study of continuo instruments (organ, harpsichord, bassoon, and several string instruments) and their use in Bach’s vocal music.

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                    • Prinz, Ulrich. Johann Sebastian Bachs Instrumentarium: Originalquellen, Besetzung, Verwendung. Schriftenreihe (Internationale Bachakademie) 10. Kassel, Germany: Bärenreiter, 2005.

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                      An excellent, if hefty, reference work with information about nearly everything one might want to know about the instruments used by Bach. Chapters on each instrument, arranged in four groups: brass, woodwinds, strings, continuo. Deeply grounded in Bach’s manuscript sources and contemporary treatises.

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                    Style

                    The broadest of these studies is Jones 2007; the most insightful is Dreyfus 1996. Yearsley 2002 is a satisfying interdisciplinary treatment of an important facet of Bach’s compositional style. Little and Jenne 2001 surveys dance styles, and Zehnder 2009 provides thorough treatment of Bach’s earliest works.

                    • Dreyfus, Laurence. Bach and the Patterns of Invention. Cambridge, MA, and London: Harvard University Press, 1996.

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                      An exceptionally perceptive and well-wrought study of Bach’s music, focusing primarily on analytical approaches to instrumental works but incorporating insights from a broad range of musical, historical, and philosophical sources.

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                    • Jones, Richard D. P. The Creative Development of Johann Sebastian Bach. Vol. 1, 1695–1717: Music to Delight the Spirit. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007.

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                      The first of a projected two-volume study that aims to survey Bach’s entire compositional output, this volume treats the composer’s “formative years” (student days in Ohrdruf and Lüneburg, and professional positions as organist in Arnstadt and Mühlhausen) and his “first maturity” (court organist and Konzertmeister in Weimar). An accessible account, informed by recent scholarship.

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                    • Little, Meredith, and Natalie Jenne. Dance and the Music of J. S. Bach. Exp. ed. Music—Scholarship and Performance. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2001.

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                      Dance-by-dance examination of the bourée, gavotte, minuet, passepied, sarabande, courante, corrente, gigue, and other types in Bach’s music. Provides information about the characteristics of these courtly dances, culled from contemporary treatises, and their use by Bach’s predecessors and contemporaries.

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                    • Yearsley, David. Bach and the Meanings of Counterpoint. New Perspectives in Music History and Criticism. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2002.

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                      A fascinating study that situates Bach’s mastery of counterpoint within the history of ideas. Brings his music into dialogue with contemporary Lutheran theology, music theory, science, alchemy, politics, and anatomy.

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                    • Zehnder, Jean-Claude. Die frühen Werke Johann Sebastian Bachs: Stil—Chronologie—Satztechnik. 2 vols. Scripta (Schola Cantorum Basiliensis) 1. Basel, Switzerland: Schwabe, 2009.

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                      An important stylistic study of a few works that definitely originated in the period between 1699 and 1708 (i.e., from Bach’s early teen years through his early twenties), and many others that might have. The author is at pains to demonstrate that Bach was as great a prodigy as Mozart.

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                    Performance Practice

                    All of the authors represented here have pursued both performance and musicology, in varying proportions. Kirkpatrick 1984 and Badura-Skoda 1993 are stimulating studies by eminent keyboardists, the former focusing on the Well-Tempered Clavier and the latter ranging more broadly. Butt 1990 is also by an excellent keyboard player (and conductor), who is perhaps even better known in musicological circles. Schröder 2007 is a distillation of wisdom and guidance from an eminent period-instrument violinist. Parrott 2000 and Rifkin 2002 present the case for performing Bach’s vocal works with one singer per part. Hochreither 2002 espouses traditional (some might say old-fashioned) views of Bach performance. Fabian 2003 traces performance practice during the third quarter of the 20th century via recordings.

                    • Badura-Skoda, Paul. Interpreting Bach at the Keyboard. Translated by Alfred Clayton. Oxford: Clarendon, 1993.

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                      English translation of Bach-Interpretation: Die Klavierwerke Johann Sebastian Bachs, first published in 1990 (Laaber, Germany: Laaber-Verlag). A remarkably substantial and well-informed treatment of performance issues in Bach’s keyboard works (e.g., rhythm, tempo, articulation, dynamics, ornamentation) by an eminent Austrian pianist.

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                    • Butt, John. Bach Interpretation: Articulation Marks in Primary Sources of J. S. Bach. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1990.

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                      An important scholarly study of articulation in Bach’s vocal and instrumental works, based on intimate acquaintance with the original manuscripts and contemporary treatises.

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                    • Fabian, Dorottya. Bach Performance Practice, 1945–1975: A Comprehensive Review of Sound Recordings and Literature. Aldershot, UK: Ashgate, 2003.

