Old-Bachian Archive

Musical Family Album

The so-called “Altbachisches Archiv” (Old-Bachian Archive) comprises over twenty motets, choir pieces and cantatas by older members of the Bach family. The autographs of these wonderful compositions by the Bach family had been considered lost for decades. In order to protect the music collections in Berlin from bombing during WWII, they were packed into crates together with the library holdings of the Berlin Sing-Akademie and brought to Ullersdorf Castle in Lower Silesia. After the war, all traces of their whereabouts were lost. It wasn’t until shortly before the turn of the millennium that the Bach researcher Christoph Wolff rediscovered the collection in Kiev. In 2001, the yellowed autographs, now over 300 years old, were returned to Germany. In two printed editions, the music had been accessible to the public as early as 1935, but the original manuscripts offered new insights to many Bach scholars.

The collection probably originated in Arnstadt and later came into Johann Sebastian Bach’s possession in Leipzig. He was sorting out the compositions of his ancestors there, lovingly produced new covers, supplemented parts, corrected mistakes, and began to perform several of the works, including those of his great-uncle JohannChristoph Bach. Most of the works in the “Old-Bachian Archive” are by Johann Christoph Bach and his brother Johann Michael (“Gehren-Bach”, Johann Sebastian Bach’s later father-in-law). Among the twenty original manuscripts, the birthday cantata by Georg Christoph Bach stands out in particular, because the manuscript has a title page ornamented with clover-leaves, a lock and triangles. It was inspired by Georg Christoph’s joyful reunion with his twin brothers, Johann Ambrosius and Johann Christoph in Schweinfurt.

After the death of Johann Sebastian Bach, the “Altbachisches Archiv” remained in the possession of the family, being passed on to the son of Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach, and later it arrived at the newly founded archive of the Berlin Sing-Akademie. After its rediscovery of the original manuscripts, the “Altbachisches Archiv” has been given new life. In the meantime, along with Johann Sebastian Bach’s oeuvre, the vocal compositions of his ancestors have become part of the repertoire for many concerts and Bach festivals all over Thuringia.