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Studying the editions of Bach's Sonatas and Partitas (2): Early prints and the Leipzig editions

Sarah Vandemoortele

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Published: March 18, 2014 at 8:09 PM [UTC]

EDITOR'S NOTE: This is Part 2 in a multi-part series. Here are links to the other parts: Part 1: Manuscripts; Part 3: Into Modernism; and Part 4: From the publication of Bach's manuscript onward.

Before roughly 1750 historical editions, i.e. editions dedicated to music from the past, appeared only sporadically. In the second half of the eighteenth century historical editions were often published by early music
historians such as Charles Burney. They encouraged a return to original sources to realize editions that were more faithful to the original text even though at that time there were no standardized criteria or methods for that purpose. The type of (historical) editions we find around that time are collected works or so-called Gesamtausgaben (not from works by J. S. Bach, but from works by Handel and Mozart) – that remained however incomplete – and anthologies.

BachThe first print of a section from the Sonatas and Partitas appeared in such an anthology, more specifically in an instrumental anthology for the violin. It concerns here the treatise 'L’Art du Violon' by the French violinist and composer Jean-Baptiste Cartier (1765-1841). This treatise dates from 1798 and happens to be one of the first instrumental anthologies. The third volume contained no less than 154 manuscripts and early editions of works from the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, among them the first publication of Tartini’s ‘Devil’s Trill’ Sonata, the first complete reprint of Tartini’s 'L’arte del arco', a reprint of seven sonatas by Nardini and the fugue from the second sonata for violin solo by J. S. Bach. Cartier’s title read ‘FUGA | de la SONATE III.e’ (‘Fugue from the third sonata’), referring in fact to the third work of six Sonatas and Partitas. The print of this fugue was based on a (now lost) manuscript owned by Pierre Gaviniès (1728-1800), violin teacher at the Paris conservatoire since its foundation in 1795. That Cartier added this fugue to his treatise points to a certain degree of pedagogical importance of the Sonatas and Partitas in their reception, an aspect that we will re-encounter in many of the subsequent editions.

The pedagogical aspect becomes immediately clear from the title of the first complete print of the Sonatas and Partitas published by Nikolaus Simrock (Simrock, Bonn) in 1802:

STUDIO | o sia | Tre Sonate | per il Violino solo senza Baßo.
(‘Study or three sonatas for violin solo without bass’)

The first sonata and first partita are published together under one and the same title (and to the remaining works happened the same), which explains why this edition seems to contain only three sonatas. A small remark: Bach’s own title was ‘Sei solo […]’ or ‘Six solos’, so not even the widely used title ‘Sonatas and Partitas’ (which I have adopted in my blogs as well) is correct.
Simrock’s edition was based on two manuscripts by copyists (Sources B and C) as Bach’s own manuscript was not available.

The next edition, also the first practical edition, was published by the German violinist Ferdinand David (1810-1873) for the publishing house Kistner in Leipzig in 1843. Without David’s close collaboration and friendship with Mendelssohn, one of the key figures in the Bach revival, this edition would probably not have been possible. As conductor of the Gewandhaus orchestra, of which David was concert master, Mendelssohn performed for instance one of Bach’s keyboard concertos in 1840 and the St. Matthew Passion in 1841.

Presumably David copied the title from Simrock’s edition and combined it with a new (German) description. That explains why the front page reads ‘Sechs Sonaten’ (‘Six sonatas’) on the one hand and ‘Tre sonate’ (‘Three sonatas’) on the other:

Sechs | Sonaten | für die Violine allein […] | Studio | ossia | Tre Sonate | per il Violino solo senza Basso.

Not only the word ‘Studio’ points to the pedagogical reception of these works, but also the cover of David’s edition. One page is dedicated to ‘Studienwerke für Violine’ (‘Studies for violin’) where we find Bach’s Sonatas and Partitas allocated to the category ‘Sehr Schwer’ (‘Very difficult’). The front page also reads:

Zum Gebrauch bei dem Conservatorium der Musik in Leipzig, | mit Fingersatz, Bogenstrichen und sonstigen Bezeichnungen versehen | von | Ferd. David. | Für Diejenigen welche sich dieses Werk selbst bezeichnen wollen, ist der Original Text, | welcher nach der Königl. Bibliothek zu Berlin befindlichen Original-Hand | schrift des Componisten aufs genaueste revidirt ist, mit kleinen Noten beigefügt.
(‘For use by the music conservatoire in Leipzig, provided with fingerings, bowings and other markings by Ferd. David. For those who want to mark this work themselves the original text, which has been most accurately revised according to the autograph of the composer (remaining in the Königl. Bibliothek zu Berlin), is included by means of small notes.’)

