A manuscript of one of Bach's late cantatas has sold for a season-record price of £337,250 at Christie's in London.
The manuscript, which sold to a private collector in the US, is the Taille (tenor oboe) part for Ich liebe den Höchsten von ganzem Gemüte, BWV 174, and is the first example of Bach’s musical hand to appear on the open market for 16 years. It shows the script of two of Bach’s copyists - probably his pupil Samuel Gottleib Heder and another, known only as ‘Anonymous IV’ - in the early movements, with Bach’s own unmistakable handwriting appearing for the final chorale (the Passion chorale of Martin Schalling, used five years earlier in the St John Passion). It is a fascinating insight into Bach’s working practises, coming, as it did, in 1729 – mid-way through his period as kapellmeister at the Thomasschule, a job he combined with directing the music at the principal churches in Leipzig.
Bach manuscripts were previously relatively frequent performers on the auction stage: in the 1980s and '90s manuscript sales were known to offer three or more full autograph scores of Bach. Now, however, his appearances are far rarer, and this auction has been one of a shrinking number of opportunities to see the confident sweep of Bach’s handwriting on the page.
‘With all manuscript material, as with Old Master Pictures, there are fewer examples in circulation,’ says Margaret Ford, head of the Printed Books and Manuscripts department. ‘This year Christie’s will be exhibiting the best of what it is offering for sale, and the Bach will be one of two manuscript lots that will be part of that. There will be Degas, Rodin, Picasso and Bach. That just shows its rarity, and the recognition it deserves.’
Thomas Venning, director and senior specialist, agrees: 'The result reflects a very buoyant market for autograph manuscripts in which collectors are focusing more on the towering figures who have shaped European culture.'