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The principles laid down for editing the Volumes are stated in the preface to vol. i. as follows:—The original MS. to be consulted wherever possible; and also, as of extreme importance, the separate parts, which are often either in Bach's own writing or revised and corrected by him, exhibiting notes and marks of great consequence, both as corrections and as evidence of his practical care for the performance of his music, often making the separate parts more valuable than the score itself. Where such originals are not obtainable, recourse to be had to the oldest copies, especially those by Bach's own scholars; or, in default of these, the earliest printed editions, particularly when issued during his lifetime. No conjectural readings to be admitted.

The discovery of the original MSS. is beset with difficulties. Bach's MSS., except a few which were in the hands of Kirnberger and Kittel, came first into the possession of his sons, Friedemann and Emanuel. Those entrusted to Friedemann were lost, mislaid, or sold. Emanuel, on the contrary, took the greatest care of his, and left a catalogue which has proved of material value to investigators. A portion of his collection was acquired by Nageli the publisher, of Zürich, but the principal part is now in the Berlin Imperial Library, and in that of the Joachimsthaler Gymnasium in the same city, which latter contains also the MSS. formerly belonging to Kirnberger and his pupil the Princess Anna Amalia. The library of the Thomas-School at Leipsic once contained a large number of cantatas, both in score and parts; but they were neglected by Cantor Müller (1801–9), and on his death all but a very small portion had vanished. Thus, although the bulk of the existing autographs is now to be found in Berlin, a considerable number remain widely scattered in private collections, access to which for such purposes as those of the Bach-Gesellschaft is naturally attended with much trouble.

It has been the aim of the editors, by the means just indicated, to obtain a text which should express the composer's intentions as nearly as possible. Each volume contains a preface, setting forth the sources drawn upon for the contents of the volume, and the critical method employed in dealing with them, with a host of interesting particulars on the nature and condition of the MSS., on Bach's method of writing, on his efforts to find the most perfect expression for his ideas (as shown by the incessant variations in his numerous copies of the same work), on the practical execution of Bach's music, etc., so that these prefaces may really be said to contain the sum of the present knowledge on the subject of Bach and his music in general. The 1st and 2nd years' volumes were edited by Hauptmann, the 3rd by Becker, the 4th and 6th by Rietz, the 14th by Kroll, and the rest by W. Rust, who has shown himself to the world in these prefaces the accurate indefatigable investigator which his friends have long known him to be. The following complete list of the yearly issues to the date of this article (1876) may not be unwelcome to our readers:—

1851. First Year.
Church Cantatas. Vol 1.
1. Wie schön leuchtet.
2. Ach Gott, vom Himmel
3. Ach Gott, wie manches.
4. Christ lag la Todesbanden.
5. Wo soll ich fliehen hin.
6. Bleib' bei uns.
7. Christ unser Herr.
8. Liebster Gott, wann werd' ich sterben?
9. Es ist das Heil.
10. Meine Seel' erhebt.

1852. Second Year.
Church Cantatas. Vol. 2.
11. Lobet Gott.
12. Weinen, Klagen.
13. Meine Seufzer.
14. War' Gott nicht mit uns.
15. Denn du wirst meine Seele.
16. Herr Gott dich loben wir.
17. Wer Dank opfert.
18. Gleich wie der Regen.
19. Es erhub sich ein Streit
20. O Ewigkeit, du Donnerwort.

1853. Third Year.
Clavier Works. Vol. 1.
15 Inventions and 15 Symphonies.
Pt. 1. 6 Partitas.
Pt. 2. A Concerto and a Partita.
Pt. 3. Choral-Preludes and 4 duets
Pt. 4. Air, with 30 Variations.
Toccata In F# minor.
Toccata In C minor.
Fugue in A minor.

1854. Fourth Year.
Passion Music from St. Matthew.

1856. Fifth Year.
Church Cantatas. Vol 3.
21. Ich hatte viel Bekümmerniss.
22. Jesus nahm zu sich.
23. Du wahrer Gott.
24. Ein ungefärbt Gemüthe.
25. Es ist nichts Gesundes.
26. Ach wie flüchtig.
27. Wer weiss, wie nahe mir.
28. Gottlob! nun geht.
29. Wir danken dir, Gott.
30. Freue dich, erlöste Schaar.