The purpose behind using two staves, one with an edited version, the other with the ‘original’ text in smaller notes, cannot be explained unambiguously. On the one hand the use of two staves can be explained from the pedagogical perspective. The largest printed staff with David’s indications personifies as it were the teacher who offers the user of the edition instructions, inspiration and suggestions by means of bowings, fingerings and dynamics. On the smaller staff underneath the user can notate his/her own bowings and fingerings, which could (but doesn’t have to) serve a pedagogical purpose as well, since finding suitable fingerings and bowings is also a skill that can be trained.

On the other hand the use of two staves enables the user of the edition to consult the original text more easily, which could point to a certain regard for authenticity. Of course in this case the second staff was not realized by means of a thorough textcritical method. The front page alone already proves that. Contrary to the claim on the front page the edition is not based on Bach’s autograph, but on the same sources as the edition by Simrock (Sources B and C), which were at that time wrongly considered as manuscripts by Bach (although the possibility remains that David referred to a manuscript by Bach which is now lost). Consequently the second staff diverges sometimes from the manuscript by Bach (e.g. in the first bar of the Adagio of the first sonata which contains one extra note in the ornamentation).

A remarkable phenomenon interacting with the pedagogical reception of Bach’s Sonatas and Partitas is the existence of several arrangements for violin with piano accompaniment for use in performance. Thus David performed the Ciaccona with Mendelssohn on the piano, after which Mendelssohn published this version in London and Hamburg in 1847 and in Leipzig in no later than 1849. By then, Friedrich Wilhelm Ressel (1811-1885) had already published his own version of the Ciaccona with piano accompaniment (Schlesinger, Berlin, 1845). Wilhelm Bernhard Molique (1802-1869) provided the first movements and fugues of the sonatas and several movements from the first and third partitas with a piano part and published them in 1852 (Leipzig, Kistner). In 1854 Robert Schumann published the first complete set with piano accompaniment for Breitkopf & Härtel.

For the next publication the Sonatas and Partitas had to wait until 1865, the year that the Austrian quartet leader Joseph Hellmesberger (1828-1893) published his edition for Peters (Leipzig). This edition is also a practical edition. The text is the same as the text on the lower (second) staff of the edition by David and contains much more of Hellmesberger’s own fingerings, bowings, articulation marks and dynamics than David’s upper staff.

In 1879 a first critical edition (Breitkopf & Härtel, Leipzig, in association with the Bach-Gesellschaft) appeared as part of the Bach Gesamtausgabe (Volume XXVII) of which the first volume was published in 1851. The editor for this edition was Alfred Dörffel (1831-1905) who accounted for several volumes of the Gesamtausgabe. Dörffel founded his edition on Sources B and C and on an additional manuscript (Source D), which is as we have seen in the first blog rather unreliable. He also consulted the editions by Simrock and David and the arrangement by Schumann.

It is no coincidence that the above mentioned editions – David, Hellmesberger and Dörffel – were all published in Leipzig. Leipzig was an important musical centre and above all the centre of book trading of its time. Music printing was growing from the beginning of the eighteenth century onward when in 1719 the publishing house Breitkopf was founded. In 1796 Gottfried Christoph Härtel took over the company and during the following fifty years Breitkopf & Härtel occupied a leading position among music publishers. In addition, Leipzig was the home of C. F. Peters, Hofmeister, Merseburger and Eulenburg which were established in respectively 1800, 1807, 1849 and 1874. By the end of the nineteenth century Leipzig counted more than sixty music publishers. Besides all this Leipzig was the city where Bach became Thomaskantor in 1723 and where the posthumous reappreciation of his music started already early in the nineteenth century. Mendelssohn’s performances in the Gewandhaus, the Bach Gesamtausgabe and the Neue Bach-Ausgabe are only a few examples of Leipzig’s interest in Bach.

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