The biggest ever composer box

The biggest ever composer box


norman lebrecht

September 19, 2018

Deutsche Grammophon and Decca are about to release ‘the biggest ever box set for a single composer’ on October 26.

The complete works of JSB are housed on 222 CDs. The box contains 280 hours of music and weighs 13.5 kilos

J.S. Bach – The New Complete Edition is the result of two years of curation, developed with the co-operation of 32 record labels and a team of scholars at the Leipzig Bach Archive.

Here’s the promo:


  • Cubs Fan says:

    I thought the CD was dead. And 7 premier recordings! That’s kind of amazing, actually. You’d think by now that everything he wrote would have been recorded by someone. I’ll wait until the price is announced before biting.

    • Max Grimm says:

      The prices were announced at the same time the release was. If you pre-order here in Germany, you’ll have to pay around €429,99 (approximately $502,32 at the current exchange rate) and if you pre-order in your country (on Amazon), the price is a bit higher at $549,98.

    • John de Jong says:

      There is no need to buy all these CDs. All of Bach will be available for free thanks to the wonderful project of the Dutch Bach Society: All of Bach.

  • Mike Schachter says:

    Imagine if all his work had survived!

  • Jean says:

    Now you have to scrap all your previous incomplete editions 🙂

    • Robert Groen says:

      I don’t think I will, Jean. My complete Bach Edition (bought many years ago, issued on the Brilliant label) comprises 160 CD’s and contains all the music of JSB that I care to hear. I cannot think of an explanation for DG’s humungous total of 222 CD’s, unless they put less music on a disc than Brilliant did. DG has a history of giving fairly short measure. Alternatively, there may be a fair bit of duplication going on, like the same works appearing in different guises or scored for different instruments. But even that would not explain a 62-disc deficit for Brilliant……

      • Gene Gaudette says:

        The new set will include many works in multiple performances (historic recordings, harpsichord/piano, etc). “The set also presents over 50 CDs of alternative recordings including modern piano performances of all the key works from András Schiff, Murray Perahia, Angela Hewitt, Martha Argerich, Alfred Brendel and many more. 90 years of evolving Bach performance traditions in vocal and instrumental practice can be heard in legendary performances from a plethora of artists from Alfred Deller to Lorraine Hunt Lieberson, Adolf Busch to Claudio Abbado, Willem Mengelberg to Karl Richter, Edwin Fischer to Glenn Gould, Albert Schweitzer to Marie-Claire Alain, Wanda Landowska to Zuzana Růžičková, Pablo Casals to Pierre Fournier, Arthur Grumiaux to Anne-Sophie Mutter.”

  • Karen Fodor says:

    ==Imagine if all his work had survived!

    So are there works which are known about but can’t be found ?
    If so, that’s very interesting. Would be interested to hear. Thanks

  • Larry says:

    I’m curious as to exactly who they think the market is for this collection? If you’re a diehard classical music lover, you’re probably going to have lots and lots of Bach recordings already. (Just did a quick check of my collection – I’ve got 216.) If you’re a classical “newbie,” you’re certainly not going to buy this. Maybe they are counting on libraries/music schools?

    • monsoon says:

      It has more utility than the recent rash of LP reissues.

      I recently saw that DG is releasing the Karajan 1963 Beethoven cycle on vinyl for $200! Meanwhile, the cycle is available in hi-rez on Blu-ray for $18.

      I guess my point is that classical music collectors are irrational and with the right marketing you can sell them anything.

  • Fred says:

    222 CDs? Meh. I’ll wait for the super-deluxe, 350-CD version.

  • Edgar says:

    The Complete Bach on 222 CDs… That is likely more than I will be able to hear while still alive on this earth… Is Mozart the next composer who will be elevated to “The Biggest Ever Composer Box”-status?

    I feel compelled to quote the Swiss theologian Karl Barth, who has this to say: “I’m not sure if the angels, when they are in the praise of God, happen to be playing Bach … But I am sure that when they are among themselves they will play Mozart, and that the dear Lord will listen to them especially gladly.” Karl Barth, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, 13th Edition, Zurich, p. 13 (translated from the German with help of

  • Jon Eiche says:

    Life imitates art. This reminds me of Peter Schickele’s mock game show “What’s My Melodic Line,” in which the grand prize was the complete works of Antonio Vivaldi, sent out on “convenient 45-rpm records,” one a week, for the next 35 years.

    • John Borstlap says:

      Vivaldi is a physically dangerous composer. One of my aunts bought the complete recordings and when the shelf suddenly broke down under the weight, she was burried under the music and could not be rescued in time to survive the accident.

      That’s why I always buy only one CD of any composer.


      • Robert Groen says:

        Build a sturdier shelf, John/Sally. Anyway, if you are a completist there are plenty of safe options. For a start, Anton Webern’s entire output fits comfortably on to 3 CD’s. I’d rather listen to that than to hour after hour of Vivaldi. Hans Rott (who died before his 25th birthday, by his own hand) left barely 2 CD’s worth of music. But that music includes a gorgeous setting of songs for voice and orchestra entitled Balde Ruhest Du Auch Wanderes Nachtlied), as well as a Symphony in E of which Mahler would have been envious (I think perhaps he was).. Still room on the shelf? Consider Rudi Stephan, whose musical legacy (cruelly curtailed by his early death in World War 1) fills a singe CD. So that’s a start. If you want more suggestions, may I refer you to my good friend Naomi, who is currently writing a paper on The Mechanics of Musical Demolition: Were Joshua’s Trumpets tuned in E Flat because Jericho’s Walls Were Built In Half-Brick And, If So, Did They Tumble Inwards Or Outwards?

