Bach E Major Preludio

May 6, 2007 at 05:23 AM · Bach's E Major Preludio has 1,635 notes, and I have a question about one. In measure 128, sometimes the eighth note of that measure is played G#, and sometimes it is played A.

The Galamian International edition has an A, with an asterisk stating "In most editions: G#".

The back of the Galamian edition has a reproduction of the manuscript, and that shows A.

The 1958 Barenreiter edition has an A.

The revised 2001 Barenreiter edition has an A.

I reviewed my recordings, and came up with a list. Here they are by the earliest date recorded:

Sarasate, 1903, G#

Szigeti, 1908, G#

Thibaud, 1936, G#

Enescu, 1949, A

Heifetz, 1952, A

Grumiaux, 1961, G#

Szeryng, 1968, A

Milstein, 1975, G#

Hahn 1996/7, A

Gringolts, 2003, A

Kremer, 2005, A

Tetzlaff, 2005, A

So, which note do you play? G# or A? Does it matter?

Replies (52)

May 6, 2007 at 08:13 AM · well. if the manuscript has an A, you obviously play an A...

May 6, 2007 at 09:35 AM · I learned it with a G sharp before I knew any better. I thought Szeryng missed the note, until I heard Heifetz miss the same one, and that's when it dawned on me.

Which one do you like better?

May 6, 2007 at 10:48 AM · Definitely A. Beat 2 is spelling out the B dominant seventh as it returns to E major in the next measure (G# would just be a passing tone). Looking at slightly larger beat groupings, the A is a suspension that resolves on the downbeat of m. 129 to G#.

May 6, 2007 at 01:47 PM · I also believe it should be an A, and would cite the dominant 7th argument as well, and recently performed it that way. But Anne, if you've counted every note in this Preludio, I think you should get to play it any way you want!

But seriously, it's very good that there is a copy in Bach's own hand of all of the Sonatas and Partitas. But even Bach was human, and he could have made a mistake in writing down his own music here and there. It's interesting that Grumiaux, who worked from the original manuscript, saw fit to change the A to a G#.

In this regard, let me open another can of worms: The D minor Partita, Courante, m 51, or 4 from the end, the 2nd note. Shoud it be a B flat or B natural? Though a lot of people play it otherwise, I strongly feel that it should be a B natural. It forms part of a diminished 7th chord that way. If you have that measure go by pretty fast, the B flat isn't too jarring. But if you make a rallentando there as I do, it really doesn't sound right - at least to me.

Here's another one: The Chaconne, m. 73, or variation 9 (-both m and var. #'s, according to the Breitkopf ed.-), 2nd beat. I prefer the 2nd and 3rd 32nds to be a B flat and a C natural, though the original, rather redundantly it seems to me, repeats the accidentals, B natural and C#, as in the 1st beat. My preference, shared so far as I know, only by the Auer edition, makes more harmonic sense to me, like it's indicating a Bb chord. The original does make linear sense as part of an ascending melodic minor scale.

In interest of full disclosure, I should admit that I'm neither a musicologist, nor a theoritician - I just play one on TV!

May 6, 2007 at 01:45 PM · Counting the notes in the Preludio was so easy that even I could do it, as most of the piece has running 16th notes. I do trill the F# in measure #135 (beat 2), but I didn't count that!

I was just curious about what everybody else is doing. I learned this piece back in high school, off of the Joachim-Moser edition (my teacher changed the bowings though!) and I learned the G#. Maybe I am inflexible, and set in my ways, but I have a hard time "hearing" the A. The G# is such a nice tangy leading tone in my ear.

The recordings I have tend to show Old School vs. New School, and maybe that had something to do with the various editions available at the time. The most interesting recording, in terms of the G#/A, to me is the Enesco. His recording was cut in '49, sadly beyond his prime, but he plays the A, and I think we can guess that he was probably playing the A for a good length of time before his recording was made. He seems to be bucking the G# trend. But I don't have enough recordings to be definitive about that.

For the D Minor Corrente, I play B natural in measure 51. Both of my Barenreiter editions have B natural. The manuscript copy in the Galamian edition shows a distinctive B natural.

For the Ciaconna, measure 73, I play B natural and C# on both beats 1 and 2, but a B flat and C# on beat 3. Raphael, that is an intriguing idea to revert back to B flat and C natural on beat 2.