Christmas Oratorio. In 4 sections.

1856. Sixth Year.
Mass in B minor.

1857. Seventh Year.
Church Cantatas. Vol. 4.
31. Der Himmel lacht.
32. Liebster Jesu.
33. Allein zu dir, Herr.
34. O ewiges Feuer.
35. Geist und Seele.
36. Schwingt freudig euch.
37. Wer da glaubet.
38. Aus tiefer Noth.
39. Brich dem Hungrigeo.
40. Dazu ist erschienen.

1858. Eighth Year.
Four Masses: in F, A, G minor, and G.

1859. Ninth Year.
Chamber Music. Vol. 1.
3 Sonatas for Clavier and Flute.
Suite for Clavier and Violin.
6 Sonatas for ditto, ditto.
3 ditto for Clavier and Viola di gamba.
Sonata for Flute. Violin, and figured bass.
Ditto for 2 Violins and ditto.

1860. Tenth Year.
Church Cantatas. Vol 5.
41. Jesu, nun sei gepraiset.
42. Am Abend aber desmalbigeo.
43. Gott führet auf.
44. Sie werden euch.
45. Es ist dir gesagt.
46. Schanet doch and sehet.
47. Wer sich selbst erhöhet.
48. Ich etender Memsch.
49. Ich geh' und suche.
50. Nun ist das Heil.

1861. Eleventh Year.
Magnificat in D.
Four Sanctus', In C, D, D minor, and G.

Chamber Music. Vocal.
Phoebus and Pan.
Welchet nur, betrübte Schatten.
Amore traditore.

1862. Twelfth Year.
Passion Music from St. John.

Church Cantatas. Vol 6.
51. Jauchzet Gott.
52. Falsche Welt.
53. Schlage doch.
54. Widerstehe doch.
55. Ich armer Mensch.
56. Ich will den Kreuzstab.
57. Sellig ist der Mann.
58. Ach Gott, wie manches. (2nd version.)
59. Wer mich liebet.
60. O Ewigkeit. (2nd version.)

1863. Thirteenth Year.
Betrothal Cantatas.
Dem Gerechten muss das Licht.
Der Herr denket an uns.
Gott ist unsere Zuversicht.
Three Chorales.

Clavier Works. Vol. 2.
The French Suites.
The English Suites.

Funeral Ode on the Duchess of Saxony.

1864. Fourteenth Year.
Clavier Works. Vol. 3.
The well-tempered Clavier, complete with Appendix.

1865. Fifteenth Year.
Organ Works:
6 Sonatas.
18 Preludes and Fugues.
3 Toccatas.

1866. Sixteenth Year.
Church Cantatas. Vol. 7.
61. Nun komm, der Heiden.
62. Ibid. (2nd version.)
63. Christen, atzet diesen Tag.
64. Sehet, welch' eine Liebe.
65. Sie werden aus Saba.
66. Erfreut euch, ihr Herzen.
67. Halt' im Gedächtniss.
68. Also hat Gott die Welt.
69. Lobe den Herrn.
70. Wachet, betet, seid bereit.

1867. Seventeenth Year.
Chamber Music. Vol. 2.
Concertos for Clavier and Orchestra: D minor; E; D; A; F minor; F; G minor.
Concerto for Clavier, Flute, and Violin, with Orchestra.

1868. Eighteenth Year.
Church Cantatas. Vol. 8.
71. Gott ist mein König.
72. Alles nur nach Gottes Willem.
73. Herr, wie du willst.
74. Wer mich liebet. 2nd version.
75. Die Elenden sollen essen.
76. Die Himmel erzählen.
77. Du sollst Gott.
78. Jesu, der du meine Seele.
79. Gott der Herr ist Soon'.
80. Ein' feste Burg.

1869. Nineteenth Year.
Chamber Music. Vol. 3.
6 Concertos for various instruments, with Orchestra.

1870. Twentieth Year.
Church Cantatas. Vol. 9.
81. Jesus schläft.
82. Ich habe genug.
83. Erfreute Zeit.