Expedition Bach

Traces of the Bach Family in Central German Archives

The »Expedition Bach« project, which was promoted by Gerda Henkel Stiftung, is concerned with the systematic inspection of historical file inventories in state, municipal, and church archives in the regions of Saxony and Thuringia and it endeavors to process the relevant documents. The contact people for this project are Peter Wollny and Michael Maul.

In 2002 the Leipzig Bach-Archiv started an ambitions research project: a systematic survey of Bach documents in all of the almost 400 cities of historic Central Germany. Up until now, researchers had considered mainly the cities where Bach worked; elsewhere, evaluations of organs by Bach, testimonials, or evidence of his guest performances had appeared earlier by chance. After ten years working on the project (as of 2012), 300,000 kilometers driven, and thousands of looked through stacks of files in approximately 310 cities, the ongoing project is finally starting to see results. They range from significant documents on period reception of Bach to the spectacular find of an autograph of the Weimar Bach aria »Alles mit Gott und nichts ohn’ ihn« BWV 1127 (discovered in May 2005), the earliest handwritten sheet music of Bach (presented in August 2006), the earliest surviving works of Bach's son Carl Philipp Emanuel (found in 2010), and the rediscovery of long-lost student register of the Leipzig St. Thomas Choir School (2012). The latter finds have had a hand in making the project an international undertaking.

Although at the beginning of the project no one even dared to predict that we would discover an unknown Bach work—the last discovery in the field of keyboard music was in the 1980’s, and in the field of vocal work one must look back 70 years—such a possibility was kept in mind, that even in seemingly »grazed« libraries, as well as in remote archives, undiscovered Bachiana could still be hidden. And so we give ourselves to the legitimate hope that the patient survey of historical sources combined with decent circumstances and a generous portion of good luck, Bach works and documents that are believed to have been lost or whose existence isn’t even known will be brought to light.

Since grueling survey work doesn’t often yield any Bach findings at a particular location, all documents relevant to music history, such as music supplies, letters by musicians, organ building records, or materials on the performance practice of the time before 1800 are collected and evaluated. With several publications reporting on promising discoveries, documents of other important composers like Heinrich Schütz, Samuel Scheidt, or Johann Friedrich Fasch were already able to be presented. Most of the results of the project will eventually accumulate in a directory of the cantors and organists in the cities of the historic Central Germany (1517-1800).