article 26:   Two Bachs, Two Buxtehudes

Speculation about possible composers of anonymous works is great fun, but can lead to embarrassment. I shall l now proceed to expose myself to embarrassment in regard to four works, two of which I think might be by J. S. Bach, and two by his mentor D. Buxtehude.


A recent (and highly embarrassing) case in point concerned a piece by Froberger which was described by Mattheson – the famous “Wasserfall” allemande, which narrates a near-drowning in the Rhine at St. Goar. More than one prominent harpsichordist-musicologist ingeniously proved one pet candidate or another to be the mystery first movement of a suite, only to be humbled by the discovery of a manuscript from the recovered hoard of the Berlin Sing-Akademie, probably the very one Mattheson had seen. It revealed that a different suite altogether (VII in E-minor), one which nobody had suspected, contained the actual culprit.

The allemande in E-flat proclaimed with the most prolixity as the “Wasserfall” was included in an undigested Froberger Werke Verzeichnis as such. Its suite has had a long history of misattribution. It used to be given to Georg Böhm. Then it was said by Gustav Leonhardt to be by Froberger, and the word of such an authority led to a herd movement in the Stuttgarter’s favor which has held sway since.

My revered teacher was sadly misled by his enthusiasm for one of his favorite composers. The piece is overflowing with weaknesses which would have been unthinkable in the mature Froberger – for such is the style of this clever imitation, in a key which Froberger never used.

Then who could have composed the suite?

The four movements appear in a unique source, the “Möller Manuscript” (Staatsbibliothek Berlin, Mus. ms. 40644). That fact alone should have sounded alarms, given the fairly wide distribution of Froberger’s suites in copies and in print. Nor does Froberger ever require the low E-flat appearing here, which was non-existent on his keyboards. Wide spreads of the fingers uncharacteristic of Froberger also abound.

The scribe’s hand (SS3) is unidentified, but is that of someone in the orbit of J. S. Bach’s youth – someone who also entered pieces into the “Andreas Bach Book”. Both of these capital sources were mostly compiled by Johann Christoph Bach in Ohrdruf, to whom the orphaned Sebastian was sent in 1696. The lad’s eldest surviving brother famously (and ineffectively) forbade him to look at music which could give him frivolous ideas.

The E-flat suite appears anonymously in MM after a group of suites “di Signore Georg Böhm”, and is succeed by other North German works – Reincken, Böhm again, and Heidorn. Its style is fairly close to Böhm’s, and its placement in MM thus led to a plausible attribution to the Lüneburg master which remained unquestioned until Leonhardt came along.

Böhm* did use the key of does another work in MM: “Capriccio. Sopra la Lontananza de il Fratro diletissimo. di J.S. Bach.”, entered into the book by its owner, J. C. Bach. I happen to think the jocund early work was a 1700 self-portrait by Sebastian written for his Ohrdruf Gymnasium schoolmates (“Fratro” = “brother student” in this case). Its companion capriccio in distant E-major, a farewell to his brother, continues the prodigy’s exploration of non-meantone keys which would culminate in the “48”.

Young Sebastian could have come into contact with Froberger in the forbidden Ohrdruf music cabinet, or in Lüneburg, or in Hamburg during one of his visits to Reincken. There he could have seen Weckmann’s copies, and perhaps even the new source of the “Wasserfall” or its original). Indeed, I think J. S. is responsible for this bold and exaggerated E-flat contrafactum, modestly left anonymous. It should take its place alongside the many study pieces modeled on Reincken, Albinoni, and Erselius – and possibly alongside one other anonymous suite.

