Bach Digital Commemorates the 250th Anniversary of Johann Sebastian Bach's Death

Original Hand-Written Scores, Manuscripts Available for the First Time

Select a topic or year

<span style="font - 24 Jul 2000: -- In the 250 years since his death, Johann Sebastian Bach has come to be considered arguably the greatest composer of all time. Selections from The Well-Tempered Clavier and The Brandenberg Concerto have been sent forth into space on the Voyager space craft as the best human culture has to offer. While Bach was alive, however, a debate was launched on what Bach's spokesman and contemporary Johann Abraham Birnbaum called the "extraordinary perfections" of his music. Because performances could deceive, said Birnbaum, the ultimate judgement would be to "view the work as it has been set down in notes." The score alone, as Bach himself believed, offered the only reliable means of truly recognizing musical perfection.

Now on July 28th, the sesquicentennial anniversary of Bach's death, the public worldwide will have the unprecedented opportunity to do just that. IBM and the State Library in Berlin, in collaboration with eight other institutions, have joined together to unveil the Bach Digital Project, perhaps the most remarkable Web site devoted solely to a single composer and his work. (Collaborating institutions include the Bach Archive, the University of Leipzig, the British Library in London, the Saxon State Library, the State and University Library in Dresden, the University of Jena, and the International Bach Academy in Stuttgart.)

Bach Digital is a digital database of Bach's original handwritten manuscripts and select musical scores, created for their permanent preservation, their safe distribution and for study of the documents by music and history lovers and the general public. The Bach Digital Library will bring together in one virtual library most of Bach's existing hand-written scores for the first time ever, and in a format that will be easily accessible to the public world wide at

"The Bach Digital Project is incredible," says Helmuth Rilling, conductor, and director of the International Bach Academy. "Now you actually have the opportunity to see the handwriting for yourself. You do not have to travel to a library, even though Bach's work is scattered all over the world. Now you can find it, see it, even enlarge it. Here are incredible opportunities to delve more deeply into Bach's music. And it is available not only to any musician, but also for any Bach fan."

The Internet launch of the Bach Digital Project will coincide with a worldwide live television broadcast of the historical commemorative concert of Bach's Mass in b-minor from the Thomas Church in Bach's hometown of Leipzig. Viewers will be able to simultaneously follow the performed musical score, while visitors to will view digitized images of the original handwritten scores. To musicologists and the public, the Bach Digital Project will provide a new way to view and appreciate unique and historic works of music in the electronic media. More than 40 TV stations internationally will transmit the interplay of Internet and television in a TV special--24 hours Bach, produced by EuroArts Entertainment and sponsored by IBM.

From Restoration to Digitalization

In the 250 years since Bach's death, his music first passed out of fashion "considered too challenging and confusing for the general public" before being revived by the great musicians of the 19th century. Johannes Brahms, for instance, described the two most significant events of the 19th century as "the foundation of the German Reich in 1871 and the publication of the works of Johann Sebastian Bach."

But the intervening 250 years also saw Bach's hand-written scores scattered throughout the world-first sold by family members and then swept off by the World Wars. The State Library in Berlin now holds some 80 percent of the originals, but even those, valued at $300 million, rest behind heavily guarded steel doors. Among the 8,000 sheets are the hand-written scores for such masterworks as the Well-tempered Clavier, the Mass in B Minor, and the Art of the Fugue. Smaller collections can be found in the Bibliotheka Jagellionska in Cracow, the Bach Archive in Leipzig, the International Bach Academy in Stuttgart and in other libraries and among private owners.

The Bach Digital Project represents the culmination of years of effort to locate original Bach manuscripts, many of which would have been lost forever were they not physically restored and then digitally preserved through a unique scanning process developed by IBM and undertaken with the assistance of the Association of the Friends of the National Library in Berlin (Freunde der Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin).

While the document restoration work is being performed by the Leipzig Center for Book Preservation, with IBM sponsorship, the Digital Library was created by the IBM Development Laboratory in Böblingen, Germany. Slides are taken of the hand-written scores before and after the restoration process. These are then subjected to stringent quality control and attached to a drum scanner. A halogen light scans the slides line by line with such remarkable resolution that even the finest grains of the document are captured in the scanning process. After scanning, the color of the digital images are compared with the original slides and any necessary corrections are made.

The distributed digital library was then created using the IBM Digital Library Content Manager, which guarantees the greatest possible data safety while ensuring flexible data management. Each institute retains administrative control over its documents, while allowing users central access over the Internet to the Back Digital server. The end result is a virtual joining of the great proportion of all existing Bach hand-written documents with easy access to Bach experts and the interest public world-wide. The most important example of this is the W ell Tempered Clavier, the two-parts of which have been separated since Bach was alive but can now be viewed as a single whole. The digitized scores are protected with a visible watermark and are stored in the database in various graphic formats with different resolutions and sizes. The Bach Digital project also integrates the hand-written scores with sound samples and photos of contemporary musical instruments.

The Internet makes it possible to distribute and use selected manuscripts for scientific and interpretational purposes, as well as for TV transmissions and other media uses. IBM has installed the Digital Library in the National Library in Berlin and provided the necessary training to the library staff. The technical support for the central IBM RS/6000 server is provided by the University of Leipzig. With the cooperation of music publishers, IBM and the National Library in Berlin will enhance the database with relevant printed notes. Plans are also in the work to record Bach's music and make it accessible from Bach Digital in MP3 format. The Bach Digital partners are also considering the possibility of including on the web site the most important Bach interpretations from vinyl, CD, or video. Using IBM's Electronic Music Management System, it would then be possible to distribute the music through the Internet without violating legal and intellectual property rights.

The Web site - the Window on Bach

Created by IBM and designed by Euroarts, provides a new way to access and understand the music of Bach. Visitors to the site will find an electronic tour guide that will lead them through the web pages and enable them to make the best use of all available knowledge about the Bach heritage. A link called Bach Autographs leads the Internet visitor to the priceless original manuscripts, many of which are retrievable in two different forms - before and after restoration. The web site also includes links to additional web pages on the history and culture of Bach's world. The Bach Digital Project also plans to set up PC-based kiosks at associated institutions where visitors can access the website.

With the live transmission of the Mass in B Minor and the opening of the Bach Digital Project, virtual users will also be able to participate in the costly restoration of the manuscripts by making a donation via the Internet. Bach Digital will also include a digital museum shop, through which vistors can purchase copies of the digitized hand-written manuscripts.

Bach Digital - Music of the Future?

This unique project opens up a unique set of opportunities for Bach lovers and those new to Bach to become familiar with this great composer through access to the original documents, manuscripts and scores, both before and after restoration, and, to experience and compare all of the available works in both audio and video.

# # #

Related XML feeds
Topics XML feeds
Information Management, Lotus, Tivoli, Rational, WebSphere, Open standards, open source