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.
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.
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.
- Franz Hauser (1794-1870), operatic bass and voice teacher
Early 19th century Bach manuscript collector and first to attempt a catalog of Bach’s works; Director of the Munich Conservatory from 1846-1864.
- Dr. Werner Wolffheim (1877-1930), German lawyer and musicologist
Private collector of music manuscripts in Berlin; listed in June 1929 in the auction catalog Wolffheim II (catalog number 1109) by Breslauer-Leipmanssohn.
- Adolf Busch (1891-1952), German-Swiss violinist
Purchased from Wolffheim auction.
- Rudolf Serkin (1903-1991), Austrian-American pianist
Received as a gift from father-in-law Adolf Busch; placed it on long-term loan (1975-1991) with Houghton Library at Harvard.
- Peter Serkin (1947-2020), American pianist
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.