I offer this next possibility with far less conviction than the previous, but the mystery involved is worth mentioning in itself. BWV Anhang II 80 is a manuscript of a four-movement suite in F-major, purchased by Stefan Zweig as an addition to his extensive collection of autographs which included letters and music by many major composers. This was Zweig’s fondest hobby; his treasures were carefully stored in specially-made bookcases and card-filed in his house on the Mönchsberg in Salzburg, which still stands, inaccessible to the public. The hundreds of pieces were dispersed after Zweig’s exile from Nazism and his suicide in 1942. The F-major suite is now held by Stanford University. Its two leaves were sold to the Austrian author as an example of J. S. Bach’s handwriting from the collection of Manfred Görke. That claim was debunked by Yoshitake Kobayashi in 1988.

Wolfgang Schmeider’s chaotic Thematisch-systematisches Verzeichnis der musikalischen Werke von Johann Sebastian Bach (1950) still provides the BWV numbers that are standard when referring to Bach’s works. The 2nd revised edition (1990) contains the original preface, full of pathos regarding the publication difficulties caused by the Second World War. A more complete, compact 1998 revision by Kobayashi and my late friend Alfred Dürr leaves the piece in Anhang II: Werke zweifelhafter Echtheit. Present authority believes it belongs in Anhang III: Werke fremder Komponisten, Bach fälschlich zugeschrieben. Well...maybe so.

The suite is patently in the style of Reincken, but exhibits a degree of clumsiness similar to that found in the E-flat Froberger imitation. It cannot be by the man from Deventer; it might be by a less-gifted contemporary...or it might be by a worshipful young student, such as (for example) one who walked from Lüneburg to Hamburg and back more than once to hear Reincken play the Scherer-Fritzsche-Stellwagen-Besser masterpiece at St. Catherine’s.

It is easy to see how Görke and Zweig, among other more competent judges of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, could have believed it to be a J. S. Bach autograph. The 1990 BWV still says “Autograph aus Bachs Jugend, evt. aus der Lüneburger Zeit?” – two years after Kobayashi’s deflation. It certainly could have fooled me, but Kobayashi, whom I once met and chatted with under very pleasant circumstances, is not to be doubted.

What about Anna Magdalena, then, whose handwriting has also confused the great and good? I checked some of her early autographs and seized on a theory: her husband had given her, in their early days together, an insignificant, easy Jugendwerk as a practice piece, which she copied, doing her best to imitate Sebastian’s handwriting – a skill which she developed to a remarkable degree.

Two of the foremost living authorities on handwriting in Bach’s circle, Yo Tomita and Peter Wollny, both gave me an absolute “no”; the handwriting resemblance is “only superficial”, in Wollny’s words. This eminent director of the Leipzig Bach-Archiv told me he had often wondered who the composer of the interesting little suite was, but had pretty much given up hope.

I wonder. Do we really know that much about handwriting, which, after all, evolves over time – especially as it would have in the case of a young woman just getting her hand in? The shapes in the Stanford MS look to my untrained eye more than superficially like an early example of handwriting by Bach’s wonderful second wife. If not Anna Magdalena, perhaps one of the sons of her predecessor copied it from Papa’s lost original?

*The sensational discovery in 2006 of Sebastian Bach’s earliest autographs included a piece “â Dom. Georg: Böhme descriptum ao.1700 Lunaburgi”, which confirmed a relationship which had long been suspected.


Twenty-nine bars of a splendid Prelude in A-major are found on p. 8 of the “Babell MS” (British Library, MS Add. 39569), an oddly cobbled-together collection of pan-European harpsichord and organ pieces, mostly without attributions. The “prelude” is anonymous there, but Alexander Silbiger, the editor of my Garland facsimile, says: “This prelude has been attributed to Purcell (Z. D. 229), J. S. Bach (BWV Anh. 178), and Michelangelo Rossi. Of the three, Purcell is by far the most likely candidate, but the evidence remains inconclusive.”

I don’t like to disagree with such a learnèd man, but I would put Purcell at the bottom of that list, after Bach and Rossi. Silbiger’s attribution to Purcell is mystifying, unless one thinks an anonymous prelude in A-minor, which W. Barclay Squire also included in the old Purcell Society edition, could be by an Englishman. (Far more likely are Bernardo Pasquini or Alessandro Scarlatti.) An attribution to the young Bach is practically eliminated by the manuscript’s date: 1702.

