The Rudorff Collection
by James Kibbie

During the Bach tercentennial year of 1985, Christoph Wolff announced his authentication of 33 previously unknown organ chorales by Johann Sebastian Bach which had been preserved in the Neumeister Manuscript, housed at the Yale University Library. This discovery created something of a sensation and touched off an international search for other overlooked Bach manuscripts.

In the Music Library of Bach's own city of Leipzig, now more accessible for research thanks to German reunification, scholars were rewarded with the discovery of the Rudorff Collection, containing five unknown organ works by Bach, a variant of a previously known chorale (BWV 743), and a work by Bach's friend and admirer J. P. Kellner. These works have now been published in the authoritative Bärenreiter Bach series (BA 5169), edited by Franz Haselböck. The editor's notes, translated by J. Bradford Robinson, describe how the collection was found in a blue folder bearing a title written by none other than Felix Mendelssohn:

Chorale preludes and figured chorales for the organ

The manuscripts had been assembled by the Leipzig musician Ernst Friedrich Karl Rudorff (1840-1916), who had added the following note to Mendelssohn's title:

title in the hand of Felix Mendelssohn, who, as a young man, sorted the Bach autographs and manuscript copies at the home of my grandfather Pistor. --E.R.

Ernst Rudorff also wrote the following provenance for the manuscripts:

In the early years of this century [i.e., the 19th], my grandfather, the privy postal councillor Carl Pistor, acquired at auction a collection of musical manuscripts and prints deriving at one remove from the estate of [Wilhelm] Friedemann Bach. Another who took part in the bidding was Zelter, who, after my grandfather had acquired these objects, applied to him the next morning with a request to relinquish the manuscripts to him at their auctioned price. This request was turned down.

The five previously unknown chorales of the Rudorff Collection are similar in style to the chorales of the Neumeister Manuscript and, like them, probably date from Bach's earliest years as a composer.

© 1999 by James Kibbie. All rights reserved