I am not a musicologist. I don't play one on TV. I do wear glasses though, so maybe that counts for something. (Or not).

Thanks for the replies.

May 6, 2007 at 03:08 PM · Ajjajjajjaj! You COUNTED the notes?!

Ordinarily I'd be inclined to say "Trust Szigeti....just trust Szigeti..." but if the A works better harmonically, play the A. On the other hand, if it really is so "up for grabs", just do whichever you prefer--no matter how you play Bach, SOMEONE will hate it. :)

May 6, 2007 at 05:20 PM · One issue is what things sound like if you are tuned A-415 as was done in Bach's day. Perhaps it sound right as G#. I do not know. Someone ought to listen to Podger and see.

May 6, 2007 at 05:33 PM · In my edition, it's a g# with a footnote saying "Manuskript a statt gis, höchstwahrscheinlich Schreibfehler", which an internet translator interpreted roughly as "A instead of G# in manuscript, probably an error in writing". A would make more sense harmonically, but I think it flows better with G# as a passing note.

May 6, 2007 at 05:52 PM · To be philosophical about the issue, it works either way. G# turns the chord into B major 6 (inversion of a G#m7) and with the A it turns out to be a B dominant 7. You can do it either way, although i always liked the A better myself.

There are a lot of little things in the S&P that i have certain peculiarities with. For one, i believe the Chaconne starts with a quarter note rest. For another, the final movement of the G minor (Presto) is often played in 2/8 with triplet 16ths when the piece is clearly to be played as 3/8 with duplet 16ths. Finally, Menuhin is the only violinist i have ever heard play the doubles in the B minor Partita at the same tempo as the preceding movements, meaning that some of the doubles are half the speed most people play them in.

You can get very 'Twin Peaks' wierd with the S&P if you're...well, if you're me.

May 6, 2007 at 06:46 PM · Dion, the reason the Chaconne starts on the second beat of the measure is because that's what a Chaconne is. The features of a chaconne are that it's a set of variations beginning on the second beat of the measure, with variations that are four or eight bars long.

May 6, 2007 at 07:58 PM · don't you think that Bach knew what he was doing harmonically better than any of us when he wrote an A there? Or am I missing that he might have wanted a G#? Seems to me that he did in fact want to A, and we are just making things up...

May 6, 2007 at 08:47 PM · Probably, but I think the original question stemmed from the fact that according to Galamian, "most other editions" have the G#. Naturally one has to ask, why?

May 6, 2007 at 11:54 PM · Just play an A

May 7, 2007 at 12:55 AM · Could we split the middle and play a microtone inbetween G# and A?

May 7, 2007 at 12:58 AM · No, that's BartĂłk.

May 7, 2007 at 01:13 AM · Tom - not everyone tuned to 415 in Bach's day. That's actually an ironically "modern" period movement decision. Pitch, like the so called "baroque bow" was a more fluid and variable thing than many people realize. There are some organs extant from that period and unaltered, that are actually higher than 440! But in any case, the proportion and relationship would be the same: an A of whatever pitch will be a 1/2 step higher than a G# in the same tuning.

BTW, apart from the Galamian edition, does anyone know of an available 'edition' that's only a reproduction of Bach's MS - but maybe clearer? The paper in the photos (in the Galamian ed.) comes out dark and muddies things a bit. The 1st page of the Joachim edition, as well as some other excerpts of Bach's music here and there, reproduce the original handwriting against a white background.

May 7, 2007 at 01:39 AM · I no that in the back of the internation editions there is a photostat of the complete bach sonatas in his hand. saddly i have lent my copy out and cannot check

May 7, 2007 at 02:33 AM · You prolly mean the Galamian edition, where it's clearly an A. Just for fun, somebody at a school should check the Bach-Gesellschaft to see what he uses in BWV 29.

May 7, 2007 at 03:02 AM · Nobody said A#. Gal. said it was G# in some editions, and said it to indicate that his version wasn't a misprint.

May 7, 2007 at 03:02 AM · Yeah, I caught it and edited. Whoopsy....

May 7, 2007 at 03:19 AM · Jim, i'll check BWV 29 at the Reference library tomorrow.

