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Musikalisches Opfer, BWV 1079 by Johann Sebastian Bach; Christoph Wolff Review by: Ursula Kirkendale Music &

Letters, Vol. 62, No. 1 (Jan., 1981), pp. 91-95 Published by: Oxford University Press Stable URL: . Accessed: 08/11/2012 12:46
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BWV 1079. Fascimile of the Bach, Johann Sebastian, Musikalisches Opfer, original edition, Leipzig, 1747, ed. Christoph Wolff. (Peters, Leipzig, 1977, ?38.00.) When the notation of a source is problematic or ambiguous for the modern reader, susceptible to varying interpretations different by editors, a facsimile is justified, indeed necessary. Thus editions of major medieval manuscripts have oftenincluded not only a transcriptionand commentary but also a facsimile, so that the reader can test the editor's interpretations against the original. On the other hand, facsimiles of relatively recent sources, with few notational problems, oftenprovide little more information than a good critical edition, and in a less legible manner. But the is original edition and unique source of Bach's Musical Offering a special case, for it was printed in a complex and unconventional format. A facsimile would enable the reader to visualize immediately the arrangement of its unbound horizontal and vertical folios and bifoliosmuch more easily than a verbal description could allow. This would be no small convenience for the study of a work which, because of the problematic arrangement of its source, has been subject to more misunderstandings than any other major composition of a major composer. The Peters edition places the unbound facsimile pages (30 of them printed) loosely in a pocket, likewise the five-pagepreface in German and English. As far as the printingis concerned, this edition has only minor defects. If the facsimile were to show the original arrangement of folios and bifolios, it would not have tacitly transformedsix of the folios into three bifolios, creating a discrepancy with the text of the preface, which mentions the 'single leaves' (and, incidentally, refersto the bifolios as 'folios'). Also, by an innocent ruse apparently intended to reduce costs, the same half-tonenegative has been used on two different bifoliosforfive different pages, four of them blank and one with a line-image superimposed fromanother negative. If, as stated in the preface, these two bifolios were reproduced from copies in Munich and Leipzig respectively,five pages could hardly show the identical pattern of spots and smears. Professor Wolff begins his preface with a brief summary of the historical circumstances, fromthe memorable audience with Frederickthe Great on 7 May 1747 and Bach's three-partimprovisation on the king's theme to the newspaper advertisement of 30 September announcing the publication of the completed work. It is curious that he believes that the dedication, normally the last part of a literary or musical work to be written, refers only to the three-part ricercar and that Bach, when he wrote it on 7 July, 'still had no clear conception of the whole extentof the work'-especially when we have read, in the paragraph immediately preceding, that 'the expanded project in the sense of a multipartite monothematic instrumentalwork must, then, have achieved firmoutlines soon after Bach's return [from Potsdam]'. Why would a composer print the dedication of his work aftercompletingonly the first piece of the cycle? Bach's words, after all, are clear enough:
. . . forlack of necessary preparation, the execution the task] did not succeed as well as [of such an excellent theme demanded. I then resolved and promptly undertook to workout


and perfectly then make it known to the world. This resolve has this very royal theme more now been carriedout as well as possible... [my italics].

