Belfast, 2-4 November 2007


How relevant are Counts Sporck and Questenberg in the genesis and early reception of the B-Minor Mass?

Michael Maul

(Bach-Archiv Leipzig, Germany)

When reflecting on the early reception of Bach’s B-Minor Mass, those areas of the German Reich which were committed to the Catholic denomination, especially the Kingdom of Bohemia and the Margravate of Moravia, will be of particular interest to the researcher.

As we know from Bach’s note on the score of the Sanctus BWV 232/III – “NB. Die Parteyen sind in Böhmen bey Graff Sporck” – the Bohemian Count Franz Anton von Sporck borrowed the original parts from Bach in the 1720s and likely organized performances of this work in his residence in Kuks. Apart from Sporck, Bach was in touch with another Catholic nobleman, Johann Adam von Questenberg. In 1981 Alois Plichta proved that Bach and the Moravian Count, who resided in Jaromice near the city of Brno, had been in contact. However, this fact has hardly been considered so far. A correspondence between a student of the University of Leipzig and Questenberg, dated April 1749, indicates that the Moravian Count obviously contacted Bach at that time. Unfortunately, this letter has come down to us without any particular details about Questenberg’s request. The Count was a passionate lutenist and an opera lover so he might have asked Bach to send him some instrumental music. Interestingly enough, the mysterious letter was written just when Bach was working on the completion of his B-Minor Mass – a fact that led Christoph Wolff to assume that Questenberg might even have been the initiator of this project. This would easily provide an explanation as to why a Protestant Cantor of St. Thomas’ in Leipzig would create such a large-scale work that was only suitable for a Catholic service.

For a long time, important records referring to Questenberg and Sporck were kept behind a locked door, which made research on the Counts’ musical activities extremely difficult. During the course of a project run by the Bach-Archiv Leipzig focusing on the systematic and large-scale exploration of archives relevant to the life and work of Bach, I began to reappraise this “Grauzone in Bachs Biographie” (C. Wolff) as a result of the discovery and analysis of records referring to both Questenberg and Sporck in several archives in the Czech Republic. The large amount of records found in Bohemia and Moravia provide unknown and detailed information not only about the capacity and standard of the Dukes’ orchestras but also about the musical preferences of Sporck and Questenberg. Eventually, the exploration of the Counts’ biographies will lead to a better understanding of the origins of their connection to Bach.

Last updated on 24 June 2007