May 7, 2007 at 01:36 PM · Thanks Raphael. It occurred to me afterwards that the question was probably stupid, but I left it out there anyway in case it wasn't, and you gave me some information I did not know.

May 7, 2007 at 08:49 PM · Hi,

Raphael, I believe that Barenreiter used to publish the facsimile of the manuscript independantly in a small form score, but I could be wrong.

Aside from that, I only know of the Galamian in the standard editions. Joachim and Moser wanted to include the complete facsimile but were denied permission by the owner of the manuscript of the time, which is why they resorted to that double-staff edition. They were allowed only to give a facsimile of the first page.

If you wanted to go a different route to check for the intent of the note, you could look at the Bach Cantata that uses this Preludio as its prelude (could be no. 27, but not sure - somewhere in the cantatas nos. 25 to 29) just to make sure.


May 7, 2007 at 09:06 PM · Christian, the Cantata that the Preludio also appears in is BWV 29. Just thought I'd clarify if anyone was interested.

May 7, 2007 at 09:55 PM · It's also BWV 1006A - an arrangement for lute or something.

May 7, 2007 at 11:08 PM · In BWV 29, the corresponding eighth note in the measure in question is an F#, and transposing from D major into E major, would make that a G#.

I checked the score on, a most nifty website.

May 8, 2007 at 05:02 AM · Ok, i checked a bunch of different editions. Take your pick:

1. Violin editions:

Peters 4308, copyright 1930.

edited by Carl Flesch.

m128: A A A

Carl Fischer 19544-43, copyright 1917.

edited by Leopold Auer.

m128: G# A A

International Music Company 516, copyright unknown.

edited by Joseph Joachim, prefaced by Andreas Moser.

m128: G# A A

Dover urtext, copyright 1978.

Taken from

Volume 27: Kammermusik. Sechster Band, edited by Alfred Dorffel, 1879;


Volume 9: Kammermusik. Erster Band, edited by Wilhelm Rust, 1860;

both found in Johann Sebastian Bach's Werke. Haausgegeben von der Bach-Gesellschaft zu Leipzig.

m128: G# A A

Peters 7309, copyright unknown.

edited by Joseph Hellmesberger, with piano accompaniment by Robert Schumann.

m128: G# A A

2. Guitar editions:

Universal Edition AG 14474, copyright 1976.

edited by and arranged for guitar by Karl Scheit.

m128: G# A A

Schott GA 456, copyright 1978.

arranged for guitar by Konrad Ragossnig.

m128: G# A A

3. Cantata editions:

Kalmus study score no.812, Cantatas nos.27 - 29, copyright 1968.

Wir danken dir Gott, wir danken dir, BWV 29.

m128: G G G (in D major)

Barenreiter edition BA 5077, copyright 1994.

Wir danken dir Gott, wir danken dir, BWV 29.

m128: G G G (in D major)

The Joachim version is apparently from a manuscript. Many of the violin and guitar versions copy the Joachim which was an accepted standard for many years.

I have yet to check the manuscript version. They don't have it at the Reference library.

It's up to you what you want to play, G# or A. As for me, I'm sticking with A.

May 8, 2007 at 02:19 AM · Yes, I think I made mention of the Cantata in another thread regarding the Mendelssohn and Schumann accompaniments. Re the Joachim 1st page facsimile - yes, that's what I'm talking about. Do you see how clear it is? I wish the whole thing would be produced that way, perhaps preceded by a lengty scholarly introduction, but otherwise with no editing.

BTW, has anyone read the book on the S&P's by, I believe, Joel Lester? I haven't.

May 8, 2007 at 04:45 AM · I have the Galamian edition with the reprint of the original manuscript in front of me. The note in question could possibly be interpreted as a G#--EXCEPT that there is a ledger line used, and the line is way too long to have simply been an extension of the one on the following A. There's simply no reason to believe it's anything but an A.


May 8, 2007 at 10:28 AM · Well, that settles it. I'm changing to A. No one knows Bach like Bach did.

May 8, 2007 at 11:20 AM · Hi,

Amy F. - thanks for clarifying that for me.

For me, the comparison of the work in BWV 29 raises the interesting question of what harmonic context Bach may have envisaged for the note. In the case of Milstein for example, he mentions his knowledge of the companion work found in BWV 29 in an interview on CBS that can found in the VAI DVD where he plays the piece. That would probably explain his decisions to play the note as G#.