Did not Bach write the entirecycle in order to 'work out' the royal theme? For the introductory ricercar alone he would never have used the 'consecrate', and 'make known to high-sounding words 'musical offering', the world'. (In comparison with these words, Mizler's remark that Bach showed him only the firstricercar at the beginning of July carries no weight.) And Wolffagain continues with a disclaimer: 'Nevertheless the compositional work must have been completed soon after'. Everyone who publishes music knows how much time is needed formailing, engraving, mailing again, printingand finallypublishing an advertisement;7 July to 30 September is little enough for this work. We must, then, leave the dedication as it stands, brief but magnificent,a testimony eloquent in immodestlyto only one of the thirteenpieces but everyword, not referring presenting the whole. states, 'the layout . . . of the original print . . . led to As Wolffcorrectly numerous speculations and controversial conclusions'. But he believes that in conjunction with his edition of the work in the Neue Bach-Ausgabe, 'which commendably permitted a comparative autopsy of the collated extant copies of this printto appear, decisive new understandingscould be the reviewer,aftertestingthis achieved forthe firsttime'. Unfortunately, substantial claim, has been forcedto conclude that the 'autopsy' has only produced yet more indecisive misunderstandings. The root of the is problem, leading to unsolvable difficulties, that Wolff (not Bach, as stated) 'arranged the print . .. in three fascicles, within which the loose leaves or folios respectively were held together by the title wrappers'. Correct is Wolff's distinctionof fiveprinter'sunits, but not theirsequence (indicated by the lettersA to E, retained here forsimplicity'ssake) or their combination into three 'fascicles'. According to his arrangement,units A (title page and dedication; one horizontal bifolio) and B (ricercar a 3 and three horizontal folios) would formthe first'fascicle', perpetuus; firstcanon bifolio cover and three unit C (trio sonata and second canonperpetuus; bifolios for the three separate parts) the second, and units D (the five one vertical bifolio) and E short, numbered canons and thefuga canonica; (ricercar a 6 and two enigmatic canons; four horizontal folios) the third. But can that be? None of the extant copies is bound in this manner. Only unit C was provided with bifoliocover, and forgood reason: only here are there three separate instrumentalparts that need to be held together.By an imperfectanalogy with this cover, Wolffimagined that the bifolios A and D must also have served as 'covers', for the loose folios of B and E respectively, thus formingtwo 'fascicles'. In this 'customary trade copy' ('handelsiubliches Exemplar') the dedication would be separated fromthe two pieces of the cycle (insertionof B in A), thefuga title-page by the first interruptedby the six-part ricercar and the two enigmatic canons canonica (insertion of E in D), and a vertical bifolio (D) would serve as a 'cover' for horizontal folios (E). Such a confusion of signatures, lacerating the content and diverging 900, could hardly be regarded as 'customary'. In only one copy does unit A still exist as a bifolio,with the fold along the top as it leftthe printingpress; in all the others the fold is cut open, so that title and dedication can be bound as successive pages. In the book trade, such opening of uncut signatures is customary,not a 'mutilation', as Wolff would believe. Speculations such as this 'fascicle' theory are not only flawed, but also misleading-a far cry fromobjective Grundlagenforschung. The unsuspecting reader might be delighted with this 'customary 92

