RISM Lecture on the Bach Collection of the Berlin Staatsbibliothek Now Online
Thursday, July 8, 2021
Inspired by the many queries from all over the world, in early March we posted a full recording of the Inaugural RISM Lecture about the music collection of the Cappella Sistina on RISM’s YouTube channel. We are now pleased to publish in the same way the Second RISM Lecture, dedicated to the Bach Collection of the Berlin Staatsbibliothek, which was attended live on May 26, 2021, by over 170 participants.
After brief introductions by Klaus Pietschmann (President of RISM) and Balázs Mikusi (Executive Director of the RISM Editorial Center), the two main presentations gave us intriguing insights into the undoubtedly most important collection of Bach sources in the world. As head of the Music Department of the Staatsbibliothek in Berlin, Martina Rebmann outlined the history of their collection—an overview all the more timely, since the library is just about to enter a new phase of its long history by reopening the reading rooms of the Music Department (among others) in the freshly renovated building Unter den Linden. Dr. Rebmann also explained in some detail how her colleagues rely on RISM in their daily cataloging work, while also expanding its possibilities through links to other online databases and portals.
The main lecture was held by Christoph Wolff (Professor Emeritus, Harvard University), who provided more contemplative reflections about the diverse “historical strokes of luck” and “fateful events” resulting in the magnificent Bach collection assembled in Berlin starting in 1841, the acquisition of Georg Poelchau’s extraordinary private collection. In his overview he traced the course of different manuscripts, as well as coherent groups of manuscripts, and emphasized the ongoing efforts of generations of music librarians to make the collection ever more complete. He also discussed the difficult decisions that administrators had to make after detecting the deterioration of the original papers—decisions that had to be made under the watchful eyes of a larger public not always realizing the complexity of the situation.
Just as with the First RISM Lecture, the official program was followed by a lively discussion returning to diverse topics raised in the presentations: the disconcerting fading of 18th-century ink, the usefulness of old microfilms, and new trends in watermark research and their promise for future source studies, among other subjects. All of this once again convinced us of the need for such forums, and negotiations are now underway regarding the Third RISM Lecture, which will likely be offered around the end of this year, and should (according to our present plans) expand the profile of the series beyond the borders of Europe.
Image: Johann Sebastian Bach, “Sanctus” from the B-minor Mass (BWV 232). Autograph manuscript in D-B Mus.ms. Bach P 180. Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin - PK http://resolver.staatsbibliothek-berlin.de/SBB0001B78F00000000. RISM ID no. 467018000Share Tweet Email