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Thirty Variations in a Student’s Hand: A Manuscript Copy of the Goldberg Variations


Brown, marbled cardboard cover.

Front cover of the Goldberg Variations copyist manuscript held by Harvard Library, Mus 627.1.438.20.

The Music Library recently acquired a manuscript of the Goldberg Variations, BWV 988, in the hand of Bach’s last pupil, the organist, composer, and teacher Johann Christian Kittel (1732-1809). Kittel was born and died in Erfurt, Germany, and also spent time in Leipzig. He copied this manuscript between 1770 and 1790 and included a written homage to Bach, non plus ultra, which translates to nothing further beyond in Latin.

non plus ultra in black ink

Homage to Bach, ‘non plus ultra.’

A later inscription at the foot of title in an unknown hand states, Andenken seines besten Schülers, J. Chr. Kittels, translated, In memory of his best student, J. Chr. Kittel. Manuscript No. 1109 is written on the inside front cover in pencil, manuscript [illegible] 10 is written in blue crayon to back pastedown. The notations are in black ink on 10-stave rastrum-ruled wove, white paper.

In memory of his best student J. Chr. Kittels in black ink

A later inscription includes ‘Andenken seines besten Schülers, J. Chr. Kittels’

Given its name from the German harpsichordist and organist Johann Gottlieb Goldberg, the piece consists of an aria and 30 variations. The final variation is a quodlibet consisting of lighthearted melodies based on German folksongs, most likely intended to be humorous. It is thought that the first printed edition in 1741 of the Goldberg Variations consisted of approximately 100 copies; of these, only 19 are known to have survived to this day. A number of manuscript copies based on the printed edition (also known as copyist manuscripts) were made after Bach’s death in 1750. Copyist manuscripts of music are reproductions made by someone other than the composer and were often created by students who created these copies for their own study. Kittel is known to have made two such copies of this work, one in ca. 1750-60 and the present copy dating from ca. 1770 or later, which appears to have been made from his own first copy.

Arguably one of the most interesting elements of the manuscript is its provenance, which includes where the score originated, its lineage, and how it has been cared for. The complete ownership, without any gaps, is known for this manuscript consequently contributing to its value.

Early 19th century Bach manuscript collector and first to attempt a catalog of Bach’s works; Director of the Munich Conservatory from 1846-1864.

Private collector of music manuscripts in Berlin; listed in June 1929 in the auction catalog Wolffheim II (catalog number 1109) by Breslauer-Leipmanssohn.

Purchased from Wolffheim auction.

Received as a gift from father-in-law Adolf Busch; placed it on long-term loan (1975-1991) with Houghton Library at Harvard.

Rudolf’s son; the manuscript was sold after his death.

For additional information on the importance of the manuscript, take a look at this video by musicologist and J.S. Bach scholar Christoph Wolff. This video was originally created for a reception held at the Loeb Music Library showcasing the purchase of this manuscript.


Bach, Johann Sebastian, and Johann Christian Kittel. 1770. Vierter Theil Der Clavier-Uebung Bestehend in Einer Aria Mit Verschiedenen Veränderungen: Vors Clavicimbal Mit Zweÿ Manualen. Erfurt].

Hauser, Franz. 1860. Johann Sebastian Bach’s Saemtliche Werke : thematisch verzeichnet mit Ausgabe der bisher im Druck erschienenen und ihrer Verleger, der Besitzer der Autografa und gleichzeitiger Abschriften. 1860.

Herz, Gerhard. 1983. Bach Sources in America. New York: American Choral Foundation, 241-245.

Welcome (back), Professor Eileen Southern

Eileen Southern, a Black woman who was a professor at Harvard University, is depicted. Professor Southern is wearing a white short-sleeved blouse smiles at the camera. Her body is turned away.

Portrait of Professor Eileen Southern. Lilian Kemp. August 4, 1986. Radcliffe College Archives PC 479-1-2.

On your next visit to the Eda Kuhn Loeb Music Library, take the stone steps to the second and third floors. In the stairwell, you’ll be greeted by three striking portraits of Eileen Southern (1920-2002), a professor in Harvard University’s Department of Music and Department of Afro-American Studies from 1974 to 1986. Professor Southern’s book The Music of Black Americans: A History, now in its third edition and most recently reprinted in 2022, essentially created a new academic subfield — Black music studies.

Eileen Southern, a Black woman who was a professor at Harvard University, is depicted. She is sitting at a conference table. Her book The Music of Black Americans rests in front of her. She is wearing a sleeveless dress and a printed blouse. Professor Southern is smiling.

Portrait of Eileen Southern. Martha Stewart. [197-?] Radcliffe College Archives PC 479-1-1. Image ID 4120734.

These portraits were discovered in a HOLLIS Images search for “Eileen Southern.” HOLLIS Images brings together image content from archives, museums, libraries and other collections across Harvard. High-quality images are readily available to view and download.

Eileen Southern, a Black woman who was a professor at Harvard University, is depicted. Professor Southern is smiling and laughing. She is standing in front of a chalkboard. Professor Southern is wearing a two-piece suit.

Professor Eileen Southern Standing in Front of a Chalk Board. Photographer unknown. [1976?] Radcliffe College Archives PC 479-1-4. Image ID 29864970.

Professor Southern’s childhood in Minnesota, her studies at the University of Chicago and New York University, her years of teaching at HBCUs, and her deep and innovative study of early European music and African American music are described on Eileen Southern and The Music of Black Americans, a digital exhibition created by Harvard students, faculty and staff.

Three black-and-white framed photographs are mounted on a wall. They depict Professor Eileen Southern, a faculty member at Harvard University. Professor Southern was a Black woman.

Three portraits of Professor Eileen Southern line a stairwell of the Loeb Music Library.

Contributed by Christina Linklater, Keeper of the Isham Memorial Library and Houghton Music Cataloger. Christina Linklater was co-director of the Eileen Southern Initiative.

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