    • Bill says:

      As I recall, the consolation prize was a set of Beethoven symphonies conducted by Toscanini!

      I am please to see that Sdhickele is still active; NY-area readers can see him in a few days!

  • David K. Nelson says:

    Complete, eh? Meaning what? Let’s put that to a bit of a test. Are there all three versions of the Keyboard and Violin Sonata No. 6 in G, BWV 1019? Oh sure, a fair number of sets put the alternative movements in a sort of appendix (although just as many sets leave them out), which in theory on certain CD players you can or could “program” to play in correct order — but hey, the opening movement common to all three versions is in three different tempo indications. So it actually needs three different recordings of that opening movement if it is to reflect what Bach “wrote,” if you assume that notes alone are not enough but tempo and dynamic and expression marks are part of what has been composed.

    Only one “complete” recording of those sonatas in my collection correctly regards the three versions as three separate complete pieces and it respects the tempo differences for the opening movement: Johannes Leertouwer, violin; Menno van Delft, harpsichord on the Globe label (GLO 6008). True that came at the cost of including the sonatas for violin and continuo which many sets of “the” six sonatas with keyboard include as a bonus.

    Not to mention that you’d still want the estimable Bach recordings by artists who did not happen to record for DGG, Decca, or their affiliated or acquired lines. Modest example: Szigeti’s unaccompanied Bach, recorded originally for Columbia but released on Vanguard. Some guy named Gould who played piano. The list goes on.

    There are disputed works to which BWV numbers have been attached but about which scholars still disagree (at least two violin sonatas among them, not to mention the famous Toccata and Fugue in d minor, which I suspect DGG dares not omit). And then there are the recordings of Bach-Stokowski, Bach-Siloti which I suspect they dare not include…..

    • David K. Nelson says:

      Ah I now see that the set does include Gould so DGG/Decca has gone beyond its own boundaries for sources which is good. My bad for not reading prior postings closely enough.

  • Hilary says:

    Of the many recordings of the 6 Brandenburg at their disposal I wonder who they will select?
    My preference would be a compilation as Bach would have been astonished at the idea of them being heard at one sitting. The result would be incongruous in a good way, lurching from Karajan to Goebell and back to Britten and Munchinger etc.

    • Robert Groen says:

      An interesting idea, but if they just stick to DGG (Archiv) it might be Pinnock

    • Max Grimm says:

      Your preference is in fact the case.
      – Musica Antiqua Köln & Reinhard Goebel (1-6)
      – The English Concert & Trevor Pinnock (1-4 + Concerto BWV 1057)
      – The Academy of Ancient Music & Christopher Hogwood/The English Concert & Trevor Pinnock (5-6 + Concertos 1046a & 1050a)
      – “Brandenburg Concertos: Landmark Performances 1935-1964 Busch/Neel/Wenzinger/Harnoncourt etc”
      – “Brandenburg Concertos: Landmark Performances 1968-2013 Richter/Marriner/Antonini/Abbado/Butt etc”

      • Robert Groen says:

        In the summing up of the landmark recordings of the Brandenburgs I miss the Szymon Goldberg and the Gustav Leonhardt cycles. Both of a ve3ry high standard.

        • Max Grimm says:

          Yes, they are not part of the set, apart from the Adagio of Brandenburg Concerto No. 1 with Goldberg, the Nederlands Kamerorkest and Haakon Stotijn (Concertgebouw/ April 1958).
          The only things with Leonhardt performing are the ‘Aria’ from the Goldberg Variations Haarlem/ September 1988) and the French Suite No. 2 (Amsterdam/ May 1988).

  • buxtehude says:

    Slippeddisc’ers who really don’t want to miss anything might start saving up for Celibidache’s complete vocal works of J. S. Bach. This was a super-secret recording project during his lifetime, for which he recruited or trained soloists and chorus proficient in circular breathing. That meant that C’s long long long expressions of Bach’s long long lines didn’t prove a barrier. This is not to say that the tempi were “slow,” not a word in this maestro’s vocabulary.

    The number of CDs surpasses anything heretofore by at least an order of magnitude, but who’s counting? You’ll Get everything.

    Release date tba; eager beavers can go right ahead and send money.

  • Stephen Owades says:

    This may well be the largest single-composer boxed set in number of CDs, but it’s packaged very compactly with thin cardboard sleeves for each disc (as are most of today’s big sets). A number of large composer collections in the past have used traditional jewel-boxes within the box, making the overall package much larger and heavier than this one. Among the ones I own the Mozart 200 set from Philips came in two huge boxes, as did the complete Bach set on Hänssler.

    • John Borstlap says:

      I heard there are plans by DG to produce a total set of ALL classical works in one big box, called ‘The Final Canon’, with a weight of a ton, and which can only be delivered by truck to wealthy clients because the price will be something between EU 40.000,- and 60.000,–. It is for collectors really.

      • Robert Groen says:

        John, do you mean ALL classical works issued on disc by DGG, or ALL classical works ever written? If it’s the latter I don’t think 60,000 euros would do it.

        • John Borstlap says:

          No, ALL classical works ever recorded, also on other labels which will be produced under license (if the label still exists) – but only one recording of any work. It is not too difficult to do because most of the discs exist already (almost all of the lp versions having been transferrred on CD), but they will need a lot of people to put them in the new slim boxes. The plan is to employ a big number of refugees, train them, and have them do the work under medical supervision since it is expected to be a nerve-wrecking job. A big hangar has already been inspected for hire for the exercise.

          • John Borstlap says:


            My fly on the wall informs me that they can do it under the EU 60.000,– because the government will subsidize the refugee employment. In this way, the newcomers can get in touch with Western culture. Hence the medical supervision.