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Finding the Lost Manuscripts

John Finney
Associate Conductor, Handel & Haydn Society

We've known about Carl Phillip Emanuel Bach's keyboard works and his symphonic works for orchestra, but there had always been this tantalizing gap in our knowledge of his works. Because we knew that there was a list of big choral pieces that he wrote. There was an index printed in his day and there was this long list of choral works that were written by him, but that were lost during World War II.

If you look in descriptions of C.P.E. Bach's music it simply says, "xxx number of works lost," with no indication that they would ever be found again. Now that gap has been filled in, or will be filled in as we start to look at these newly found works (from the Berlin Singakademie collection).

Christoph Wolff
Music Historian, Harvard University

The Berlin Singakademie is one of the earliest bourgeoisie musical organizations in Germany. It was modeled after the Academy of Ancient Music in London and established in 1791 under Karl Fasch. The Bach collection began, basically, with Fasch. But it was expanded in 1800 when Carl Friedrich Zelter, Goethe's friend and Mendelssohn's teacher, took over the directorship after Fusch's death. He acquired the estate of Philipp Emanuel Bach. Later Sara Levy, Mendelssohn's great aunt, dedicated to the library her collection of the Wilhelm Friedemann Bach manuscripts. She had been a student of the Wilhelm Friedemann Bach. So through a series of coincidences, the Bach collection became very strong.

In 1854, the many manuscripts by Johann Sebastian Bach, the "Saint Matthew Passion," the cantatas, and many of his works, were acquired by the Prussian King for the royal library from the Singakademie. So all of the Johann Sebastian Bach materials left the Singakademie in the mid-19th century.

That lead to the belief that nothing important was left there. Not much research was going on in respect to the Singakademie holdings, so the collection had been thoroughly under-researched. And then it disappeared when, in 1945, it was taken away by the Red Army and we had no information about the whereabouts. We didn't even know whether the material had survived, because in the turmoil at the end of World War II, anything could have happened.

Patricia Kennedy Grimsted
Ukrainian Research Institute, Harvard University

Well, in 1945, the Soviet Union, having suffered so much cultural devastation and looting itself on the part of the Nazi regime and the Nazi Army, decided that they should take back, for cultural compensation, anything they found. This was an order that Stalin gave in February of 1945. By the summer, they had "trophy brigades," as they call them, combing the area for archival materials, for library collections and for art. They were putting on any freight car anything that they could find and shipping it all back to Moscow. We have records that in 1945 alone, probably 450,000 freight cars shipped with booty of various types.

The legend is that a tank driver coming back from the war found [the Singakademie collection] in -- some people say a village dump; some people simply say in some remote village -- and decided to bring it back to Kiev. There's a little bit of problem with that story. Fourteen crates of music, as large a collection as this was, 5,100 manuscripts, would hardly fit in a tank. The other problem is that the Kiev conservatory, in the summer of 1945, was in rubble. And so I'm not exactly sure that that story could stand up. But that is the legend in Kiev, and that's what we were told as to how the collection got there.

You might wonder why this collection remained in Kiev so long and unknown. I myself would ask the same question. But I think you have to remember that this was the Cold War, and Ukraine and the rest of the Soviet Union were completely cut off from cultural contacts in the West.

Christoph Wolff

We had virtually no information about the fate of the collection after 1943. The Soviet authorities would provide no information whatsoever, and even after the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1990, 1991, this kind of inquiry was not easy because the KGB had other authorities that were in charge of trophy materials that would not change their attitude.

So it was in some ways a wild goose chase, but there had been rumors about the possibility that some of the Berlin Singakademie materials may have ended up in Ukraine. But Ukraine is a very big country. And inquiries through colleagues and musicians traveling to Ukraine brought no information.

It was just a happy coincidence that the research project that was conducted here at the Harvard Ukrainian Research Institute that involved lost archives -- that had nothing to do with musical materials, but lost political archives -- gave me an inside track to the archival administration in Ukraine. We were able to locate a document, a classified Red Army document, that specified that a collection of some 5,000 musical items were deposited in Kiev at the conservatory in 1945.

But nothing was to be found at the conservatory. Through some inquiries, where the archival administration was most helpful, we finally were able to locate that collection in the state archive. But the state archive people had no idea what they had. It was catalogued and classified as a collection of European music from the 16th to the 19th century, so it could have been anything.

When I asked some specific questions about the contents, "Is there any material with the name of Bach in that collection?" the reply was, "very many different first names to the family name of Bach." That gave me the clue. Because there is no other collection that has this kind of Bach family material. So when we applied for a visa and received permission to examine the materials, I was pretty certain that it could only be the collection of the Singakademie.

Patricia Kennedy Grimsted

When we first arrived at the archive -- and we'd been delayed for several days because they said there was construction in the archive when we first got there, and we couldn't come in, even though we had been invited by the head of the archival administration, who had arranged this -- when we got to the archive building itself, there was obviously construction and in addition, it was the cleaning day and the archive was supposed to be closed.

They finally did let us in, and we met with the director in his office. He explained to us that the materials in this collection had not been processed, and that we were not going to be able to see them. So I said, "Well, what about the inventories?" Lo and behold, he was willing to let us see the five volumes of registers that had been prepared. These were the registers that were prepared in the conservatory right after the war.

What we found out was that the collection had been moved to the archive in 1973, when this particular archive was founded. It was an archive of literature and art, a separate state archive for literature and art collections in Ukraine.

The director took us into the stack area to show us where the collection was. One of the first things I noticed was the name on the boxes, because they always put both the form, which would be the record group or collection number, on the box, and the name of it. And the name didn't say anything about Singakademie. It said that it was a collection of manuscripts of western European luminaries of art and of literature. Music wasn't even in the title.

But the director decided to open one of the boxes for us, and pulled one off the shelf. I don't think he had any idea which one he was pulling, and Christoph immediately recognized the first manuscript as being written by one of the people that had been involved with the Singakademie. Then we pulled out a couple of the manuscripts and I noticed the stamp of the Singakademie, "Singakademie zu Berlin" was very clearly stamped at the top of a couple of the manuscripts.

Christoph Wolff

When I pulled the first box off the shelves, I realized that this had a major impact on musical scholarship, and that this would open up research opportunities for a whole lot of people. The Bach materials that I was specifically interested in comprised only ten percent of the collection. What we have here is extremely rich material regarding the history of the Prussian court opera and the music at the Prussian court, and also in bourgeoisie Berlin in the 18th century. So it would really open up all kinds of avenues that would help us to understand better the history of music in Germany at a very crucial period in the culture of Europe.

It's really hard to explain what the impact of this new find is going to be. But imagine for a moment that you knew only the drawings and engravings by Rembrandt, but not the paintings. All of a sudden the paintings, which really are the chief works, shed some light on the smaller works. The same is true of Philipp Emanuel Bach, because the vocal works, the large scale mixed pieces, church music, secular music with choir, soloists and orchestra [from the Singakademie collection], are really the representative pieces. They bring out the best in the composer. If you compare those works with the smaller works, orchestral pieces, chamber works, and keyboard music, then you can see the broader context. All of a sudden you understand the creative mind of a great composer.

As an historian, I would have to say this was clearly a once in a lifetime experience. I don't think it will happen again. There is no other collection of that magnitude and that importance around. I think that can be stated without any question.

  • Introduction
  • C.P.E. Bach: The Other Bach
  • Interpreting the "Friendship" Cantata

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