manuscript lab


Reconstruction of the history of a manuscript:
chronology and “Händescheidung”


Case Study: J.S. Bach "Mass in B minor"


The Mass in B Minor (BWV 232, National library in Berlin) is a musical setting (or more formally a missa tota) by Johann Sebastian Bach of the Latin Mass. Although parts of the Mass in B minor date to 1724 (and model for one parody even dates to to 1714), the whole was assembled in its present form in 1749, just before the composer's death in 1750. After the death of Johann Sebastian, the composition came to his son, Carl Phillip Emanuel. He studied the Mass in B Minor and dealt intensively with his father’s composition . The manuscript contains various corrections and amendments. Graphological details show that most of these changes can be ascribed to Johann Sebastian Bach or Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach. In addition, the manuscript exhibits a number of rests and slurs whose correct attribution was not possible. With the help of XRF, it was possible to distinguish different inks; the most important difference between Johann Sebastian’s and Carl Phillip Emanuel’s inks is the presence of lead sulfate in the inks used by Johann Sebastian Bach, probably coming from the transportation of tap water in lead pipes. The inks used by Carl Phillip Emanuel exhibit no lead content (Wolf et al. 2009).


Investigation with XRF, National Library Berlin, © restoration department