New Complete 23-Volume Bach Vocal Edition from Carus Verlag

Bach vocal reaches its finale

Carus sets new standards in Bach editions

During the Reformation Jubilee Year, Carus-Verlag Stuttgart in co-operation with the Bach-Archiv Leipzig have completed their ambitious editorial project “Bach vocal” – the Stuttgart Bach Edition now contains Johann Sebastian Bach’s complete sacred vocal oeuvre. From now on, the choral and orchestral material of all the motets, masses, passions, oratorios, as well as more than 200 cantatas by the famous kantor of St. Thomas’s Church – all at the current state of research – is available from Carus. Here, Carus has set a new standard since within the realm of sacred vocal music, many works were last edited 50 or more years ago, and most of them did not include performance material.

Conductors, singers and instrumentalists were obliged to fall back on material from the 19th century which does not do justice to present-day standards with respect to historically informed performance practice. Many of the alterations in the music text which are based on most recent findings are indeed audible; they have been recorded on CD by the leading Bach interpreters of our era, for example, Frieder Bernius, Hans-Christoph Rademann and Masaaki Suzuki.

New avenues for the large-scale works

A new editorial approach was devised for Bach’s large-scale works: to date, Carus is the only publishing house to present the two complete surviving versions of the St. John Passion BWV 245 of 1725 and 1749 – the ones actually performed by Bach himself – in addition to the traditional composite version which dates back to the 19th century. These versions are now claiming their rightful place in concert life. Carus also pursued a new aproach with respect to Bach’s Mass in B Minor. For the first time, the Carus Edition follows the Dresdner parts of the Kyrie and the Gloria which were annotated in detail by Bach himself in 1733, instead of creating an editorially problematic compilation from score and parts which would have been unknown to Bach in that form. In this way, valuable information regarding Bach’s opus ultimum has been made available to present-day musicians.

Final versions vs. early versions

In the selection of the work versions to be taken into consideration, the editors did not only focus on final versions – an aesthetic criterion which in any event cannot meaningfully be applied to Bach – but always kept an eye on performance relevance. In the case of the cantata Lobe den Herren BWV 69, for example, the version for the 12th Trinity Sunday performed on several occasions by Bach himself during his early years (BWV 69a) was published in addition to the late cantata for the town council election. The text, which is grounded in the liturgical year, significantly expands the church music possibilities for this magnificent cantata.

15 reconstructions enable performances for the first time

A performance edition of a work that is only incompletely extant cannot present empty staves. Cautious amendments render these works performable once more, inasmuch as the surviving source material makes this feasible. To achieve this, experienced Bach interpreters were consulted, e.g., Masaaki Suzuki and Pieter Dirksen. All the reconstructed sections are clearly identified in the music text.

Solutions for Bach’s early cantatas

The different tuning pitches of various instrumental groups in Bach’s early cantatas are always problematic for musicians. Here, Carus editions offer solutions on a case-by-case basis which may turn out very disparate but always result in a version that is performable under present-day conditions. In many cases, however, the performance material also makes it possible for specialist ensembles to recreate “historical performance conditions” (strings and winds playing with different tuning pitches) – once again, an innovation in Bach editions.

A 23-volume complete edition of the scores in three slipcases now concludes the project Bach vocal. The more than 12,500 score pages printed in an easily readable vocal score format that is nevertheless suitable for conducting offer profitable exploration and study for everyone who focuses on Bach’s music. 

We interviewed our Chief Editor Uwe Wolf about this large-scale project: 

The aim of publishing all the Bach cantatas in critical editions by 2017 has now been achieved. In the process, various cantatas which have already been published have been newly revised. Why produce a new edition?

“The reasons can be quite varied. Firstly, performance practice has changed considerably. Some compromises which were necessary 30 or 40 years ago to make a work performable for many ensembles, now no longer apply. And our attitude to versions has changed. Whereas in the past we thought we were doing justice to Bach by combining “the best” of different versions, we now regard these separate versions as fully valid forms of the work which can stand side-by-side, one (sometimes two) of which are published as editions which are complete in themselves. And of course, our evaluations of the sources have had to be reassessed and new sources consulted.”

What were the fundamental new discoveries in Bach research which formed the basis for these significant alterations in the editions?

“Through intensive research into Bach sources which has now been ongoing for some decades, we are constantly making new discoveries about the copyists. Many of these are known to us today by name, and through these names we can also discover, if we are lucky, something about their careers, when (and whether) the copyists worked for Bach, which copyists were working for him at the same time – or perhaps none of the above. This helps tremendously in understanding the authenticity of manuscripts and also the history of versions. Last but not least, we now have the possibility of looking at digitised versions of almost all the autograph manuscripts at high resolution on bachdigital.de. We can examine problematic passages over and over again in every detail – often something only becomes clear on the umpteenth time of observation.”

What can be said in general about the source material of the Bach cantatas? Which are the key areas of Bach research where we might possibly expect further discoveries?

“Above all, detailed knowledge about the sources is constantly growing. New musical sources come to light relatively seldom (but does occasionally occur). A great deal of research has been undertaken on the texts in recent years, and we now know far more about the librettists and the contexts from which Bach drew his texts. And we can and must hope for discoveries of all kinds! We are familiar with plenty of sources, and indeed works, which once existed, but which can no longer be traced. Every Bach scholar of course hopes that something will come his or her way one day – it’s just that unfortunately we cannot know when this might happen.”

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