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                      Describes the emergence of historically informed performance through analysis of all commercial recordings of the St. John Passion, St. Matthew Passion, Brandenburg Concertos, and Goldberg Variations in the three decades following World War II. Includes chapters on performing forces, tempo and dynamics, ornamentation, rhythm, and articulation, plus a compact disc of excerpts.

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                    • Hochreither, Karl. Performance Practice of the Instrumental-Vocal Works of Johann Sebastian Bach. Translated by Melvin Unger. Lanham, MD, and London: Scarecrow, 2002.

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                      English translation of Zur Aufführungspraxis der Vokal-Instrumentalwerke Johann Sebastian Bachs, first published in 1983 (Kassel, Germany: Merseburger). The chief value of this book, which touches on a wide variety of practical matters, is that it draws on the author’s experience of directing Bach cantatas on a regular basis for nearly forty years at Berlin’s Kaiser-Wilhelm-Gedächtniskirche.

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                    • Kirkpatrick, Ralph. Interpreting Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier: A Performer’s Discourse of Method. New Haven, CT, and London: Yale University Press, 1984.

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                      A fascinating personal account of multiple approaches (historical, aesthetic, melodic, rhythmic, harmonic, interpretive) to performance of preludes and fugues from the Well-Tempered Clavier, applicable to other repertoires as well, by the distinguished American harpsichordist and longtime Yale music professor.

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                    • Parrott, Andrew. The Essential Bach Choir. Woodbridge, UK: Boydell, 2000.

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                      A lucid exposition of the view, first presented by Joshua Rifkin in the early 1980s, that Bach normally performed his cantatas with concertists alone, one reading from each of the original performance parts. A good summation of the discussion, as of the turn of the millennium, by the founding director of the Taverner Choir.

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                    • Rifkin, Joshua. Bach’s Choral Ideal. Dortmund, Germany: Klangfarben, 2002.

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                      An essay by the illustrious scholar and director of the Bach Ensemble that concludes, on the basis of penetrating analysis of Bach’s 1730 memorandum to the Leipzig town council and detailed examination of the original performance materials, that the number of singers who participated in performances of his vocal works normally did not exceed four.

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                    • Schröder, Jaap. Bach’s Solo Violin Works: A Performer’s Guide. New Haven, CT, and London: Yale University Press, 2007.

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                      Individual chapters on each of the six sonatas and partitas, preceded by several introductory chapters on aspects of baroque style and technique. Practical wisdom from a seasoned performer and teacher.

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                    Historical and Cultural Contexts

                    Until recently, there weren’t many alternatives to Schwendowius and Dömling 1984. Baron 2006 and Erickson 2009 have changed that, but the illustrative material in the earlier volume is still quite good. Kevorkian 2007 focuses on religion and its institutions and Peters 2008 on Bach’s only female librettist.

                    • Baron, Carol K., ed. Bach’s Changing World: Voices in the Community. Eastman Studies in Music 37. Rochester, NY: University of Rochester Press, 2006.

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                      A fascinating volume that illuminates the literary, political, theological, philosophical, and historical environments of middle-class Leipzig, the city where Bach lived and worked for more than twenty-five years, until his death there in 1750. Includes contributions from the fields of history, theology, literary criticism, and German studies, as well as musicology.

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                    • Erickson, Raymond, ed. The Worlds of Johann Sebastian Bach. New York: Amadeus, 2009.

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                      A wide-ranging, interdisciplinary collection of essays, with four contributions by leading Bach scholars under the rubric “Bach in Context,” as well as chapters on history, religion, architecture, literature, drama, dance, and the editor’s substantial introduction concerning “The Legacies of J. S. Bach.”

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                    • Kevorkian, Tanya. Baroque Piety: Religion, Society, and Music in Leipzig, 1650–1750. Aldershot, UK: Ashgate, 2007.

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                      An important historical study of religious life in Leipzig, including the years when Bach served as civic music director (1723–1750).

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                    • Peters, Mark A. A Woman’s Voice in Baroque Music: Mariane von Ziegler and J. S. Bach. Aldershot, UK: Ashgate, 2008.

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                      Ziegler was a poet and prominent citizen of Leipzig. In April–May 1725, Bach set nine of her cantata texts to music (BWV 68, 74, 87, 103, 108, 128, 175, 176, 183). A substantial study of this slice of the composer’s oeuvre.

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                    • Schwendowius, Barbara, and Wolfgang Dömling, eds. Johann Sebastian Bach: Life, Time, Influence. New Haven, CT, and London: Yale University Press, 1984.

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                      A beautifully produced coffee table book, with more than 150 illustrations and eleven essays on subjects such as politics, religious life, and the arts in central and northern Germany during Bach’s lifetime; the composer’s family, biography, and instruments; and his influence in the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries.

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                    Interpretive Studies

                    These books are quite different from one another. Chafe 1991 focuses on theological dimensions of the vocal works. Tatlow 1991 debunks an approach to Bach that still has some currency, especially among Liebhaber. Berger 2007 is an influential study by a major scholar.

