Even the exact boundaries around Bach’s oeuvre are a perpetually moving target, and the best illustration of these is the very notion of the “complete” organ works. A review of the contents of the standard complete editions of Bach's organ works is a good introduction to the disputed borders of this repertoire. Those editions, all widely in use today, are (in roughly chronological order)
Peters = the first attempt at a complete edition of the organ music, edited principally by Friedrich Conrad Griepenkerl (1782-1849); seven volumes were issued by C. F. Peters 1844-1847, with an eighth following in 1852, when the series was regarded as complete. In 1881 the ninth volume appeared, and that gradually morphing ninth volume is my principal concern in this post. Despite its age, the Peters edition is not to be discounted by any means, as some important manuscript sources available to Griepenkerl have subsequently disappeared. This edition had a splendidly ostentatious title page:
|SOURCE: cropped scan of title page of a copy of Peters Vol. XVIII (1852, but this copy must be printed between 1881 and 1904, as the first version of Volume IX is listed in an advertisement on the back cover)—cropped because of the huge tracts of nineteenth-century margins that would take up too much real estate on my blog. Subsequent reprints significantly reduced the margin size. The changing dimensions of different printings of a single edition would be an interesting topic, if one had but time.|
BG = although Griepenkerl beat them to it, of course the first attempt at publishing the complete works eventually got around to the organ works. These appeared in five volumes during the years 1853-1893; these became the text underlying a practical edition issued by Breitkopf & Härtel, but the original BG is still used today because of (for example) Dover’s reprints of much of it. It also became the main source text for a number of other practical editions—particularly those issued by G. Schirmer (the Schweitzer edition), Novello & Co. (early volumes were based on Peters, and some volumes have subsequently been re-edited), and Bornemann (the Dupre edition).
20th B&H = In the late 1930s, Bärenreiter had started an edition of the organ works, edited by Hermann Keller; this project as aborted because of the Second World War after only two volumes. After the war, two new editions capitalized on the recent explosion of Bach textual scholarship. Heinz Lohmann edited this ten-volume set for Breitkopf & Härtel, with the first volume appearing in 1968, but with the set completed scarcely a decade later.
NBA = The other edition which began to emerge after the war was that of the Neue Bach Ausgabe, the new complete works. Series IV (organ works) had eight planned volumes, but a ninth was necessary because of the 1985 discovery of the so-called “Neumeister Chorales,” now attributed to Bach's early years; much later came the appearance of two additional volumes featuring works from the Bach circle that could plausibly (if doubtfully) be attributed to him. All told, it took fifty years for Series IV to be completed. This expansion of the series indicates a tendency to cast the net ever wider—an understandable temptation when the NBA project as a whole is an obligatory expense at many libraries around the world. The sales numbers may be comparatively small, but they are pretty much guaranteed. (Bärenreiter issues offprints of the musical text of all eleven volumes, and it is in this form that the NBA shows up on the music racks of organs.) Now a new revision (NBArev) promises at least two volumes of organ chorales, which I assume will essentially replace the flawed Ser. IV. Bde. 2-3, the earliest of the original volumes to appear.Truly, of the making of many Bach editions there is no end. Two very interesting editions are ongoing as I write:
Leupold = This is a very serious scholarly edition that does a very good job of catering to the very serious student. All the volumes that have appeared so far have been edited by George B. Stauffer, certainly a prominent name in the last generation of Bach scholarship, and Stauffer does his best to make the editorial issues clear to the user. It's not clear to me how many volumes this edition will eventually comprise, as some are to be issued in two very distinct versions (“Standard Urtext” and “Practical Urtext”—a concept which seems a little dubious to me).
21st B&H = And now Breitkopf & Härtel is at it again, with an entirely new edition planned to comprise ten volumes. With so many accumulating, it seems odd to call this one a “welcome addition,” but in my estimation it is just that—and the edition I would recommend to organists wanting a chance to look anew at works they have played for years (although in my experience using any unfamiliar edition will force that new glimpse). This is certainly an edition for the new century—taking advantage of digital advances (with online resources and enclosed CD-ROMs which allow users to print out the variants they want while avoiding the bulk and waste of paper for those who don’t require them). To quote the Preface, “In addition to presenting the musical text with comments, this disk allows synoptic depictions and a cogent search process for specific measures, thus providing a better and faster overview than would be possible with a printed version.”And surely that’s enough to be getting on with. But here I want to focus just on the oldest of these, and just its last volume, which appeared in three substantially different manifestations—first in 1881 (three decades after the rest of the set), then again in 1904, and finally again in 1940. Each issue was the work of a different editor—in 1881 by Griepenkerl’s successor Ferdinand Roitszch; Max Seiffert’s 1904 revision coinciding with his important discovery of new sources; and Hermann Keller's in 1940 at the moment that his Bärenreiter set was abandoned. Even from the start, Vol. IX was something of a catch-all volume, with a mixture of chorale-based and free works.
Between them, the three different versions of Peters Volume IX contain some 38 individual works, but only twelve works appear in all three. Several of the works included by Roitszch in 1881 were later ruled to be misattributions. Seiffert excluded three of these (BWV 692; BWV Anh. 57 and 171), and three that escaped the 1904 purge were tossed out by Keller (BWV 561, 580, and 587). Further, seven of Seiffert’s twelve new additions were deleted by Keller (BWV 742, 743, 747, 752, 754, 757, and 763), although five of those have subsequently found a place in the NBA. (Only one of Keller's seven additions was not retained in the NBA (BWV 1027/4a); the music is not printed, but it is given its own section in the critical report to Ser. IV, Bd. 11.)
Excluding the thorny question of which Clavier pieces were not intended for organ anyway, if one takes the Bach organ repertoire at its widest breadth (as does the late, lamented Peter Williams, for example, in his excellent survey, The Organ Music of J. S. Bach—and really his second edition doesn't completely supersede his first) I find that there is actually no single “complete” edition that comprises the repertoire in toto. Even if one has ready access to the BG and NBA, there are still missing works (not likely to appear in either Leupold or 21st B&H). I note, for example, two works that have appeared only in Seiffert’s 1904 version of Peters Vol. IX (BWV 752, and 763) and you will search in vain for them elsewhere (unless you are content with homemade editions posted on the IMSLP). As more and more performers perform the whole corpus as Bach organ “marathons” [Google it ], it would be nice to know exactly how the placement of the finish line is determined.
As Williams has astutely remarked, “[i]t is a curious irony that the uniform appearance presented by any edition of Bach’s organ works distorts them in that it does not give a true impression of the disparate nature and origins of the pieces themselves.... In giving pieces of edited music to the public, editors misrepresent them, despite earnest endeavors to do the opposite.” [p. 274]. The impressive bindings of such series conceal the bewildering array of textual situations for the repertoire contained therein. Even that repertoire won’t stand still for a generation.