The Missing Manuscripts

Updated: Sep 5, 2019



The choices an author must make:

Background hunting for In Concert, a novel of love and suspense



Statue of Bach with manuscript outside Thomaskirche, Leipzig Photo by Rae Richen

You can read In Concert just for the adventure and frightening suspense without knowing anything about Johan Sebastien Bach or about classical music, but for those who have read it for the great action, here are some things you may be curious about.


There are historic facts, and then there are historic maybies. An author has to make choices about those facts that many believe might be true.


In the novel, In Concert, Rebecca Gregory and Lewis James are in grave danger because someone believes she owns three very famous manuscripts – the original manuscripts of missing violin concertos by Johann Sebastien Bach.


The stalker threatens their lives and the life of Rebecca’s five-year-old son, Benjamin, all because of about 60 pages of music.


Really?


Well, here’s an idea of the present value of original manuscripts that do exist. On July, 13, 2016, the original manuscript of a known piece by J.S. Bach was sold. Though the piece is much copied, published and very available to musicians, the piece sold was the original manuscript, owned privately and not seen by the public since 1969.


That original was auctioned at Christie’s auction house in London for 3.3 million dollars, a price that rivals that of any original piece of art. The piece sold was the Prelude, Fugue and Allegro in E flat Major for lute or keyboard, catalog number BWV 998.


Original manuscript of Bach lute or keyboard music sold at Christie's 2016. Photo by D.Reinhardt

If three original manuscripts of Bach’s missing violin concerti were found, imagine the millions to be made. Imagine the lengths any lover of power might go to if he thought he knew where they were.









I knew these violin concerti existed because of the research of many musical historians. We know Bach or perhaps one of his sons re-used these pieces as a concerti for keyboard, a common practice at the time.

I knew that the concerti that do exist are revered by musicians, are lovely to hear and a lot of fun to play.


Also, even in the existing, known violin concerti, (in Emajor, A minor and the concerto for two violins in D minor,) there are missing parts, and transcriptions which put to question the intentions of the composer. Anyone who finds these missing pieces has found something of value for sure.


But our stalker believes that Rebecca has something even greater -- three whole original manuscripts. He will do anything to have them


I knew that Bach’s musician sons had inherited his music, but that his son Wilhelm Friedemann Bach had been forced to sell many of his originals in order to pay debts. Wilhelm Friedemann had the reputation of being difficult to work with, of being profligate and hard-nosed.


But there are scholars who think it was not profligacy and waste, but the changing times, the changing expectations and the habit (which Friedemann shared with his father) of demanding to be treated as befitted his skill and intelligence. This trait made holding a job difficult. His father also had job difficulty when others treated him as a dispensable servant. Father Bach wouldn’t put up with under-estimating his value.


Wilhelm Friedemann Bach, son of J.S. Bach

The writer’s difficulty is in depicting a man like Wilhelm Friedemann in a way that makes re-discovery of the manuscripts probable. Fiction is not fact, but one likes to choose supportable facts to depict fiction.


In Friedemann’s case, it is still unclear which are the facts, and which are a historian’s guesses based on the little anyone knows. We know his personality caused job losses. We also know that he was a consummate improvisor, struggling to use the knowledge his father gave him, but also trying to make his own music. He frequently could not sell his skills or himself, for whatever reasons.


In writing In Concert, I had to choose which historical view of him to use.


But where were those manuscripts? It is also known that Wilhelm Friedemann’s daughter inherited some manuscripts that he did not sell. Many of those were accidentally destroyed by a later generation of her family in America.



Sara Itzig Levy, Fanny and Felix Mendelsson's great aunt was a fine musician who studied with Wilhelm Friedemann Bach in Berlin.

However, other manuscripts were cared for carefully. One of Wilhelm Friedemann’s students was Sarah Itzig Levy, the great aunt of Felix and Fanny Mendelssohn. Sarah Levy inherited some of J.S. Bach’s scores from her teacher, Bach’s son. At her suggestion, her fellow Wilhelm Friedemann student, Carl Friederich Zelter became teacher to both Mendelssohn children. Zelter also encouraged Felix and Fanny’s father to collect any Bach manuscripts he could find.


This family collection and a manuscript gift from Great Aunt Sarah’s sister, Bella Saloman, the Mendelssohn grandmother, made possible Felix Mendelsohn’s revival of Bach’s music, through his championing of the St. Matthew Passion and subsequently of many other J.S. Bach works.


The Mendelssohn collection of Bach manuscripts did not include the missing violin concerti.


All of these connections made difficult writing choices. The choice of how to uncover the missing concerti, and put Rebecca Gregory in danger from a powerful and vicious person depended on deciding that the concerti may have been among the pieces sold by Wilhelm Friedemann. Then, I had to decide who might have bought them, and how they may have traveled from one place to another through the next generations.


And that is how I ended up visiting Austria and Hungary. That part of the research for In Concert put me in those great countries at a desperate time in the recent history of Europe. I will tell you that story in a next essay.




Here's the scoop on the known and unknown concerti for violin by J.S. Bach:


Known Violin Concerti by Bach


Nearly every violinist has these three concerti in their collection.

E major violin concerto has wonderful barriolage (quick string crossing) fun..

And this one is a load of beautiful music for two violins and piano, with one of Bach's most stunning middle movements -- a lovely slow song.

BWV is a catalog of Bach's Works ( Bach-Werke-Verzeichnis in German)

Concerto in A minor for Violin, Strings and Basso continuo, BWV 1041 Concerto in E major for Violin, Strings and Basso continuo, BWV 1042 Concerto in D minor for Two Violins, Strings and Basso continuo, BWV 1043


BWV 1041 was later rearranged as a concerto for harpsichord, BWV 1058 in G minor. BWV 1042 was later rearranged as a concerto for harpsichord, BWV 1054 in D major. BWV 1043 was later rearranged as a concerto for 2 harpsichords, BWV 1062 in C minor.





Concerti for violin that are believed to exist:


Bach is thought to have written several more violin concertos at Weimar and Cöthen, and it is likely that many of his harpsichord concertos were arranged from earlier violin versions which have since been lost; thus, the violin concertos in G minor BWV 1056R and D minor BWV 1052R and the D minor Concerto for violin and oboe BWV 1060R are the conjectural originals of works which have come down to us as harpsichord concertos.


These are the pieces our stalker and kidnapper believes Rebecca has. He is certain she has them hidden away, and he will destroy anyone to get them. So, music lovers, and action lovers alike will enjoy this story.


By the way, that manuscript sold by Christie's is for lute or keyboard? Here is the story of that sale.

https://www.dw.com/en/valuable-bach-manuscript-goes-under-the-hammer/a-19397982


The Prelude, Fugue and Allegro in E-flat Major (BWV 998) is a favorite among both harpsichords and lutenists. Like many works by Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750), it can be played on different instruments, which is expressly indicated on this score in the composer's handwriting: "Prelude pour la Luth ò Cembal" (for lute or keyboard).

Rae Richen, Author © 2019. All Rights Reserved.