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01 April 2019

42. yet there’s method in’t

I toyed with a spoof post for April Fools Day; I even considered altering the nameplate to read Suppurating Sores, but ultimately thought better of it.  You can thank me later.

Im just back from the annual conference of the Society for Textual Scholarship, which this year was hosted collaboratively by NYU and The New School.  It was my first time attending this conference and I intend to return.  I knew that this time if I wasnt giving a paper, I would be just standing along the wall during the breaks, drinking coffee and eating bagels.  So I went back to Bach’s so-called “passaggio chorales,” about which I have already posted on the blog.  This time, though, I looked more at the earliest sourcesall manuscript copiesrather than the nineteenth- and twentieth-century editions (the focus of my earlier post).  My conference proposal was to link some textual issues in these manuscript copies with theories that have emerged around the so-called bad quartos of the Shakespeare plays:
  • reported texts—pirated memorial reconstructions by an actor or some other party; 
  • deliberate abridgments to shorten the drama (or calculated to require a smaller cast);
  • versions derived either from the author’s “foul papers” or subsequent revisions; 
  • socialized theatrical texts versus idealized literary ones;
  • “performing the play into shape”; 
  • texts flawed in the printing shop; or
  • some combination of any of the above
(The line I quote in this post’s title isn’t in the first quarto of Hamlet.  In that source Corambus (the character in later sources known as Polonius) remarks merely Very shrewd answers.”  A lot of Hamlets best-known lines arent in Q1, so it is naturally suspected to be bad,” as it doesnt present what we would like Shakespeare to have written.)

Although the textual situations of Shakespeare and Bach are very different in many respects, I posited that the scholarly theories developed around the one may yet shed some insight on the textual situation of the other; or at least I hoped that my abstract submission might intrigue the program committee enough to get me a spotand it did.  It was a stimulating meeting, with ideas and findings from presentations that will be re-echoed here in the months and years to come.  Somewhat pressed for time for this post in the middle of the academic term, I will extract just one curiosity from my own presentation.


The passaggio chorale represents a style of hymn-accompanying in which the organist played short interludes between sung phrases of the hymn.  These interludes need not necessarily be showy—still less very longbut they would somehow need to negotiate a path to the next sung note.  Georg Friedrich Kauffman’s Harmonische Seelenlust (published serially in Leipzig 1733-1740) includes 63 passaggio settings, along with more figural chorale settings.  Here is an example, Kauffmann’s passaggio setting of “Gelobet seist du, Jesu Christ.”
SOURCE:  Kauffmann, Harmonische Seelenlust (Leipzig, 1733ff.), detail of p. 31; scan from Bach-Digital.
That this setting was intended for accompanying singing is strongly suggested by the “turn-around” interlude after the double bar, which leads back to the first note of the chorale (indicated by a custos at the end of the staff, as is the return of the first bass note).  None of the extant settings attributed to Bach have that “turn-around,” and it is not absolutely clear that they even are intended for congregational singing, but they do manifestly allude to the same tradition in which Kauffmann was working.

Note that Kauffmann’s settings were published in a figured-bass format.  Bach’s six extant settings are transmitted in figured bass only in one source, a copy by Johann Tobias Krebs preserved in an album in the Berlin Staatsbibliothek, P 802.  The traditional view has been that Krebs was preserving an incomplete or draft version, while the fully-realized texts preserved by others represent Bach’s finished version.  Part of my argument at the conference—and I am not the first to make it—was that it ain't necessarily so.  Assuming that there even was a lost Bach autograph behind these pieces, there is simply no reason to suppose that it was anything more than the figured-bass lead sheet Krebs gives, rather like Kauffmann’s published settings.

Be that as it may, I was pleased when two other tidbits of my research converged to demonstrate that the contemporaneous uses of the Bach settings played fast and loose with the notion of these pieces as autonomous works.  A curious source that has often been discussed before is the third fascicle of P 274, a c. 1724 copy by Johann Peter Kellner of a Bach Prelude and Fugue (BWV 531, although somewhat abbreviated), after which Kellner copied just portions of two of the passaggio chorales.  Below, I have highlighted in yellow the double bars that indicate the end of BWV 531/ii.  The red markings that follow it link up the copied fragments from BWV 722 (Bach’s “Gelobet seist du”) with the BG edition of the same; the sections marked in blue are taken from BWV 732 (Lobt Gott, ihr Christen allzugleich).  As I say, these fragments have long been known, as has a third-party copy which transmits the text of Kellner’s copy remarkably faithfully—fragments and all.
SOURCE:  (left) BG Vol. XL, p. 62, from scan IMSLP #549819; (right) p. “25” of P274 fasc. 3, from Bach-Digital.
The text Kellner deemed worth preserving here was apparently not the chorale harmonization but just the sorts of figures that Bach used for the interruptions (mainly scales and arpeggios).  The one bit of  harmonization from BWV 722 which is preserved is unusually ornate, with a melodic motive appearing in the bass-line as well as within the harmony; Kellner must have liked that idea.  He probably could have played an approximate version of BWV 722 from just his notated fragments—supplying the bulk of the chorale melody and harmonization himself; but the two interludes from BWV 732 following it hardly give enough substance to recreate that setting.  No, a “memorial reconstruction” of anything like the original seems not to have been his goal.  What was it then?

