Bach - a musical bookplate-cryptogram in music notation

by Peter Rath

art002-01It is not always simple for an exlibris artist to present the multitude of biographic references, like occupation, the tendencies and the hobbies of the commission provider all in one place. Again and again the owners of exlibris wish to state and show their homage and dedication to a person of literature, the arts, or from music.

For the artist there are numerous possibilities to fulfill such a wish, perhaps with a portrait of the honored person, through a quotation from their literary works, or if it is about a composer, maybe through musical notation from one of their compositions. One interesting form of this, to indicate the reference to a composer or musician, is found on musical bookplates on which a sequence of notation as the minimal musical reference, the motif -provides further information, and relates thus specifically the name of the honored person himself.

In this way, the note sequence of B-A-C-H not only demonstrates the owner’s love for music, but refers to, when one reads the musical notes as letters, making up the name of the especially treasured composer – Johann Sebastian Bach. The puzzle-game with the notes B-A-C-H originates from the composer himself. Johann Sebastian Bach himself has composed a Prelude with Fugue (BWV 898), and from then on, there are an unbelievable number of compositions which, to honor him, apply his name as a musical motif. In this way it is quite understandable that exlibris collectors will be keen and able to feel attachment through this musical cryptogram and its relation to Bach’s music*
An especially beautiful example for this is the bookplate for Hermine Freiberger by Hans Schaefer. The etching shows the portrait of J. S. Bach, framed by the initial F is the famous notation line on the left above. The text "For the happy Event 1963" indicates the birth of Hermine Freiberger’s daughter, Edith in that year. Hermine Freiberger was born in Munich, sang in the Bach-Choir in Munich under the direction of Karl Marx. Even though she had no professional vocal training, she was still allowed to accept and sing solo parts. A few years before the Second World War she moved to Bayreuth, and in 1951 she took part as a member of the choir in the reopening of the Bayreuth Festspiele with the Ninth Symphony of Beethoven, led by Wilhelm Furtwängler.*
*Translator’s Note: The H is a musical letter in the German notation. Its English equivalent is a B, thus H mol is an B.