The University Record, March 13, 2000

Marathon runner tackles marathon concert series of Bach compositions

By Joanne Nesbit
News and Information Services

Music Prof. James Kibbie in his running clothes as he prepares for upcoming presentations in his Bach Marathon. The ‘Bach 266’ reflects the number of individual works that will be performed over the course of his year-long series. The C.B. Fisk organ is modeled after those of Gottfried Silbermann (1683–1753) and closely resembles several of the extant 2-manual Silbermann organs, most notably that of the St. Georgen-Kirche in Rötha, Germany. Silbermann’s instruments were admired by Bach. Photo by Bob Kalmbach
Distance runner and music Prof. James Kibbie has committed to a marathon series of one-hour concerts presenting all 266 of Bach’s written compositions for solo organ. Begun in January and running through December, the series of 18 recitals commemorates the 250th anniversary of Johann Sebastian Bach’s death in 1750.

“I don’t claim to be an elite runner,” Kibbie says, “but I enjoy it and try to do as well as I can at it. I’ll train for some shorter races this summer, but the next marathon will have to wait until 2001, after the Bach marathon is completed.”

Kibbie has been in training for his Bach marathon for nearly 15 years, planning not only the concerts but a series of events to mark the Bach Year of 2000. His schedule includes a graduate seminar on Bach performance, workshops and master classes throughout the country.

“Planning to perform the complete organ works of Bach presented an interesting challenge,” Kibbie says. “Exactly which works should I play? After more than 250 years, it is by no means certain exactly what Bach composed.”

For this series, Kibbie has relied upon an authoritative revision of Schmieder’s Bach catalog and programmed all works identified as authentic, including several that have been only recently authenticated.

“I have included the chorales of the newly-discovered Rudorff Collection, and on the other hand have not programmed several works once thought to be by Bach, but which have been identified as spurious. Even guided by the best current scholarship, I was left with a handful of ‘dubious’ works, pieces that might or might not be by J. S. Bach. I have made my personal choices as to which of these to play, including especially those long associated with the Bach ‘canon,’ such as the Pedal-Exercitium, the Kleines harmonisches Labyrinth, and the ‘Gigue’ Fugue. Ultimately, though, my programming represents only a snapshot of current Bach research.”

It was during a sabbatical last fall that Kibbie moved into intense training for his Bach marathon, continuing to learn and rehearse the 266 organ works. Kibbie demonstrates the results of this training on a C.B. Fisk organ in Blanche Anderson Moore Hall at the School of Music. While not an exact replica of any organ, this instrument is modeled after those of Gottfried Silbermann (1683–1753) and closely resembles several of the extant 2-manual Silbermann organs, most notably that of the St. Georgen-Kirche in Rötha, Germany. Silbermann’s instruments were admired by Bach who said, “His organs are excellent; he is appropriately named ‘Silbermann,’ for his organs have a silvery tone and thundering basses.”

The U-M has published a volume of essays on Bach’s organ music by Kibbie, eight of his doctoral graduates and other distinguished Bach scholars. The text of the essays is on the Web at www-personal.umich.edu/~jkibbie/ by clicking on Program Notes.

The free, public Bach Recital Series continues March 26; April 9 and 16; Sept. 10, 17 and 24; Oct. 8, 15 and 29; Nov. 19; and Dec. 3 and 17. All concerts begin at 4 p.m. in Blanche Anderson Moore Hall. Kibbie usually gives a short informal talk about the music on the program at about 3:30 p.m. For additional information about the series, call (734) 764-0583.