Studying the editions of Bach's Sonatas and Partitas (1): Manuscripts

March 17, 2014, 8:26 AM · EDITOR'S NOTE: This is Part 1 in a multi-part series. Here are links to the other parts: Part 2: Early prints and the Leipzig editions;
Part 3: Into Modernism; and Part 4: From the publication of Bach's manuscript onward

From the editions of Bach’s Sonatas and Partitas we can deduce two aspects of their reception. The pedagogical importance of these works for violinists of many generations is one aspect. Besides that we can also see how the regard for authenticity, being true to Bach’s original intentions, took many forms. In this blog I will discuss some of the manuscripts that were important for editors of the Sonatas and Partitas. The next three blogs will deal with a selection out of more than fifty editions in an attempt to map out the pedagogical and textcritical aspects of these works’ reception.

BachBetween Bach’s sole surviving manuscript and the first print of the Sonatas and Partitas a number of manuscripts by copyists emerged. After all, most of Bach’s works didn’t get published during his lifetime and had to wait for that until the nineteenth century, in the case of the Sonatas and Partitas until 1802. During the second half of the eighteenth century many manuscripts of Bach’s works were copied, especially by Bach’s pupils. A good example is Das wohltemperierte Clavier (The Well-Tempered Clavier), which got widely disseminated thanks to copyists. Since during this period Bach’s works were primarily appreciated for their realizations in terms of counterpoint it is not surprising that the Sonatas and Partitas also enjoyed a certain attention. Some thirteen copies are currently extant, which is only half of the original number. Four of these manuscripts by copyists were important for the editions of Bach’s Sonatas and Partitas and influenced the reception of these works.

Bach’s only extant manuscript, which we will call Source A, was probably not the first source of the Sonatas and Partitas. There is no agreement on the year of composition, but it certainly wasn’t 1720, the year of the autograph (which is titled ‘Sei Solo. | ã | Violino | senza | Basso | accompagnato. | Libro Primo. | da | Joh: Seb: Bach. | ao. 1720.’). According to the Kritischer Bericht (critical apparatus) in the Neue Bach-Ausgabe (NBA) it is a clean version of several earlier drafts. Consequently it is possible that Bach made a mistake here and there while copying and that older, lost versions contained more accurate information. What’s more, there is a high chance that Bach produced this manuscript for own use. In this case, he may not have found it necessary to write down all information, including for example articulation marks.

Concerning the history of this manuscript not everything is known. Because of the indication ‘Louisa Bach | Bückeburg | 1842’ we can assume that the manuscript belonged at a given moment to Bach’s granddaughter Christina Louisa Bach (1762-1852). Probably after J. S. Bach’s death it came into the possession of her father, but according to Peter Wollny (in his foreword to the Bärenreiter edition of 2001) the possibility exists that it was first kept by someone outside the family for a while. This way or another it then came into the possession of Wilhelm Rust in Leipzig in 1890. After his death in 1892 it became property of his widow, but Erich Prieger in Bonn kept it safe. In 1917 it moved to the then-called Preussische Staatsbibliothek Berlin, now Deutsche Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin. All editions since the publication of the NBA consider this manuscript, of all extant sources, the one with the highest authority.

A next manuscript (Source B) is a copy of Source A by Bach’s wife Anna Magdalena and contains markings by the violinist Georg Heinrich Ludwig Schwanberg, who probably ordered it for own use. This source also included a copy of the cello suites, again from the hand of Bach’s wife. According to Günter Hausswald (in his epilogue to the facsimile published by Insel Verlag Wiesbaden in 1962) the manuscript dates from no earlier than 1723, while Wollny and Dagmar Glüxam, editor of the Wiener Urtext edition (2009), suggest the year 1727. For a long time this manuscript – like Source C – was considered to be by Bach himself. Again this manuscript is now owned by the Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin.

A second copy (Source C), likewise owned by the Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin, is from the hand of several copyists. BWV 1001 to 1005 are written by one of Bach’s pupils, presumably by the violinist Georg Gottfried Wagner (1698-1756), who played a prominent role in performances of Bach’s church music between 1723 and 1726 in Leipzig. Thus the first five works were possibly copied during that period. BWV 1006 was copied at the end of the eighteenth century by someone else. Besides that BWV 1001 to 1005 also contain later emendations by a third person. According to the critical apparatus of the editions by Henryk Szeryng and Glüxam this manuscript was copied from either a lost model for Source A, either a likewise lost copy based on this model. Consequently Source C could contain important information about Bach’s original intentions that is not presented by Source A.

Source C was once in possession of pianist Georg Poelchau (or Palschau) in St. Petersburg, who according to Wollny’s hypothesis bought it from music merchant Johann Christoph Westphal. After the latter’s death it ended up with some old paper destined for a butter shop. There it was discovered in 1814 by Poelchau who believed it to be a manucript by Bach himself. In 1841 the manuscript found its way to the Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin and became part of the Poelchau Collection.

A third copy (Source D) by Johann Peter Kellner, musician from Thüringen and collector of Bach’s works, was dated ‘Franckenhayn. d. 3. Jul. 1726’. It is part of an anthology, now owned by the Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin. This source contains only parts of the Sonatas and Partitas, namely the three sonatas and some movements from the second and third partita. Substantial deviations reduce the manuscript’s reliability. For instance, the Ciaccona and the fugue in C major are cut short enormously.

A fourth copy (Source E) was made by a Köthen copyist, possibly by the organist Emanuel Leberecht Gottschalck, in or around 1720. It is based on Bach’s manuscript. A second person completed the missing notes and added extra articulation markings. In the next blog we will deal with the first prints of Bach’s Sonatas and Partitas and continue with the next few editions, all published in Leipzig. Most of them were based on Sources B and C, then considered to be manuscripts by Bach himself.


March 17, 2014 at 07:21 PM · This is fascinating. I had no idea there was anything other than Source A. Thanks for sharing all of this information with us. Looking forward to the next installemnts.

March 18, 2014 at 05:31 PM · My first unfortunate experience of Bach Sonatas was with notes scattered with accidentals in brackets which , I suppose , were meant to be helpful but were ,in fact, highly confusing and annoying. The printing style of my present version edited by Auer ,on first sight, is so cramped I worried that paper was running out. A number of harmonic signs give a good clue to Leopold`s playing style ,which makes them interesting.

A useful perspective on these works is provided by the book showing the original slimline , original Chaconne . Chaconne-lite . The photo images are seen besides a cleanly printed version .

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