Bach, Johann Sebastian
- Bach, Johann Sebastian
- Important contemporary manuscript of the early Organ Prelude and Fugue in C major, BWV 531, in the hand of Johannes Ringk
8 pages, folio (c.32.5 x 20cm), 2 bifolia with 14 hand-ruled staves, pencil annotation to title: "Gr 473", German provenance, [1730-1740], overall light browning, heavier on title, some show-through of the ink
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Bach's autograph manuscripts for many of his works have been lost and, as here, we have to rely on the existence of contemporary copies by musicians close to Bach at the time he was composing these pieces. Such manuscripts dating from Bach's lifetime are of course especially valuable. Johannes Ringk (1717-1778) is a significant copyist because he comes from the circle of Bach's friend Johann Peter Kellner (1705-1772), who lived and worked at Gräfenroda in Thuringia, not far from Ohrdruf, where J.S. Bach lived from 1695 until 1700 with his elder brother Johann Christoph, and Arnstadt, where he was employed from 1703 until 1707, that is to say approximately when this work is thought to have been composed. Kellner and his pupils played a crucial role in the dissemination and survival of Bach's early works; their manuscripts often constitute the earliest or only source and are evidence on chronology and authenticity. Kellner himself made a copy of the Prelude and Fugue in C (Berlin Mus. ms. Bach P.274, containing a shortened version of the fugue) and several other Bach works which would otherwise have been lost. Perhaps the most notable copy made by Ringk is his manuscript of Bach's Toccata and Fugue in D minor BWV 565, the principal source for that celebrated work and the only one dating from the eighteenth-century (Berlin Mus. ms. Bach P.595). Without Ringk we would probably not have Bach's Wedding Cantata BWV 202; other known manuscripts derive from his copy (which is dated 1730).
Ringk's manuscript of the Prelude and Fugue in C dates from Bach's lifetime, and like most of his Bach copies, probably before he left Thuringia for Berlin in 1740. There are some readings that differ slightly from the standard text, and it is possible that they derive from an earlier version of the work. For example the first chord in the penultimate system of the Prelude (bar 34) is a root position chord on G, whereas this is normally a "last inversion dominant seventh" with F as the bottom note. However, in the third system of the second page of the Fugue (bar 29), an additional note G is inserted in the right hand. There are also a few other differences, whereas the omission of three bars near the end of the second page of the Fugue (bars 40-42) is probably a copying error. It is curious that the piece is ascribed to Johann Christoph Bach on the title-page. In his copy in the Möller manuscript, Bach's brother had not originally identified it as by Johann Sebastian; his name appears to have been added later and in lighter ink. Perhaps Ringk's source for his manuscript predated the addition of the composer's name?
Sotheby's would like to acknowledge the advice and assistance of Berthold Over in our preparation of this description.