Howard Ferguson’s edition (Stainer & Bell) of Purcell’s “Miscellaneous Keyboard Pieces” enters an incipit as “Toccata, A D229” under “Spurious and Misattributed Works”. He lists four British Library sources, including “Babell”, where, as he points out, it appears in shortened form as a prelude to a suite by “Maister King”. Of the other three, two give the toccata to Purcell, and one to Rossi.

At some point in the 1980’s I performed the piece live on Dutch radio, and told the program presenter I thought it was by Dietrich Buxtehude. I still think so. This is simply a matter of comparison with his securely attributed manualiter toccatas; the resemblance is so striking as to be virtually unmistakable. The sources for Buxtehude are spotty and scattered. There is no reason why a lone, smallish harpsichord piece could not have its earliest transmission in a MS most likely compiled in London in 1702, and then passed to other British collectors under mistaken attributions. The 1702 scribe, the bassoonist Charles Babel, seems to have been French or Walloon, and had, according to Silbiger, travelled in Holland, North Germany and Denmark before winding up in London, as did so many continental instrumentalists around 1700.

While gathering notes for this article I was delighted to find that colleague Jon Baxendale had already named Buxtehude as the most likely candidate for the toccata in an extensive, analytical article in the “Musical Times” (Vol. 141, No. 1872, Autumn 2000, pp. 40-42+44-51). Mr. Baxendale is far more cautious about it than I, as befits a serious musicologist going into print, and he very rightly names other composers who could be considered. But I agree with his final slight tipping of the scales to the great Dane.

There is another quasi-anonymous work which I think can be safely given to Buxtehude. I say “quasi” because it comes down to us in a way which brings us full circle – as a gigue by Froberger.

It is found in the notoriously error-ridden Minoritenkonvent MS as a singular “Aria” under Froberger’s name. The Heugel edition contains a “restitution” by the late Kenneth Gilbert, and the dismal Froberger Werke Verzeichnis gives it emphatically to Froberger, while admitting that it doesn’t fulfill its own stylistic criteria. Aside from the astounding number of textual mistakes, the title is clearly absurd. It must be one of a number of gigues added by various composers to “incomplete” suites. Froberger himself experimented with adding gigues to the end of a small number of his early Allemand-Courante-Sarabande groupings, before switching to the sequence Allemande-Gigue-Courante-Sarabande.

This particular gigue is most likely one of those pious additions by admirers, which somehow got separated from its Froberger original (Suite XXV?) and found its way to Vienna (via Pachelbel?). It certainly isn’t by Froberger; it bears no resemblance whatsoever to any of his gigues. On the other hand, it resembles Buxtehude’s in every way, both stylistically and in its high quality. The only other composer who comes close is Weckmann, who knew Froberger personally, and whose connection with him is amply demonstrated by the Hintze MS. But Weckmann’s gigues contain quirks which eliminate him as the composer of the “Aria”.

Froberger’s music was a major post-mortem presence in Hamburg, a circumstance which probably goes back to Weckmann. The Lübeck/Buxtehude-Hamburg/Reincken axis is magnificently documented by the double portrait which I saw in Hugh Gough’s New York apartment before it was sold to the Museum of Hamburg History. The early, “incomplete” Suite XXV could well have been a gift from Froberger to Weckmann when they met in Dresden around 1650. I think Buxtehude saw it, and anonymously repaired what he saw as a defect. Pieces with no clear ascription to a composer are maddeningly frequent around this time in North Germany.

If Pachelbel was indeed responsible for transmitting the gigue to Vienna, the erroneous title may also go back to him. He was fond of the term “Aria”, as demonstrated by his Hexachordum Apollinis, which was dedicated to F.T. Richter and – to Buxtehude.

As stated at the outset, this is all merest (and potentially embarrassing) speculation. But I shall persist in the error of my ways until convinced otherwise.

February 22, 2021

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