Possible orchestral tendencies in registering Johann Sebastian Bach's organ music: an historical perspective



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Many books have been written about Johann Sebastian Bach: his life, his music and his legacy. Known unquestionably as the finest organist and composer of organ music of his time, his musical knowledge was not limited to the organ. He wrote in virtually all forms and for all instruments and combinations of instruments. One area of Bach study that remains a mystery for organists is how to register his organ works. In spite of the vast number of works for organ, there are only four or five instances of specific registration suggestions made by Bach. German registrational practices during the first half of the eighteenth century were not well defined because of the great variety of styles of organ building. This treatise examines Bach’s knowledge of design and acoustics, major styles of organs of the period, the various colors available on those organs and Bach’s specific recommendations of registration. Chapter 1 begins with Bach’s early exposure to the organ and his life after the death of his parents. This is followed by study of Bach’s written assessments of organs, all of which provide information of his expectations about organ building. Chapter 2 is a study of organs during Bach’s lifetime and the changes brought about by construction changes as well as changes in taste. The organs of Schnitger, Silbermann and Hildebrandt are examined in depth as representatives of the different styles of the period. Chapter 3 begins with a discussion of the general nature of organ stops, including categories of organ pipes. An assessment of those stops found on the organs that were known to Bach (Appendix A, pp. 110-123) ends the chapter. Chapter 4 commences with a report of organo pleno as a means of registration through the Baroque period. The chapter continues and ends with Bach’s specific registrations and the manner in which they are used. Chapter 5 is an examination of other sources of registrational information from the period—specifically those of Kaufmann, Mattheson, Silbermann, Agricola, Adlung and Marpurg—and how those registrations might be applicable to the music of Bach.