playlist | Johann Christoph Bach: 44 Chorale Preludes

Portrait of a musician [Johann Christoph Bach (1642-1703)]. Anonymous, circa 1700. [Source: Berlin, ‘Archiv für Kunst und Geschichte’ (Prussian State Library)]
Johann Christoph Bach (1642–1703) – an older relative of the great Johann Sebastian Bach (1685–1750) – was employed as the organist of the municipal church of St George at Eisenach in the Thuringia region of Germany. The town was then the capital of the Dukes of  Saxe-Eisenach and Johann Christoph was separately employed as a harpsichordist at the ducal court.  NB He is not to be confused with:
– Johann Christoph Bach (1645–93) active in Arnstadt
– Johann Christoph Bach (1671–1721) active in Ohrdruf
– Johann Christoph Bach (1673–1727) active in Gehren
– Johann Christoph Bach (1676–1738) a son of our Johann Christoph Bach

The source of Johann Christoph Bach’s Choräle is a manuscript that is widely referred to as ‘Spitta MS.1491’, the scribe unknown. It comprises seventeenth-/eighteenth-century German keyboard works. The manuscript’s last private owner was the Bach scholar Phillip Spitta (1841–94). It is now in the library of the Berlin University of the Arts (UdK); shelf-mark RH 0093. The title-page of the Choräle translates as: Chorales / Which may be used as preludes during services / Composed & distributed by Johann Christoph Bach / Corporation of Eisenach. These pieces first appeared in print in 1929 as “44 Choräle zum Präambulieren” edited by Martin Fischer for  Bärenreiter (Kassel) and that edition, still in print, remains the only published source.

These chorale preludes are akin to written-down improvisations, using simple contrapuntal forms and close major-minor shifts. They are not arranged in any particular order. Each broadly has the same musical structure in which the first line of the hymn is played as a solo that is then given a straightforward imitative treatment, often in just three voices, interspersed with short melodic sequences, ending with a coda over a sustained pedal note.

Although not concert-programme material these charming, straight-forward little pieces are adaptable to a wide range of registrations and they can make a most respectable contribution to the work of the liturgical organist.

Playlist: click on any title to start the playlist

References and further reading
‘A Bach Manuscript Recovered: Berlin, Bibliothek der Hochshule der Kunste, Spitta Ms. 1491’ by David Schulenberg. Bach Notes: the newsletter of the American Bach Society. Fall 1998.
– ‘Constructing Johann Christoph Bach (1642-1703)’ by Daniel R. Melamed. Music & Letters, Vol. 80, No. 3 (Aug., 1999), pp. 345-65. 
Johann Christoph Bach. Wikipedia. Accessed 6 April 2023. 

-‘Johann Christoph Bach’s New Organ for Eisenach’s Georgenkirche’ by Lynn Edwards Butler. Bach, Vol. 35, No. 1 (2004), pp. 42-60.
– Portrait of Johann Christoph Bach. Anonymous c.1700. Archiv für Kunst und Geschichte, Berlin. Online resource accessed 6 April 2023.
– Spitta MS 1491. Universität der Künste Berlin: shelfmark RH 0093.

Technical notes.
– Edition: Johann Christoph Bach (ed. Martin Fischer) 44 Choräle zum Präambulieren. Catalog BA00285. (Kassel: Bärenreiter, 1929; repr. 2019)
Temperament: Werckmeister III; pitch A=440 
Organ: Viscount Sonus 60 
Microphone: Zoom Q2N-4K 

– Recordings: ©Andrew Pink (2023). All rights reserved. Creative Commons licence: [Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International]

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