Early sources of J.S. Bach's English Suites united in Leipzig

Thursday, March 28, 2024

The following originally appeared on the Bach Archiv Leipzig, Germany. It is published here with kind permission.

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Early sources of J.S. Bach’s English Suites united in Leipzig

The »English Suites« – one of Johann Sebastian Bach’s most famous collections of works for keyboard instruments – have not survived in their original form. Thanks to a donation from the British business family Kohn, the oldest copies of the suites are now together in Leipzig and accessible to the public for the first time: from 2 February 2024, the four manuscripts by the hand of Bach’s pupil Heinrich Nikolaus Gerber will be exhibited in the treasury room of the Bach Museum Leipzig.

Johann Sebastian Bach’s so-called »English Suites« are among the masterpieces of the composer’s later Weimar and early Köthen years. The copies of four of the suites made by Bach’s private pupil Heinrich Nikolaus Gerber in Leipzig around 1724/25 are of particular importance: they are the earliest known sources of the compositions, which must have been created directly under the eyes of the Thomaskantor.

Gerber’s manuscripts were considered lost for decades. Later they were privately owned by the British pharmacologist, musician, Bach lover and patron Sir Ralph Kohn (1927–2016), who was born in Leipzig as the child of a Jewish Orthodox textile merchant. In 1933, Ralph Kohn and his family had to flee Leipzig to escape the Nazis, but remained emotionally attached to his native city and its rich musical tradition throughout his life. On 1 February 2024, the Director of the Bach Archive Leipzig, Prof. Dr. Dr. h.c. Peter Wollny, presented the four sources to the public for the first time at a press event.

Prof. Dr. Peter Wollny: »Sir Ralph Kohn was a founding member of the Board of Trustees of the Leipzig Bach Archive and donated two of the copies to it in 2011. This year we received the other two as a gift from his daughter Michelle Kohn. I am deeply grateful to the Kohn family for giving us the opportunity to show these four important sources together in public for the first time in the treasury room of the Bach Museum Leipzig.«

Image: Title page and first page of music of the English Suite in D minor, BWV 811 (c) Sammlung Bach-Archiv

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