From the archives: monthly feature

Johann Sebastian Bach:
a receipt from the year 1731

From the archives
A recommendation by

Ravel (February 2012)
The Noske family, ca. 1880

(March 2012)
J.S. Bach: receipt, 1731
(April 2012)
J. and F. Giese, cellists
(May 2012)
Berlioz: a letter from
Rome (June 2012)
Alsbach: Album amicorum
(July 2012)
A violinist-aviator (1913)
(August 2012)
Mozart: letter (Milan 1770)
(September 2012)
Whose portrait?
(October 2012)
F. Nieuwenhuysen (1783)
(November 2012)
This receipt, written and signed by Bach in his own hand, relates to a refund of Tranksteuer or alcohol excise. In all probability the beverage is beer, which was measured per barrel; excise on wine was measured per ‘bucket’. As cantor at the church and school of St.-Thomas Bach was entitled to restitution of excise on three barrels. Those higher in rank could consume larger quantities tax-free: a rector or conrector four barrels; a Pfarrer or Diakon five; professors, Pastoren and Archidiakonen six. Superintendent Salomon Deyling, cosigner of this receipt, was entitled to eight barrels.

Daß von S[eine]r Königl[ichen] Mayest[ät] in Pohlen,
und ChurF[ürstlichen] Durchl[aucht] zu Sachsen wohlbestallten
Creyß und Tranck-Steüer Einnehmer, Herrn
Johann Paul Lazern von Quasimodogeniti
1730. biß dahin 1731. laut der ChurFürstl[ich]
Sächs[ischen] Anordnung de a[nn]o 1646. den 9 Novemb[e]r
von drey Faß, iedes à 40 gr[oschen] u[nd] also zusammen
5 th[a]l[e]r, sage
fünff Thaler
richtig empfangen habe; Solches bekenne
hiermit und quittire gebührend. Leipzig
Termino Quasimodogeniti 1731.
Joh[ann] Seb[astian] Bach.
Direct[or] Musices
Cantor zu S.

That I have received from Mr. Johann Paul Lazer, rightfully appointed District and Beverage Tax Collector of His Royal Majesty in Poland and his Electoral Highness in Saxony, over the year from Low Sunday 1730 till 1731, in accordance with the Electoral Saxon Decree of November 9 of the year 1646, for three barrels, each 40 groschen and hence altogether 5 taler, say five taler; this I acknowledge herewith and duly sign for receipt. Leipzig, at the final date Low Sunday 1731. J.S. Bach Director musices and Cantor at St. Thomas.

Combining data from Christoph Wolff’s Bach biography (2000) and the German Wikipedia article Fass (Einheit) we can make a few calculations, which illuminate this aspect of Bach’s household. Excise on one barrel, 40 Groschen, should at a rough approximation be some €120; 5 Taler (120 Groschen) is the equivalent of €360. At a contents of little over 360 liter, a barrel beer must have had a value of some 7 Taler 12 Groschen, or €540. For comparison: in 1747 Bach offered the print of his Musikalisches Opfer for 1 Taler; a year instruction with the cantor, board and lodging included, cost the student 100 Taler (in 1712). With his family, guests and lodgers Bach may have consumed more beer than the three liters a day for which he was exempt from tax.

Johann Paul Lazer, mentioned here as tax collector, died in 1740. He was succeeded by Christian Friedrich Henrici (1700-1764), who under is pen name Picander is known as the author of many of Bach’s cantata texts, and was a personal friend. One result of their collaboration was the Peasant Cantata, written and performed for the celebration of the 36th birthday of Henrici’s superior, Kreishauptmann Carl Heinrich von Dieskau. Interesting to note is also that tax collector Henrici authored a few comedies, including Der Erz-Säufer (‘The arch-boozer’, 1726).

Cosigners of this receipt are the aforementioned Dr Salomon Deyling (1677-1755), and Thomas Wagner (1669-1737), who has been identified as district tax collector (Kreissteuereinnehmer). Both add to their signatures the formula mpp (‘manu propria’, ‘with his own hand’). The number at the upper right corner probably belonged to the page numbering of the original receipt book. The term ‘Quasimodogeniti’ refers to the first Sunday after Easter (‘Low Sunday’); in 1731 this was 1 April.

The document measures 22,5 x 20 cm and is in good condition, but has around the edges been reinforced with rice paper. Given the scarcity of letters and other biographical documents in Bach’s handwriting, this formal statement acquires special meaning. Three more Tranksteuer-Äquivalente signed in Bach’s hand have been preserved: one nearly homonymous, dated 1732, one from 1734 and one from 1743. They have all been published in the Bach-Dokumente (the one here presented as nr. 116 among the addenda in Vol. 3; the others as nrs. 117, 118a and 125). In 1920 this receipt was listed in an auction catalogue of the Berlin book seller K. E. Henrici in Berlin. Probably it was acquired in that year by D.F. Scheurleer. As part of the Scheurleer Collection it is now in the NMI.

The Hague banker, collector and music historian Daniël François Scheurleer (1855-1927) had a strong interest in historical performance practice. He owned original prints of a number of works Bach himself prepared for publication, including Musikalisches Opfer and the six partitas, which were published in the spring of 1731 under the title Clavir Übung Opus 1. He also had a copy made of a harpsichord, which at the time was supposed to have been part of Bach’s estate. As with the Pleyel harpsichords played by Wanda Landowska, in the construction some concessions were made to contemporary taste, such as the steel frame commonly used in piano manufacture.

Room in the Scheurleer private museum (before 1913), with the harpsichord built by Wilhelm Hirl in 1899.

LM, 1-4-2012

Museum Scheurleer »


Herz, Gerhard. Bach-Quellen in Amerika = Bach sources in America. Kassel [etc.]: Bärenreiter, 1984.

Leonhardi, Friedrich Gottlob. Erdbeschreibung der Churfürstlich- und Herzoglich-Sächsischen Lande. 2. Ausg. Bd. 1. Leipzig: Barth, 1790.

Neumann, Werner, en Hans Joachim Schulze, red. Schriftstücke von der Hand Johann Sebastian Bachs. Bach-Dokumente. Bd. 1. Kassel [etc.]: Bärenreiter, 1963.

Schulze, Hans-Joachim, red. Dokumente zum Nachwirken Johann Sebastian Bachs, 1750-1800. Bach-Dokumente. Bd. 3. Kassel; Leipzig: Bärenreiter ; Deutscher Verlag für Musik, 1972.

Spitta, Philipp. Johann Sebastian Bach. Leipzig: Breitkopf und Härtel, 1873.

Wolff, Christoph. Johann Sebastian Bach: The Learned Musician. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000.