                    • Berger, Karol. Bach’s Cycle, Mozart’s Arrow: An Essay on the Origins of Musical Modernity. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2007.

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                      An intellectual tour de force, which characterizes differences between Bach’s music and Mozart’s in terms of two metaphors: the cycle (time follows a circular route) versus the arrow (linear flow of time from past to future).

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                    • Chafe, Eric. Tonal Allegory in the Vocal Music of J. S. Bach. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1991.

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                      An important study of tonality in selected church cantatas and secular cantatas, as well as in the passions and oratorios. Demonstrates how Bach used keys, modes, and other factors to project the meanings of his texts, especially key concepts of Lutheran theology.

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                    • Tatlow, Ruth. Bach and the Riddle of the Number Alphabet. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1991.

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                      A critical evaluation and rebuttal of the practice of interpreting Bach’s works according to the natural-order number alphabet (A = 1 to Z = 24), as developed by Friedrich Smend in the 1940s and others in his wake.

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                    Theological Studies

                    Despite its age, Stiller 1984 remains an important introduction to the religious milieu within which Bach worked. Leaver 1983 and Leaver 1985 present bibliographic materials of fundamental importance to theological Bach studies. Steiger 1998 and Steiger 2002 provide a sampling of the work of the Arbeitsgemeinschaft für theologische Bachforschung and its chief scholarly exponent. Pelikan 1986 is still useful for quick orientation to the religious proclivities reflected in Bach’s vocal works. Petzoldt 2004–2007 is a good place to learn about the meaning of Bach’s cantata texts in the perspective of historical theology. Haselböck 2004 focuses on the significance of individual words within the librettos.

                    • Haselböck, Lucia. Bach-Textlexicon: Ein Wörterbuch der religiösen Sprachbilder im Vokalwerk von Johann Sebastian Bach. Kassel, Germany: Bärenreiter, 2004.

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                      A dictionary (from Abba to Zorn Gottes) of terms and concepts found in the texts of Bach’s vocal music, both common and obscure, with explanations of their theological background and significance. Includes a good introduction to sacred poetry in the Baroque era.

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                    • Leaver, Robin A. Bachs theologische Bibliothek: Eine kritische Bibliographie / Bach’s Theological Library: A Critical Bibliography. Beitrage zur Theologischen Bachforschung 1. Neuhausen-Stuttgart, Germany: Hänssler, 1983.

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                      Bibliographical information and title pages for the fifty-odd theological works listed in the inventory of Bach’s estate.

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                    • Leaver, Robin A., ed. J. S. Bach and Scripture: Glosses from the Calov Bible Commentary. St. Louis, MO: Concordia, 1985.

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                      Facsimiles of selected pages from Bach’s personal copy of the Bible, including those with marginalia in the composer’s handwriting, along with copious annotations and a substantial introductory essay.

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                    • Pelikan, Jaroslav. Bach among the Theologians. Philadelphia: Fortress, 1986.

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                      A short book by the famous historian of Christian doctrine, which explores the relationship between Bach and theology during his lifetime. The St. Matthew Passion, St. John Passion, and B-Minor Mass take center stage, along with Lutheran orthodoxy and Pietism.

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                    • Petzoldt, Martin. Bach-Kommentar: Theologisch-musikwissenschaftliche Kommentierung der geistlichen Vokalwerke Johann Sebastian Bachs. 2 vols. Kassel, Germany: Bärenreiter, 2004–2007.

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                      A mammoth project that views Bach’s vocal works through the lens of historical theology. The two volumes that have appeared to date treat the church cantatas from the Trinity season (Vol. 1), and from Advent through Trinity Sunday (Vol. 2). The chief interpretive resource is Johann Olearius’s five-volume Biblische Erklärung (Leipzig, 1678–1681), a copy of which was in Bach’s personal library.

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                    • Steiger, Renate, ed. Theologische Bachforschung heute: Dokumentation und Bibliographie der Internationalen Arbeitsgemeinschaft für theologische Bachforschung, 1976–1996. Glienicke, Germany, and Cambridge, MA: Galda + Wilch, 1998.

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                      Materials pertaining to the meetings and activities of scholars active in the first two decades of the International Society for Theological Bach Research (now defunct), whose task was the theological and musicological study of Bach’s works in the context of science and piety in his day.

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                    • Steiger, Renate. Gnadengegenwart: Johann Sebastian Bach im Kontext lutherischer Orthodoxie und Frömmigkeit. Doctrina et Pietas, Abteilung 2, 2. Stuttgart-Bad Cannstatt, Germany: Frommann-Holzboog, 2002.

