History of the Society

A Brief History

The beginnings of the American Bach Society can be dated to 1972, when a group of American scholars met in Princeton and formed a chapter of the Neue Bachgesellschaft (New Bach Society), an organization founded in Germany in 1900 to promote the study and performance of Bach’s music. When Germany became a divided country after World War II, the New Bach Society sought to retain its members and, in particular, to find a means whereby members living in East Germany would be able to attend its annual meetings. By forming chapters in East and West Germany as well as the United States, the Neue Bachgesellschaft was established as an international organization, enabling it to achieve its goals.

Charter members of the American chapter included Gerhard Herz, Alfred Mann, Robert Marshall, Arthur Mendel, William Scheide, and Christoph Wolff. Mann, as secretary, administered the business of the chapter from the offices of the oldest American Bach organization, The Bach Choir of Bethlehem (founded in 1898), where he served as director from 1970 to 1980. The Bach-Jahrbuch, along with English translations of the Gesellschaft’s newsletters, were distributed annually to members of the chapter. The New Bach Society, American Chapter, held its first meeting in 1976 at the Moravian Seminary in Bethlehem, PA, and continued to hold meetings on a triennial basis until 1988.

In 1988, under the guidance of George Buelow, the chapter incorporated as the American Bach Society, an independent, non-profit organization. Administered by a president, vice-president, and secretary-treasurer in consultation with an advisory board, a primary goal of the Society was to encourage and sponsor the publication of Bach research in English. In addition to issuing a semiannual Newsletter, from 1989 to 1993 the Society published the journal BACH in collaboration with the Riemenschneider Bach Institute. In 1994, the Society initiated Bach Perspectives, a serial publication edited by members of the Society in consultation with an editorial board, and in 2004 replaced its Newsletter with Bach Notes, a semiannual publication that includes articles, reviews, and information about members of the Society.

The creation of an endowment by William H. Scheide in 1990 enabled the Society to award, in alternate years, the Scheide Fellowship to support individual research projects, and the Scheide Prize to honor a publication of exceptional merit. In 2000, in collaboration with The Bach Choir of Bethlehem, the Society established a biennial Bach Vocal Competition for Young American Singers. All awards are announced at the biennial meeting of the Society, normally held in association with a college or university but also occasionally hosted by other institutions, such as the Library of Congress and Smithsonian Institution (2000), the Bach-Archiv in Leipzig (2006), and The Bach Choir of Bethlehem (2008).

Past Officers

Chairmen of the New Bach Society, American Chapter

1972–1974 Gerhard Herz
1974–1977 Robert L. Marshall
1977–1982 Robert Freeman
1982–1987 Paul Brainard
1987–1988 George Buelow

Presidents of The American Bach Society

1988–1992 George Buelow
1992–1996 Don O. Franklin
1996–2000 George B. Stauffer
2000–2004 Robin A. Leaver
2004–2008 Gregory G. Butler
2008–2012 Mary Greer
2012–2016 Stephen Crist
2016–2020 Markus Rathey
2020–2024 Daniel R. Melamed

Honorary Members of The American Bach Society

Karl Geiringer
Paul Henry Lang
Martin Bernstein
Gerhard Herz
Frederick Neumann
Elinore Barber
Alfred Mann
Joshua Rifkin
William H. Scheide
Hans-Joachim Schulze
Kerala J. Snyder
Robert L. Marshall
Christoph Wolff
Don O. Franklin
Masaaki Suzuki
Robin A. Leaver