Bach, Johann Sebastian. (1685–1750) [Kittel, Johann Christian. (1732–1809)]

The Goldberg Variations - An Important Manuscript Copy by Bach's Last Important Student

Contemporary manuscript of the "Goldberg" Variations, BWV 988, in the hand of Bach's pupil Johann Christian Kittel, notated in brown ink on up to ten staves per page, the staves ruled with a rastrum, with attractive calligraphic titles and titlepage: "VIERTER THEIL DER CLAVIER=UBUNG BESTEHEND IN EINER ARIA MIT VERSCHIEDENEN VERANDERUNGEN VORS CLAVICIMBAL MIT ZWEY MANUALEN DENEN LIEBHABERN ZUR GEMUTHS-ERGOETZUNG VERFERTIGET VON JOHANN SEBASTIAN BACH KONIG. POLN: UND CHURFURFST. SAECHLISCHEN HOF-COMPOSITEUR CAPELL=MESITER, UND DIRECTORE CHORI MUSICI IN LEIPZIG NON PLUS ULTRA," lower right of title inscribed in another hand (translated from the German) "Remembrance / of his best pupil / J. Chr. Kittel.” Oblong folio. Title; 1 - 36 pp; 11 pp. [blank, ruled]. Contemporary marble paper boards with inset oblong oval title "IV Theil der Clavier Uebungen von Joh. Sebastian Bach." Boards somewhat rubbed, overall in very fine condition. Contained in a custom green cloth box with gilt leather title to spine. 

The "Goldberg" Variations BWV 988, comprising 30 contrapuntal variations, beginning and ending with an aria, represents the apogee of the Baroque variation form and is among Bach's most important keyboard works. This is a highly important manuscript copy of the work, accomplished by the last important pupil of Bach, Johann Christian Kittel (1732–1809).  The Goldberg Variations had appeared in print (between 1742 and 1745) as the 4th part of the Clavierübung, and probably no more than one hundred copies of the Goldberg Variations were published (of which only 19 copies are now recorded, all of which in institutional libraries). A small number of handwritten copies (with the exception of a transcription of the opening aria by Anna Magdalena Bach in her "Klavierbüchlein") were evidently based directly or indirectly on the published version, and attest to the fact that it was obviously cheaper and less troublesome though more time-consuming to copy rather than try to purchase one of these rare printed examples.  In fact Bach’s pupil Kittel is known to have made at least two of them.  As no autograph manuscript of the works exists, the present copy by his student is thus an extraordinary link with the composer. 

Johann Christian Kittel was the last important pupil of Bach.  After five years as organist in Langensalza (1751–56) he returned to his native town, Erfurt, where he became organist at the Barfüsserkirche and in 1762 Jacob Adlung’s successor as organist at the Predigerkirche, which position he held for the rest of his life.  As an indefatigable copyist Kittel amassed a huge collection of organ and clavier music, the core of which consisted of copies of music of his beloved Leipzig mentor and master.  Like Bach, Kittel was a great and influential teacher who passed Bach’s polyphonic style on to his many pupils who in turn as copyists and teachers transmitted a formidable portion of Bach’s organ and clavier music to the 19th century.

Of Kittel’s two copies of the Goldberg Variations that are in the United States, one shows on its title page his monogram “JCK” and the authentication of a later owner.  While Kittel kept this copy throughout his long life of 77 years, he presented the present other copy to a friend or pupil.  The inscription at the bottom right corner “Remembrance / of his best pupil / J. Chr. Kittel” is not written by Kittel but by the fortunate recipient and subsequent owner of this precious gift.  This handwriting, however, is neither that of his pupil J.C.H. Rinck (1770–1846) to whom Kittel had given a great number of his manuscripts nor that of his pupil and nephew Joh. Wilhelm Häusler (1747–1822). In any event, Kittel appears to have used his own other manuscript copy rather than the printed edition (which may no longer have been available to him) for the writing of his second copy of the Goldberg Variations.  It differs from the earlier copy in folio format by its oblong format, by a more economical use of space (36 against 49 pages of music), by painstaking pagination and by the expression of almost worshipful homage to his master: “non plus ultra”, with which Kittel ends the writing of his somewhat free version of Bach’s title.  The front of the cardboard binding of the manuscript bears an oval label which reads: “Part IV of the Clavier Uebungen (sic) by Joh. Sebastian Bach.”

The recipient of this manuscript was obviously a great admirer of Kittel, for his inscription refers to him, apparently without the slightest hesitation, as “Bach’s best pupil” (see bottom right of the t.p.).  This new owner has not yet been identified.  The manuscript then passed into the hands of Franz Hauser (1794–1870) who was one of the 19th century’s greatest collectors of Bach manuscripts and the first to attempt a catalogue of Bach’s works.  The manuscript was later obtained by Dr. Werner Wolffheim (1877–1930) who in his all too short life assembled the greatest private music collection in Berlin.  Although the manuscript was listed in June 1929 in the auction catalogue Wolffheim II by Breslauer-Liepmannssohn in Berlin (p. 217, No. 1109) it was not sold at the time.  After a Berlin recital in which Rudolf Serkin had played the Goldberg Variations, Wolffheim presented the manuscript to the not yet 30-year-old pianist.  It then passed to his son, the pianist Peter Serkin, and was for a period on loan to the Houghton Library at Harvard University in Cambridge, Mass., where it was catalogued under the number “fmS Mus. 165/*75M–72” (remaining still on cloth enclosure box). This is the first time the manuscript has thus appeared on the market in nearly 100 years.  (20209)


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