Raphael - I see your point. A fascsimile with scholarly introduction would be nice. Most good editions do list their sources for text and comparisons in case of doubt. But a good scholarly printing of the facsimile would be nice.

The history of the Bach and and its editions is fascinating (I once looked into this during my graduate studies as part of a rather large paper on the history of performance practice in Bach).

A comment about the editions mentioned above. The Joachim edition has the Bach manuscript (since he and Moser discovered its existence around the turn of the 20th century - I forget the exact year) in one of the two staves system they used. If I remember correctly it was done for comparison with the performance version suggested by Joachim. There is a fairly detailed discussion regarding this matter somewhere by Moser.

Most 20th century editions are based on the manuscript (the Auer edition though is not) while older ones (including that of the complete works edition from the 19th century) are based on the copy by Maria Magdalena which is now used along with a couple of other texts for comparison with the manuscript in critical editions like Barenreiter and Henle.

Hope this answers a couple of questions...


May 8, 2007 at 11:50 AM · But Christian, 2 of the 3 cantata sources we have say it should be A :) Have you ever paid attention to his first recording? He plays lots of wrong notes. I think he just prefers G# here. I doubt the cantata factored in (or the S&P manuscript).

May 8, 2007 at 12:26 PM · Raphael, the Lester book, "Bach's Works for Solo Violin: Style, Structure, Performance" is worth getting. It is well written (AKA Non-Academic-Speak) and has a lot of useful and interesting information. I think the only drawback is that Lester goes through the G Minor Sonata in wonderful detail, and then gives the rest of the cycle a brief go-through. I would have liked to read more about the other pieces.

May 8, 2007 at 12:59 PM · I second Anne's recommendation of the Lester book. One thing this exercise should demonstrate is that the term "urtext" as applied to Bach is a relative term. Much of his manuscript is subject to more than one interpretation, particularly what his slurs include. And, you cannot necessarily tell by what he does elsewhere in a piece what he meant in a particular place.

May 8, 2007 at 01:13 PM · Hi,

Jim - good point. As for Milstein - I am not agreeing with his choice, just offering the rationale behind it.


May 8, 2007 at 12:40 PM · "[Joachim] and Moser discovered its existence around the turn of the 20th century . . . "

I thought the autograph ms. was discovered in St. Petersburg at the beginning of the 19th c. about to be used as wrapping paper for butter or meat or something like that. Did the autograph disappear for a while after its first discovery? Does anyone know whether the first Bachgesellschaft edition worked from the autograph or from a copy?

Even though the autograph went into hiding for a while after His death, I think the S&Ps circulated widely in manuscript copies of varying reliability among violinists in the later part of the 18th century. They were used as exercises and I suspect they were played for pure personal enjoyment and satisfaction in private. Cartier, I believe, printed some excerpts (from a copy) in Paris in the 1790s. But the unthinkable idea of actually performing music for unaccompanied violin in public before an audience didn't occur to anyone until Joachim's era--he may have been the first to insist on doing so. Even so, not everyone was pleased: George Bernard Shaw, I believe, had some harsh things to say about Joachim's performance (though Joachim was probably past his prime at the time).

"The note in question could possibly be interpreted as a G#--EXCEPT that there is a ledger line used, and the line is way too long to have simply been an extension of the one on the following A."

In addition to the very bold ledger line, He writes the note at a slight but distinct distance above the top line of the staff. The G#s in the immediate vicinity are clearly contiguous to the top line.

But even the autograph isn't without errors . . .

May 8, 2007 at 01:28 PM · The controversy continues...

May 8, 2007 at 05:50 PM · Tom, your interesting point at the end of your last post leads me to one of my favorite interpretive questions : at the beginning of the Chaconne, to re-articulate the chord on the last 8th note, or to play a single A? I usually tend to play the chord again, but do not think that it's wrong at all not to. I think that the only subtle way to keep the harmony going w.o. repeating the chord is to play it on a keyboard instrument, which, of course was Bach's specialty. At letter X in the Joachim edition, or m 185 in Breitkopf, Bach writes out a repition of the chord. I don't have the Galamian. Someone please check out the ms. This would seem to imply that Bach wanted this sort of figure played this way - whenever it comes. Or, then again, maybe only in that spot?