Among the more recent work on the Shakespeare quartos has been a reconsideration of the interaction between literary and oral tradition, and the consequences such would have on the text performed—or at least in the text as printed.  Such ideas are not new to musicologists:  in the 1970s Leo Treitler and others were applying the “formulaic composition” theories of Albert Lord and Milman Parry to plainchant transmission.  If, however, we recognize the passaggio chorale genre as essentially formulaic—each phrase of the harmonized chorale interrupted by elaborate flourishes—then it is not hard to see how such flourishes might become “licks” that could be used to construct new settings (not necessarily notated, but readily performed).  Kellner was preserving the bits he wanted to use.

There is actually more documentary evidence for this mix-and-match approach.  The volume now known as P802 is the work of three different hands:  Johann Tobias Krebs; his son Johann Ludwig Krebs; and Johann Gottfried Walther.  These are Weimar sources (although J. L. Krebs followed JSB to Leipzig to study under him there).  P802 is a thick album:  368 pages containing at least 85 chorale settings, with a range of composers including Pachelbel, Buxtehude, Böhm, Bruhns, Weckmann—the usual suspects for North German organ music c. 1700—plus the newer figures Bach, Kauffmann, and the copyists themselves.  Scattered among all of these pieces are two unattributed passaggio settings, and it is perhaps their anonymity that has left them more-or-less unstudied over the years.  Penned in the hand of Krebs the elder, the second uses the same figured-bass notation that he used for BWV 722, but the first one does not even include a bass-line.   (That said, it may not be accurate to describe it is as incomplete, as one could easily improvise a harmony from what is given—that is, the harmonization is left completely to the player.)  Significant here, however, is that every one of the interludes is taken from one or other of the four Bach passaggio chorales transmitted by Krebs.
SOURCE: scans of P802 from Bach-Digital, marked-up to identify Bach quotations; (top) “Herr, wie du willst, so schicks mit mir (p. 230); (bottom) Jesu, der du meine Seele (p. 253)
That there is a similarity between some of these interludes and Bach’s has been noted already by Schulenberg (in Bach Perspectives 1) and Zehnder (in Bach-Jahrbuch 2013), but I can’t find anyone noting that indeed all of these interludes are ripped from Bach’s settings, some only very slightly adapted to fit the new harmony.

Compared with Shakespeare—for whom basically no autograph material survives—the Bach textual situation is pretty good.  Surviving sources include quite a few autographs, a few original prints, and loads of material copied by people (like Krebs) closely connected to the composer.  But in the absence of an autograph—as in the case of the passaggio chorales—we are forced back to the question Shakespeare scholars have been confronting for centuries:  “What did X write?  And what sorts of clues can the surviving sources give us to answer that question?”  As with Shakespeare, in the case of these Bach pieces—if indeed they are by Bach—we have a fundamental break in the transmission at the very top of the stemma:  no autograph.  (Saying this presumes, of course, that there was an autograph manuscript at all.  In the case of the passaggio chorales, however, there need not have been:  what if we are not talking about texts of a work, but rather records of a practice?  A question to return to in another post….)

The abbreviated texts transmitted by Krebs ultimately take us back to eighteenth-century practice, whether or not it is what Bach wrote.  Thus, I echo Steven Urkowitz on the bad quartos:
[W]e all would learn more about Shakespeare’s plays if we look at the actual raw material, the variant quarto and Folio versions.  Even if … corrupt alternatives [were] introduced by pirates or players, at least those pirates or players stood through repeated performances of Elizabethan plays in Elizabethan playhouses. (p. 204)
Mutatis mutandis, Krebs was there; Kauffmann deemed the abbreviated format adequate for his own publications; and we don’t even know that the fuller version is Bach’s and not actually by Walther or some Herr X.  Krebs gives us merely a starting point, but it seems likely to take us closer to Bach’s own practice—to the extant anyone is seeking it—than the standard text of so many critical editions.  Rather like Shakespeare’s situation,  perhaps we need to keep in mind that (borrowing from the words of Graham Holderness and Bryan Loughrey) “the earliest versions of [Bach’s] works existed in plural and contested forms.”



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