The Organ

The English Bach Awakening: Knowledge of J.S. Bach and his Music in England, 1750-1830; edited by Michael Kassler

The English Bach Awakening: Knowledge of J.S. Bach and his Music in England, 1750-1830; edited by Michael Kassler
(Music in 19th century Britain series). Ashgate.
ISBN 1-84014-666-4.

This book ‘concerns the introduction into England of Bach’s music and information about. Michael Kassler is not only the editor of this book, but the author of four of the eight chapters. The work begins with a Chronology of the English Bach ‘Awakening’ – a fascinating read in itself. Yo Tomita then looks at the ‘Dawn’ of this awakening as evinced by the sources of the ‘48’ in an extended and impressively thorough essay, which, amongst other things, provide a guide to all those English musicians and composers who had an association with Bach’s music during the period in question. Kassler then looks at the English translations of Forkel’s biography of Bach, also giving much information and commentary on the music circles of the period. He follows this with a chapter on the theorist A.F.C. Kollmann and his commentary on Bach’s Chromatic Fantasy. Philip Olleson then looks at Samuel Wesley’s role in the ‘awakening’. In the next two chapters, Kassler and then Tomita look at the Wesley/Horn edition of the 48 – with fascinating insights into such areas as music publishing at the time and the ‘Bachists’ of 1810. In chapter 7 Tomita looks at Samuel Wesley as analyst of Bach’s fugues. The last chapter has Kassler studying portraits of Bach in England before 1830, with an appendix by him also on the Horn/Wesley edition of Bach’s trio sonatas. There is a person index and a separate index of Bach’s compositions mentioned in the text. There are numerous illustrations, including facsimiles and many musical examples.

This is scholarship of the highest order. I was impressed throughout by the thoroughness of the research and the excellence of the writing and production. It is a fascinating subject and the 478 pages are well worth the financial outlay. If I had a criticism it was the extensive use of footnotes with significant explanations. I was brought up in the Peter le Huray school: if it’s worth saying, it’s worth saying in the main body of the work and not a footnote! Other than that, I was very impressed indeed and recommend this book most warmly.