trade copy' if he did not know that since the 1920s nearly30 different cyclic arrangements have been advocated, over half of them by Wolff alone ('Der Terminus "Ricercar" in Bachs Musikalischen Opfer', Bach-Jahrbuch, p. 72; 'Ordnungsprinzipien den Originaldrucken 1967, in Bachscher Werke',Bach-Interpretationen, Geck,Gottingen, ed. M. 1969,pp. 157 f.; 'New Researchon Bach's MusicalOffering', MusicalQuarterly, The lvii (1971), 407; NeueBach-Ausgabe, VIII/1 (Kassel, 1974) and Kritischer Bericht(henceforth KB) (1976), p. 125. Cf. Journalof the American xxxiii (1980), 90 n. 9). His prefacedoes not reveal Musicological Society, and controversial this,unlessthe'numerous conclusions' speculations are to understood includehis own. In thefaceofthisconfusion, compounded by the 'fascicle'theory, eventually he finds 'veryclearthattheidea ofa it sophisticated to cyclicstructure be realizedin a cyclicalperformance has to be rejected' ('New Research', pp. 403 f.). Why, then, does he new 'solutions' (KB, p. 125)? Did subsequentlycontinueto construct Bach publishhis workand then,like Wolff, repeatedly changehis mind about theorderofits pieces?The preface now returns theverdict to that 'the MusicalOffering not represent cyclicalworkwhichrelieson a does a orderof movements, it is not to be played as such', yet compulsory and concedes that 'its conceptionoperates as a closed unity'. With one exception(Peters,1867), the printer's unitsof the Musical were left intact until the 1920s. The Bach-Gesellschaft Offering had publishedthe workin the sequence suggested Spitta:ABDEC. But by H. T. David (1937), likemanyothers, to the preferred rearrange canons evenwithin singleprinter's the thattheengraver not had units,assuming followed the sequence intended by the composer. Wolffpropagates David's implausiblenotionby asserting that some canons were placed accordingto 'considerations printing of technology' (KB, pp. 106, 122): notwanting 'waste' paper,'Bach composedthosecanonsin orderto fill to up the space which would [otherwise] remainempty'afterthe larger pieces. This uniquely unartisticmotive,attributedby David to an insensitive engraver, now ascribed to the composerhimself. is David believedthatunitE markedtheend, forit concludedwiththe signature of the engraverJohann Georg Schiibler. Wolfftherefore designatesthisunitwiththe last letter, Schiibler'ssignature E. appears here, however,not because E marks the end of the entirecycle, but because itis thelastunitin score.UnitC was notsuitablefor this, because it consistedof separatepartsand because halfofit was engravednot by J. G. Schiublerbut by an apprentice,probably his youngerbrother (Wolfgang Wiemer,Die wiederhergestellte inJohann Ordnung Sebastian Bachs Kunst Fuge, der Wiesbaden,1977,pp. 40-46, quotedin an addendumsheet to Wolff's facsimile edition)-a factthatescaped Wolff's 'autopsy'.If E wereindeed thelast unit,it would concludetheworkwiththeone canon whichis notin thekeyofthecycle.Insteadoftaking thisas an indication thatE does not belongat theend, Wolff interprets as 'an infallible it sign that Bach cherishedno cyclic intention'(KB, p. 122). The numerousrearrangements the cycle-all of them arbitrary, of sincebased on subjective aesthetic criteria-favour 'symmetrical' patterns (David, Gerber, Wolff), e.g.: ricercar 3, fivecanons,sonata,five a canons, ricercar 6. Thereare severalthings a wrong withthissequence,in addition to theviolenceit does to thesource.First, Bach did notwritetencanons, but nine canons and a lengthy(canonic) fugue;because of its unique length(78 bars), thisfugue cannotbe regarded a counterpart canons as to of four and five bars in a 'symmetrical' pattern.Second, the above arrangement would concludethecyclewitha ricercar, a prelude(the i.e. 93

six-part ricercar was in fact writtenas an internal prelude, to introduce the second half of the cycle). (On the preludial functionof ricercars,from the earliest to the latest, see Warren Kirkendale, 'Ciceronians versus Aristotelians on the Ricercar as Exordium, fromBembo to Bach', Journal xxxii (1979), 1-44.) Third, 'symmetry', Society, Musicological American of the in the visual sense, does not exist in acoustical categories; music, like oratory, unfolds in time, not in space, its form is linear. Fourth, 'symmetry' would place the climax of the work, the fullyinstrumented, sonata, in the middle-contrary to all multi-movement,stronglyaffective not principles of rhetoricaldispostio, to mention court protocol. Quintilian, the most relevant authority for Bach's work, admonished (IX.iv.23) 'cavendum ne descrescat oratio' (and to this day, even in American political conventions, the most important orator speaks at the end). Bach's unit C, finally presenting the royal flautist and his entourage, could not be followed by anticlimactic music. But afterabandoning any cyclic concept, Wolff still adheres to the notion of symmetry by designating the sonata as the central unit (C) and fascicle (II): 'It is irrefutable that Bach, by framing the sonata with the two ricercars, intended a certain symmetryin the sequence of fascicles in the original print; likewise, that the sum of the canon movements (ten) possesses symbolic qualities' (KB, p. 124; cf. 'New Research', p. 404). But even if the number of canons did correspond to the number of the Ten Commandments, what relevance would that have in this secular work? Here again, Wolffbecomes inextricablytangled in his circular thought:on the one hand, unit C is to be in the 'centre', but on the otherhand it is not, forit is preceded in the facsimile edition by only two pieces and followed by nine. 'The formof publication of the original print is congenial to the structure of the work as a whole', yet (in the next paragraph) 'every sequential arrangement of the movements is necessarily an interference with the plan of the original printing' (KB, p. 125). When the editor, in half a dozen publications on the Musical Offering within a decade, continually brings such fundamental contradictions (matched only by categorical pronouncements), can the editions in the Neue Bach-Ausgabeand in facsimile be regarded as authoritative? Their unperformable(and thus, incidentalis effect to make the Musical Offering ly, to help bring musicology into disrepute with performers).Conscientious musicians, having been told so emphatically that the work has no particular order of movements,will obviously be reluctant to attempt still another subjective rearrangement. What are we to make of these endless problems? What sequence of 'solutions'? We must, movements can one suggest, afterso many different of course, returnto the original edition, as Bach intended it, and throwthe accumulated ballast overboard. Spitta and the editor of the BachGesellschaft indeed went to this source and presented the correct sequence, though without knowing why it was correct. An article by this reviewer has demonstrated how Bach, like other composers in the humanist tradition,learned fromthe wisdom of Classical antiquity ('The oratoriaof Quintilian', the Institutio Source of Bach's Musical Offering: xxxiii (1980), 88-14 1). He made Society, Musicological of American Journal the correspond precisely to the parts the thirteenpieces of the Musical Offering of the forensic oration, as described in Quintilian. (In 1738 Johann Matthias Gesner, Bach's friend and rector of the Thomas-Schule, published a commentaryon this importantclassic, with a long footnotein praise of Bach.) These correspondences are not few and vague, but numerous and concrete, oftenwitty,and can be traced not only in every 94

