The Significance of a Manuscript in the Sibley Library
This chapter examines a collection of Bach chorale harmonizations copied in Dresden sometime during the 1730s, with the goal of clarifying both its likely provenance and purpose. “Sebastian Bach’s Choral-Buch” is a collection of chorales—melodies with figured bass, intended to accompany singing—given in a sequence similar to that found in many hymnals. The mid-eighteenth-century manuscript was purchased from Hans P. Kraus, Vienna, in September 1936 by the Sibley Library at the Eastman School of Music. This chapter first describes the Sibley Choralbuch before reviewing its provenance and content. It then considers the manuscript’s significance as a possible source of evidence for the practices of the circle of organists who studied with Johann Sebastian Bach in the 1730s and 1740s. It argues that Choralbuch served as a workbook for learning how to create four-part settings but had a double usefulness: Bach could assign particular chorale melodies for the pupil to work on as test pieces, while the anthology could serve to accompany chorale singing at services.
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