By Linda de Vries
On this date in 1750 Johann Christoph Altnikol performed BWV 1088 at St. Thomas Church in Leipzig. Some cite this date as Good Friday, and a Passion is the appropriate music for Good Friday, but in fact, March 29 in 1750 was Easter Sunday.
This event provides our Bach Bagatelle for today: Spurious Works of Bach.
BWV 1088, although attributed to Sebastian, was not actually written by him. This work offers us a beginning point for a brief discussion of other composers of the period whose work has often been attributed to Sebastian Bach.
As the Bach Archive in Leipzig continues burrowing through churches, libraries, and homes in the former East Germany, it is likely that more of these spurious works will be revealed.
BWV 1088, called the Passions-Pasticcio, or Arioso aus einem Passions-Pasticcio (Arioso from a Passion pastiche), included in the catalogue of Sebastian’s work, was actually written by several composers, the dominant hand being Carl Heinrich Graun. Other contributions were made by Georg Philipp Telemann, Johann Christoph Altnikol, and Johann Kuhnau. Sebastian’s contribution was the opening chorale from his BWV 127.
It began as a Passion cantata Ein lämmlein geht und trägt die Schuld (A lambkin goes and bears our guilt) by Graun in Brunswick in 1730. After 1743 Sebastian arranged and performed it in Leipzig.
Carl Heinrich Graun (1704-1759), one of three brothers who were all musicians, gained his fame in the mid-18th century as the primary composer of Italian opera in Germany. He began his career in 1725 singing tenor in Brunswick, but in 1735 Prince Frederick engaged him in Berlin as his music teacher. When Frederick became king in 1740, he appointed Graun director of the Berlin Royal Opera, and sent him to Italy to hire singers. The new opera house opened on December 7, 1742 with Graun’s Cesare e Cleopatra.
King Frederick I insisted on inserting his own musical and poetic offerings into Graun’s operas, but Graun managed to create moments of brilliance despite this royal interference. Grant was particularly noted for key-change developments in the da capo aria (an ABA structure). His recitatives reflect the Empfindsamer Stil (Sensitive Style) also adopted by C.P.E. Bach, Sebastian’s second son.
Johann Kuhnah (1660-1722) was Sebastian’s predecessor as Cantor of St. Thomas Church in Leipzig (1701-1722). Born in Saxony, he was a lawyer, a poet, and a non-fiction author. He claimed musical fame as the inventor of the keyboard sonata, with his Sonata in B Flat being the first. He is also now thought to be the true composer of BWV 142.
For the other two composers involved in BWV 1088, see March 14 (Georg Philipp Telemann) and March 19 (Johann Christoph Altnikol). Telemann is also believed to be the composer of BWV 141, 160, 218, 219, 824, and 840.
An additional 23 composers are now credited with having written works previously attributed to Sebastian, most of them with the first name of Johann, and most of them with only one or two pieces to their names, with the exception of Sebastian’s sons Wilhelm Friedemann (11) and Carl Philipp Emanuel (4).
These newly-attributed works include: BWV 15, 53, 95, 189, 222, 224, 241, 242, 246, 508, 553-560, 591,597, 692, 693, 740,745, 746, 748, 751, 759, 760, 761, 771, 835,836, 837, 838, 844, 844a, 924, 924a, 925, 931, 932, 945, 955a, 962, 964, 970, 1020, 1024, 1036, and 1037. An additional 100 works are considered doubtful, but no alternative composers have been assigned.
The two Krebs are of note. Father Johann Tobias Krebs (1690-1762), who studied with Johann Gottfried Walther and Sebastian, is believed to be the composer of the Eight Short Preludes and Fugues previously attributed to Sebastian. Krebs’ son, Johann Ludwig, who studied with Sebastian, was considered to be his equal as an improviser on the organ.
Alas, the younger Krebs (1713-1780) had a difficult time finding work, as the Baroque style (considered to have ended in 1755, five years after Sebastian’s death) was shifting to stil galant.