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Circulation of scores in the 17th & 18th Centuries

Nick Bennett

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My expertise here lies more in Choral than Organ, but I would expect the dissemination process to be similar.


In the case of choral music it would seem that usually a score was sent (on request to either the composer or an institution), copied into part books (not always copied in score) and returned. Of course, it wasn't always the original MS that was sent - it might be a copy by the composer for the purpose, or some other copy, possibly scored up from a set of part books! There are some - notably examples of scores being copied, notably Hawkins' scores at Ely and Tudway's collection for Lord Harley.


Others may advise better for organ music, but I would imagine that either the original or a copy made for the purpose of being sent around to various petitioners would be sent and returned.


It is easy to imagine Organists, Composers and Gentlemen of the Chapel Royal facilitating this process, mostly being in waiting on alternate months and otherwise returning to their home institution(s).


Edit: Should have made clear that this reply is particularly aimed at English music...

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How exactly did this work? Obviously, music was copied by hand, but how did people get hold of it to copy? In particular, did it come to you or did you have to go to it? I rather imagine it was the latter, but am I right there?

I used to learn a lot from this essay:


Robert Hill, ""Der Himmel weiss, wo diese Sachen hingekommen sind": Reconstructing the Lost Clavier Books of the Young Bach and Handel." In: P.Williams, Ed., Bach, Handel, Scarlatti: Tercentenary Essays. Cambridge, 1985, 161-172.


Robert Hill's point of departure is the famous "moonshine manuscript" story about Bach secretly copying down keyboard music from his brother's collection and, being found out by an enraged Johann Christoph, losing it again.


In short, when a young keyboard player was accepted as a student by a master teacher, he generally started two manuscript collections: one with cantus-firmus-related music for use in church, and another with free pieces, such as dances, suites, toccatas, variations etc. According to the student's progress, he copied pieces from his master's collection, paying the master a fee for each copy. Hence, a manuscript thus composed added up to a major investment from the student's side, and a return for the master.


We know that JSB's brother Johann Christoph of Ohrdruf studied with Pachelbel at Erfurt. From what CPE Bach related to Forkel, the "moonshine manuscript" contained music by Froberger, Kerll and other South-German masters Pachelbel might have had met when living in Nürnberg, Regensburg and Vienna. So this may very well have been the collection Johann Christoph had copied, and paid for, when studying with Pachelbel. This would explain why he kept it locked-in -- it was literally worth a good amount of money, and Johann Christoph did not want the music to circulate freely, but if possible to sell it piece by piece, just as he had aquired it.


The Bach family literally formed a large network for relating and copying keyboard and other music, and maintained contact to important figures in music around 1700, such as Pachelbel, Böhm, Buxtehude, Reincken etc. JSB himself very well might have been the single source for much of the North-German repertoire, which he copied when he was a student at Lüneburg (quite close Hamburg, Stade, Lübeck etc.) and a visiting musician with Buxtehude on leave (or not) from Arnstadt. Many North-German pieces turn up in the so-called Andreas-Bach-Buch, which was most probably collected by Johann Christoph of Ohrdruf, and the nearest connection to the North was the latter's gifted younger brother.


Then, there is the story of the Weimar prince Johann Ernst who brought back, from his visit to Amsterdam, many scores of Italian concerto music, which provided a fascinating source for the like of Johann Gottfried Walther and his cousin JS Bach. Amsterdam was, around 1700, a centre of printed music -- illegally printed in many instances, but nevertheless invaluable for musicians in the area and visiting it.


In a few words: You had to know people who knew people etc., and to keep ready paper, quill, and your money.




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