Johann Sebastian Bach: His Life, Art, and Work
Johann Sebastian Bach: His Life, Art, and Work is an early 19th century biography of Johann Sebastian Bach, written in German by Johann Nikolaus Forkel, and later translated by, among others, Charles Sanford Terry.
When Forkel published his Ueber Johann Sebastian Bachs Leben, Kunst und Kunstwerke: Für patriotische Verehrer echter musikalischer Kunst in 1802 it was the first biography on the composer published as a separate book. Forkel dedicated the work to Gottfried van Swieten. Van Swieten was an early Bach adept, for instance making Mozart familiar with the baroque composer.
Bach biography before Forkel
The best known predecessor of Forkel's biography was Bach's Obituary, the "Nekrolog", an article of less than 20 pages published a few years after the composer's death in 1750. Short biographies in reference works that appeared before Forkel's biography mostly derived from the "Nekrolog".
For the content of his biography, Forkel relied on the "Nekrolog", and on material he had obtained from Bach's sons Carl Philipp Emanuel and Wilhelm Friedemann. To that Forkel added his own interpretations and evaluations of Bach's art. Forkel saw his biography also as a vehicle for German nationalist feelings.
Forkel gives most attention to Bach's keyboard music. The biographical description of Bach's last tenure in Leipzig is almost entirely neglected, and no attention is given to the church music Bach wrote in the first two decades of that period.
Editions and translations
A second edition of Forkel's biography was issued by Peters in 1855. By the early 20th century, when Charles Sanford Terry produced his translation of the biography, scholarship on Bach had progressed, so Terry supplemented his translation with extensive footnotes, clarifications and appendices, and even expanded the text of some of the chapters.
- "Nekrolog", 1754
- Philipp Spitta. Johann Sebastian Bach: His Work and Influence on the Music of Germany, 1685–1750. Novello & Co. 1899, I, pp. ii–iii
- Forkel/Terry 1920, Introduction
- Forkel/Terry 1920, footnote 1 p. 22
- Forkel 1925, 1946
- Forkel 1999
- A.-E. Cherbuliez. Johann Sebastian Bach: Sein Leben und sein Werk. Olten: Otto Walter, 1946, p. 13
- Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach and Johann Friedrich Agricola. "Nekrolog" (full title: "VI. Denkmal dreyer verstorbenen Mitglieder der Societät der musikalischen Wissenschafften; C. Der dritte und letzte ist der im Orgelspielen Weltberühmte HochEdle Herr Johann Sebastian Bach, Königlich-Pohlnischer und Churfürstlich Sächsicher Hofcompositeur, und Musikdirector in Leipzig"), pp. 158–176 in Lorenz Christoph Mizler's Musikalische Bibliothek, Volume IV No. 1. Leipzig, Mizlerischer Bücherverlag, 1754.
- Johann Nikolaus Forkel. Ueber Johann Sebastian Bachs Leben, Kunst und Kunstwerke: Für patriotische Verehrer echter musikalischer Kunst. Leipzig: Hoffmeister und Kühnel. 1802.
- First published translation: Life of John Sebastian Bach: with a Critical View of his Compositions. By J. N. Forkel, Author of The Complete History of Music, etc., etc. Translated from the German. London: Printed for T. Boosey and Co., Holles-Street, Cavendish-Square. 1820. OCLC 6676153
- Second German edition: Leipzig: C. F. Peters, 1855. (at HathiTrust)
- English translation with notes and appendices by Charles Sanford Terry: Johann Sebastian Bach: His Life, Art, and Work New York: Harcourt, Brace and Howe; London: Constable. 1920. (e-version at Gutenberg.org)
- Edited by Josef M. Müller-Blattau (introduction, extensive epilogue): Bärenreiter, 1925. OCLC 867532087
- Edited by Max Friedrich Schneider (notes and appendices based on, among others, Terry's Bach biography): Über Joh. Seb. Bachs Leben, Kunst und Kunstwerke. Basel: Hardimann. 1946. OCLC 884470080, 600527458
- Translated as "On Johann Sebastian Bach's Life, Genius, and Works" in The New Bach Reader: A Life of Johann Sebastian Bach in Letters and Documents, edited by Hans T. David, Arthur Mendel and Christoph Wolff. W. W. Norton, 1999. ISBN 9780393319569