Wednesday, 19 December 2012

Lost but not forgotten

Manuscript of soprano aria from Bach's Cantata BWV 105
Aria from BWV105
I read recently that when J.S.Bach died the manuscripts of his cantatas were divided up between W.F Bach and C.P.E.Bach. C.P.E. Bach carefully preserved his and it is those that form the basis of the cantatas that we known today.  The other batch were eventually auctioned off, and have never been seen since. Leaving us with the possibility that somewhere in a library there are a batch of uncatalogued unknown Bach cantatas. It is one of those fascinating things isn't it, the possibility of lost masterpieces being uncovered.

We have had works re-discovered recently, though none quite on the scale of an entirely unknown Bach cantata. There was the premiere of a piano work by Beethoven this year (see blog posting) and a Bach aria and some organ pieces were discovered a few years ago. Handel's Gloria was re-attributed to him and a batch of sonatas by Vivaldi were re-discovered in a Manchester Library.


But we have not had a discovered on the scale of the Staffordshire Hoard, one which causes us to re-evaluate the composer. There are pieces which have been lost, which it would be fascinating to see again such as Monteverdi's opera L'Arianna which was highly popular in its day, and was composed for a festive ducal occasion in Mantua following Orfeo. Monteverdi wrote other operas during his Mantuan period, but most were abortive projects with the possibility that the music may never have survived.. But you never know.

Two of Monteverdi's later operas for Venice have also disappeared Propserpina Rapita and Le nozze d'Enea con Lavinia. These were actually performed during Monteverdi's lifetime, which means that performing material had to be created; all has disappeared.

Another lost opera is Schutz's Dafne, the first German opera, performed in 1627. Though having long been considered a lost singspiel where only the libretto survives, modern scholars are now considering that it might actually have been simply a play with music. If only that damned manuscript would turn up! There are two other Schutz stage works which are lost, the the ballet Orpheus und Eurydike and the sing-ballet Paris und Helena.

The arias for one of Teleman's Leipzig operas showed up simply because they had been copied, without attribution, and needed a bit a clever scholarship to re-attribute them. This is what happened to the Handel Gloria which re-appeared, it had been long known but had lacked the scholarship to convince that it was by Handel.

Scholars perhaps, would be more interested in composer's early works and the sketches turning up. These can in fact tell us a lot more. There is a book of Handel's early exercises from Halle which seems to have existed but has disappeared. The recent Bach organ music, teenage copyings of Buxtehude and others, in fact tells scholars a lot more than a new aria.

There are some works which are known, but where the discovery of the autograph, with its original dedication would tell us a lot. In the baroque period particularly, the dedications of works can tell you a lot about them. So the discovery of a presentation copy Purcell's Dido and Aeneas would be extremely helpful in filling in the gaps in the work's history, even if we did not gain much actual music. And similarly with Tallis's Spem in alium, a work which we have to rely on manuscript and recollections from long after the premiere.

There are still things to be found and perhaps one day, one of those lost masterpieces will turn up.
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