detail of the music but also in the literary inscriptions. The Leipzig rhetorician Johann Abraham Birnbaum had good reason to say, when defending Bach againstJohann Adolph Scheibe in 1739, that Bach had 'perfect knowledge of the parts and merits which the working out of a musical piece has in common with rhetoric',and 'one admires theirclever application in his work' (reprinted in Scheibe, Critischer Musikus,Leipzig, 1745, p. 997). For those who no longer know what to do with this edition some good news remains: since the pages are loose, it is easy to salvage the expensive investment by rejecting the 'three-fascicle' arrangement and putting the folios and bifolios in the order already accepted by Spitta and the Bach-Gesellschaft. But the preface will have to be rewritten.

Brahms, Johannes, Concerto Violin,Op. 77. Facsimile of the autograph for score. Introduction by Yehudi Menuhin. Foreword by Jon Newsom. (Library of Congress, Washington, D.C., 1979, $50.00.) The autograph score of Brahms's Violin Concerto is an excitingobject for scholars, since it is the working (and only) pre-publication score and shows us much interesting informationabout the genesis of this great piece. We have to thank a bequest of Mrs. W. Duncan McKim formaking the facsimile possible (as also presumably for its very reasonable price) and the Library of Congress staff for undertaking the project. The facsimile is provided with a 'colour key', an introduction by Yehudi Menuhin and a foreword by Jon Newsom. The colour key is much more than an index, rather a piece of source criticism. But it is over-cautious in some of its judgements and does not distinguish all the hands at work in the manuscript or all the uses to which the document was put. The blue, red and orange pencil-marks are Brahms's, as are many of the grey pencil-marks. The dark-red ink with a fine pen is in the hand of Robert Keller (the arranger of Brahms's music and assistant to the Simrock firm); we know from the Brahms-Simrock correspondence that Keller did much work on the preparation of the Violin Concerto for the printers,and that Brahms asked forthe solo part in the score to be corrected in accordance with a separate part. The dark-red ink printing instructions, together with some elucidation and correctionof the orchestral parts, confirmthat this work was indeed done forthe printingprocess. The colour key suggests the writingis Joachim's, but (i) it is not at all characteristicofJoachim's hand, (ii) this was not the kind of work Brahms would ask Joachim to do, and (iii) we knowJoachim was unwilling to mark this score, preferring emend a separate solo part to or interleave suggestions in the score. As well as being the fullexpression of Brahms's composition, the score served as conductor's copy (many of Brahms's crayon marks make dynamics visible to himselfin this capacity-he conducted the premiereof the concerto on 1 January 1879), as a text for experiment and revision (some of Brahms's markings are question-marks, others emendations) and finallyas engraver's copy (it shows plate-divisions in all movements, corresponding with the pagination of the firstedition, and it shows the publisher's edition-number on page 1). Apart fromSimrock's 'Sofort' on the first page, there are instructions to the engravers in two hands: 95