> As you point out, lacking the hard evidence of a dateable early copy
> entirely in f minor, to you there is no way to "prove" that Bach wrote it
> in f minor. Fine. All I'm arguing here is that it's at least plausible
> that he might have. There is no hard evidence of a Quelle gospel behind
> books of the New Testament, either, but there are plenty of people who
> have built their careers on the conjecture that it existed.
> This case is the same, is it not? A no-longer-extant early source,
> hypothetically, can answer the standard set of problems with the extant
> sources in one major swoop. What's wrong with entertaining such
> a construction? Shaving with Occam's razor?
What, if anything, do you (anyone) make of the following note? It turned
up this afternoon as I did a web search for "Buxtehude fis-moll".
Not one single autograph of Buxtehude's free organ works has survived. We
will have to content ourselves with the work of copyists, however
unfaithful they may occasionally have been to the original score.
Buxtehude's Prelude in F sharp minor (fis-moll) (BuxWV 146) has been
handed down to us only through two late copies. Both copies are from
Central Germany. One of the copies even mentions "S. Bach" as the
composer. Rare as organ works in the F sharp minor key are by composers
preceding Bach, it has often been suggested that what we are dealing with
here is a transposition. Besides, the piece in the F sharp minor version
requires a well-tempered organ, which for Buxtehude is in fact a bridge
too far. Since relatively many instruments in those days had a pedal as
far as d' with the ommission of cis', or else with a compass up to c',
there is much that pleads for E minor (e-moll) as the original key. For
this reason the organist has chosen to play the cyclically formed Prelude
in this version.
And when did Bach write his toccatas? Just after getting back from the
sojourn bei Buxtehude. I did a paper a few years ago (yes, Paul, serious
musicology) comparing Bach's g-minor toccata and Buxtehude's g-minor
praeludium BuxWV 163. The source MS of that Buxtehude piece comes to us
through Bach's circle of pupils. [An obvious piece of conjecture is: what
if young JSB came back from his trip with a knapsack of Buxtehude copies?
A purpose of the trip was to learn Bux's art....] The version of his own
toccata in f# could be (like the g works) "keeping up with the
Buxtehudes." What if BOTH his own f# piece and Buxtehude's f# minor
praeludium are transpositions?
As I mentioned earlier, there is a 1712 MS in the hand of J G Walther that
has the f# toccata. (And Lohmann printed a facsimile of the first page in
his edition; it is a neatly done presentation MS.) The duke Johann Ernst
(in Weimar) had a son Johann Ernst Jr who was taking composition lessons
from Walther around that time. Bach and Barbara arrived in 1708,
expecting their first child, and this was soon after the duke's death.
Obviously they would have hung out with Walther during those early Weimar
years, probably both professionally and informally (JGW was JSB's cousin,
How much of a stretch is it to propose that Walther wrote out this f#
toccata for the duke's teenaged son for a lesson? And how much of a
stretch is it to propose that JSB and JGW collaborated in studying
Buxtehude copies during those years? And how much of a stretch is it to
propose that one day somebody said, "Hey, what if we put both the Bux
piece and this new toccata into f# minor? It would be a good way to teach
this young noble about composition!" (As I noted before, f# minor in the
toccata lets the lowest note, BB#, fit onto a C-c''' keyboard.) "Let's
give this guy some music he can study at home!" We already know that both
JSB and JGW did a bunch of concerto transcriptions in the next few years
after that, sharing the same techniques. Young Ernst went out to pick up
some new Italian music in Amsterdam in 1713, and that's the stuff they
transcribed. And we also know that there is a Walther copy of the e-minor
suite BWV 996 from these same years 1712-1717...and an a-minor copy of
that suite exists elsewhere. (I prefer playing the a-minor version, but
What I'm saying is: it's pretty easy to come up with plausible historical
fiction that ties ALL of this stuff together. With the types of things
that Bach and Walther were working on, both aged mid-20's, it all adds up.
Slice of life. "Hey honey, I'm going over to Johann's for a couple hours.
We're gonna bash through some free composition ideas, maybe play some
Buxtehude or arrange something or transpose some stuff. Dunno yet.
Yeah, Ernst is gonna be there too, he'll probably even pay us something to
sit in with us. Don't worry, we won't let him drink too much. Nice kid,
decent musician. Oh, he's talking about going out in a couple weeks to
get us more music, we were all saying recently it would be so cool to
check out that new Italian stuff we heard about. Sure is nice to know a
kid with some Geld! Wonder if I can talk him into buying us a pedal
harpsichord someday. Have a good one, see you later. Don't let Cathy and
Billy stay up too late. Love ya, ciao."
Bradley Lehman, Dayton VA
home: http://i.am/bpl or http://www-personal.umich.edu/~bpl
CD's: http://listen.to/bpl or http://www.mp3.com/bpl
"Music must cause fire to flare up from the spirit - and not only sparks
from the clavier...." - Alfred Cortot