Andreas Sieling Berlin: ‘Capital of Bach’
Het ORGEL 96 (2000), nr. 4, 15-25 [summary]

Berlin, MarienkircheIn the middle of the 19th century, the great German poet Heinrich Heine named Berlin ‘The Capital of Bach’. Many Berlin organists were involved in the discovery and performance of the music of J.S. Bach. August Wilhelm Bach (1796-1869) was one of the most prominent amongst them. He collected old editions and manuscripts of J.S. Bach’s music. He knew other important collectors of musical sources, like Georg Pölchau and duke Von Voß. Bach was appointed organist of the Marienkirche in 1816, in 1832 he was appointed leader of the Royal Institution of Church Music.

The organ in the Marienkirche (1723) was reconstructed in the 1820s after Abbé Vogler had carried out a ‘simplification’. Bach acted as consultant to the reconstruction. The Wagner-organ was enlarged by 16- en 8-foot stops and a swell box.

A.W. Bach possessed copies of BWV 531, 533, 539, 544, 548/2 (partly autograph), 590/1 and a collection of copies by Johann Christian Kittel. His correspondence reveals that he had studied these sources thoroughly. He guarded his collection zealously and scrupulously: for instance, he did denied Mendelssohn to make a copy of BWV 533 (Mendelssohn managed to make a copy yet, aided and abetted by his student colleague Freudenberg).

In 1827, Bach led a partial performance of J.S. Bach’s B minor Mass. In 1834, a rendition of the complete composition followed. His interpretation of Bach’s organ music was characterised by the absence of registration changes; though he did change manuals, for example in the Dorian Toccata. The influence of Bach had was such that it was not until the end of the 19th century that Berlin organists managed to break away from it and introduce a more ‘modern’ interpretation of J.S. Bach’s organ music.