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                      A collection of fifteen essays by the demiurge of theological Bach research in the last quarter of the 20th century. Interdisciplinary analyses of selected cantatas (BWV 49, 56, 61, 67, 72, 78, 87, 106), the St. Matthew Passion, the Christmas Oratorio, and other works, emphasizing ways in which concepts of Lutheran theology are projected in Bach’s musical settings. Includes one audio CD.

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                    • Stiller, Günther. Johann Sebastian Bach and Liturgical Life in Leipzig. Translated by Herbert J. A. Bouman, Daniel F. Poellot, and Hilton C. Oswald; edited by Robin A. Leaver. St. Louis, MO: Concordia, 1984.

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                      English translation of Johann Sebastian Bach und das Leipziger gottesdienstliche Leben seiner Zeit, first published in 1970 (Kassel, Germany: Bärenreiter). A pioneering study of the Sunday and weekday services, church year, clergy, and music of the churches in Leipzig, and Bach’s relationship to these rituals and institutions.

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                    Reception Histories

                    Most of these studies concern the reception of Bach’s music in Germany, especially during the 19th century. Applegate 2005 examines an important 1829 performance in Berlin, frequently regarded as a nexus in the European “Bach revival.” Hartinger, et al. 2007 concentrates on the earlier decades of the century (Mendelssohn, Schumann). Stinson 2006 includes the latter half as well (Liszt, Brahms) but focuses on organ music. Sandberger 1997 explores Spitta’s pathbreaking Bach biography (see Biographies) in the last quarter of the 19th century. Kassler 2004 concerns early Bach reception in England. Heinemann 1997–2005 is a comprehensive study spanning the years 1750–2000; Heinemann and Hinrichsen 2007 is an additional volume conceived along similar lines.

                    • Applegate, Celia. Bach in Berlin: Nation and Culture in Mendelssohn’s Revival of the St. Matthew Passion. Ithaca, NY, and London: Cornell University Press, 2005.

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                      An absorbing account of historical, cultural, aesthetic, and religious factors that culminated in Mendelssohn’s famous 1829 performance of the St. Matthew Passion, a seminal event in 19th-century German cultural history.

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                    • Hartinger, Anselm, Christoph Wolff, and Peter Wollny, eds. “Zu groß, zu unerreichbar”: Bach-Rezeption im Zeitalter Mendelssohns und Schumanns. Papers from an international symposium held in Leipzig, November 2005. Wiesbaden, Germany: Breitkopf & Härtel, 2007.

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                      Two dozen essays concerning multiple facets of Bach’s influence and the reception of his music during the first half of the 19th century.

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                    • Heinemann, Michael, and Hans-Joachim Hinrichsen, eds. Johann Sebastian Bach und die Gegenwart: Beiträge zur Bach-Rezeption, 1945–2005. Cologne: Dohr, 2007.

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                      A wide-ranging volume of essays treating topics such as the reception of Bach’s music in Africa and Japan; Bach in the worlds of jazz and rock; Bach’s music in the films of Ingmar Bergman and on stage; and his influence on composers and musicians in the latter half of the 20th century.

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                    • Heinemann, Michael, Hans-Joachim Hinrichsen, and Joachim Lüdtke, eds. Bach und die Nachwelt. 4 vols. Laaber, Germany: Laaber-Verlag, 1997–2005.

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                      An ambitious collection of essays concerning the influence of Bach’s legacy on musical culture after his death. Vol. 1 (1997) covers the years 1750–1850; Vol. 2 (1999) the years 1850–1900; Vol. 3 (2000) the years 1900–1950; and Vol. 4 (2005) the years 1950–2000.

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                    • Kassler, Michael, ed. The English Bach Awakening: Knowledge of J. S. Bach and His Music in England, 1750–1830. Music in Nineteenth-Century Britain. Aldershot, UK: Ashgate, 2004.

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                      Four essays by Michael Kassler, three by Yo Tomita, and one by Philip Olleson, in which the contributions of Samuel Wesley and Charles Frederick Horn, and their edition of the Well-Tempered Clavier, loom large.

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                    • Sandberger, Wolfgang. Das Bach-Bild Philipp Spittas: Ein Beitrag zur Geschichte der Bach-Rezeption im 19. Jahrhundert. Beihefte zum Archiv für Musikwissenschaft 39. Stuttgart: Steiner, 1997.

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                      An insightful and thorough analysis of the intellectual foundations of Philipp Spitta’s two-volume biography (1873–1880), a classic work that remains influential in present-day Bach research (see Biographies).

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                    • Stinson, Russell. The Reception of Bach’s Organ Works from Mendelssohn to Brahms. New York: Oxford University Press, 2006.

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                      Chapters on Mendelssohn, Schumann, Liszt, and Brahms, focusing on their knowledge of Bach’s organ works and its influence on their own creative output.

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                    LAST MODIFIED: 06/29/2011

                    DOI: 10.1093/OBO/9780199757824-0043

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