Lost and Found: Gottfried Kirchhoff's "L'A.B.C. musical"

Monday, August 10, 2020

Our RISM ears pricked up at last year’s IAML Congress in Kraków when Kirill Diskin and Maksim Serebrennikov (Saint Petersburg Rimsky-Korsakov State Conservatory), delivering their paper “Foreign book rarities in the library of the S. Petersburg Rimsky-Korsakov State Conservatory,” said that their library holds a printed music edition that is “lost” according to Grove Music Online, “verschollen” according to MGG, and not in RISM.

The edition in question is L’A.B.C. musical by Gottfried Kirchhoff (1685-1746), published by Witvogel in Amsterdam around 1734. It is known as an important source for partimento: In L’A.B.C. musical, only a single figured bass line is given (as seen in the image here), and the performer is expected to expand this into a filled-out prelude and fugue. According to the title page, the compositional pairs are presented in “tous les Tons,” but seeing as only 16 pieces are included, Kirchhoff probably actually just meant the practical keys. The significance of this work, especially considered alongside Johann Sebastian Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier, cannot be overlooked.

As is often the case when you deal a lot with rare music materials, “lost” is often a matter of perspective. The work was mentioned in contemporary encyclopedias, but physical copies seem to have disappeared out of scholars’ sights sometime in the 19th century, though the work was still known by reputation. The situation remained unchanged until a copy was identified in 2002 in the collection of the Conservatory in St. Petersburg (RUS-SPk). A facsimile edition (with modern realization) appeared in 2004, the copy was included in a 2007 catalog of the institution’s printed music holdings, and several other articles have appeared in the meantime to increase awareness.

Further information about the provenance of the St. Petersburg copy can be found in a 2009 article published by Serebrennikov in The Organ. It might have first been owned by one Wolfgang Ignaz Rochus von Langenmantel (1765-1834), but it definitely soon passed into the hands of Gottfried-Engelbert Anders (1795-1866), who worked at the Imperial (now National) Library of France and was a musician and music collector. A Russian musician in Paris, Mikhail Pavlovich Azanchevsky (1839–1881), bought Anders’s music collection upon his death. Azanchevsky later became an early director of the St. Petersburg Conservatory, and his library (including the Anders materials) became one of the cornerstones of the Conservatory library’s collections.

Thanks to Diskin and Serebrennikov’s IAML presentation and the facsimile edition, L’A.B.C. musical is now in RISM: RISM ID no.1001100274. While there is no digitized copy available online that we know of, each RISM record contains a music incipit for the prelude and the fugue (see image for Prelude and Fugue no. 2). Nine of the preludes and fugues were included in both facsimile and modern realization in Anatolij Pavlovič Milka’s article published in Bach: Journal of the Riemenschneider Bach Institute in 2011.

The St. Petersburg copy does seem to be the only surviving copy, and we hope that one day more will come to light.


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Category: Rediscovered

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