Music Monuments and Critical Editions in the Library

The print volumes in the Music Library with the call number M3 make up the “Music Monuments,” section.  In this area the complete works and critical editions of music provide comprehensive content by composer, time period or geographic region.  What makes these sets of music particularly valuable?  The complete works editions are convenient and handy reference sources, which fill in gaps that may exist elsewhere in the collection.  Often the size of the print type and clarity of the notation in these publications make them ideal for historical study or even for use in performance.  The “critical,” complete works editions supply the added feature of commentary for each volume of music.  In such cases scholars have consulted primary sources, (such as sketches and autographs), and the earliest editions of a composer’s music in their effort to publish as authoritative an edition as possible.  Such publications are also referred to as “Urtext,” editions.  The critical commentary explains any alternative interpretations of musical pitches, dynamics, or other articulations that the editors may have come across.


For example, a new volume of the Neue Ausgabe Sämtlicher Werke (Revidierte Edition) of Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750), presents no less than six different manuscript sources for his Six Suites for Violoncello Solo, BWV 1007-1012.  While no autograph manuscript survives, the sources the editors consulted include:


  • Source A, P 269, the manuscript prepared in the hand of Bach’s second wife, Anna Magdalena Bach (1701-1760);


  • Source B, P 804, copied by organist Johann Peter Kellner (1705-1772), who later in his career came to know Bach personally;


  • Source C, P 289, prepared by Johann Nicolaus Schober (ca. 1721-1807), a horn player and scribe; and an anonymous scribe, possibly based on sources provided by Carl Philipp Emmanuel Bach (1714-1788);


  • Source D, Mus. Hs. 5007, prepared by a single anonymous scribe working in Hamburg during the late eighteenth century. The scribe may have been asked to prepare a new copy of the Suites by the daughter of CPE Bach, based on a manuscript in her father’s library;


  • Source E, the first printing of Bach’s Six Suites for Violoncello, published by Janet et Cotelle in Paris ca. 1824. The title page reads:  “Six Sonates ou Etudes Pour Le Violoncello Solo Composées PAR J. SEBASTIAN BACH.  Œuvre Posthume.” After considerable research in Germany, cellist Louis-Pierre Norblin (1781-1854) discovered a manuscript upon which he based this first edition.


  • Source H, Ms. II.4085, Fétis 2910, a J.S. Bach autograph of Suite V, as arranged for solo lute. In this functional manuscript, Bach added bass notes and filled out chords that were possible to play on the lute or the keyboard but awkward or impossible on the cello.


Band 4, teil. 1 of the Neue Ausgabe presents a new edition of all six Suites in modern notation with critical commentary.  Band 4, teil. 2 provides a “synoptic facsimile,” in which the content of each of the above sources can be compared, line by line. Below is an image of the opening of Suite V’s Prelude:



As can be seen there are notable differences in transcription among sources A through H.  In this particular suite the A string is to be tuned down to G; there are differences in how this “scordatura tuning,” is represented among the sources.[i]  This is but one example of the many ways complete works and critical editions can inform performers, teachers, students, researchers and listeners alike.

-G. Schierhorst


[i]  The above is a summary of information supplied in:  Johann Sebastian Bach, Sechs Suiten für Violoncello Solo, BWV 1007-1012, ed. by Andrew Talle, Band 4, teil 1-2 of Neue Ausgabe Sämtliche Werke, Revidierte Edition, edited by Bach-Archiv Leipzig (Kassel: Bärenreiter, 2016).  Music Library M3.B1133 2010 Bd. 4 T. 1-2.

Gisele Schierhorst

Gisele Schierhorst

Head, Music Library at Stony Brook University Libraries
Gisele is the Head of the Music Library. She is the liaison to Music, Africana Studies, Anthropology, and Sociology.
Gisele Schierhorst
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