I will eventually get that Lester book. Meanwhile, I would highly recommend Szigeti's book, "On The Violin". Lots of wisdom everywhere, and a few chapters specifically on Bach, including some of our issues here!

Yes, the controversy continues - but so constructively, with everyone contributing meaningfully toward the search. I think this is one of the best threads in some time!

May 8, 2007 at 06:05 PM · Bill's points about the autograph are correct. The good news is that at least we violinists have the autograph. The cello suites "urtext" is some editor's best guess as to what Bach intended derived from four or five sources that agree on very little.

May 8, 2007 at 07:26 PM · I dunno. If Milstein played a G# and Heifetz played an A, I feel like I'm in good company either way! I rather like the fact I'm not reinventing the wheel every time I play Bach, just reinventing myself.

This is a wonderful thread, and I'm glad so many Bach queries were brought forward--it's given me the illumination which is so necessary to the process of reinventing oneself.

May 8, 2007 at 10:45 PM · Greetings,

I like the Lester book to and wish he had gonre further thna just the focus on the g minor. One thing that I couldn`t get y head round. He said that if you put on recordings of -any-violinist playing the presto from that sonata there is no distinction between phrasing in twos or three- one cannot hear a difference. I think I can and I feel that players such as Grumiaux mnaipulate this interesting contrast more or less instinctively. I belive I can hear this. Maybe I am kidding myslef?



May 10, 2007 at 12:53 PM · Buri, is this what you are talking about?

"Remarkably, neither metric patterning seems strong enough to overwhelm the other. No matter which way violinists think they are playing the passage, the other interpretation remains quite audible in their performance...I have played recordings of the opening measures of the Presto for several musicians and asked which meter projected. Invariably, I received varying answers, confirming that the metric ambiguity here is so deeply embedded that some residue of it projects no matter how hard the violinist aims for a single vision." (P. 111-112)

Well, I just listened to my Grumiaux recording, and he does play around with the meter, and it is fairly obvious where and when he does it. I don't think I am superimposing my own version onto a recording, especially this recording, which has such a confident artistic vision to it.

May 10, 2007 at 01:18 PM · Also, Dion, thanks for posting all of those different editions. Very useful information!

Looking at the manuscript in Bach's hand (the one in back of the Galamian edition) it is clear that Bach wrote an A. Even if the A is a teensy bit on the south side of the ledger line, it would still be an A because of the way the ledger line extends across both notes in one swoop.

I think it would be safe to say that the manuscript in Bach's hand is a "clean" copy he did, either making that copy off of his own working copies, or writing it down from memory. I have always thought that, just from my own experience of writing music out by hand (though not using quills!!!). Lester backs this up.

This information is from Lester too (and mentioned in this thread): David's edition came out in 1845. Joachim/Moser's 1908 edition was the first to be based on Bach's own autograph. And even though Joachim had the autograph, with that A in plain sight, he still used a G#. Could that have something to do with the tradition of playing a G# there (not public performance tradition, but private study tradition)? Joachim/Moser seemed to have no problem in changing all sorts of bowings, so maybe they didn't mind changing some notes.

Do the other primary sources, Anna Magdalena's manuscript, and the two other anonymous copyists, have a G#?

May 10, 2007 at 07:37 PM · Re the G minor presto - are we talking about 1&2&3& vs 123 456? The 1st gives the feeling of 3/8 which is how it's written and how Grumiaux plays it. The 2nd gives a feeling of it being in 2, with each beat represented by a triplet. You can definitely hear the difference.

Back to the E major Prelude...Has anybody else noticed this? In the famous baroliage string-crossing sections, I always try to emphasize the first note of each 4 note group. I don't over-emphasize it, mind you, just give it its due in a normal way, with an occasional tenuto here and there, where I feel it is called for. Yet when I hear others play it, ranging from Heifetz to Grumiaux, it always sounds like the 1st note is an off-beat, and the 4th note is a strong beat! And after the end of the passage, that 1st E sounds awkward - as if to adjust for some meter change. I'm sure they don't play it that way - it's like the auditory equivilent of an optical illusion. The only thing I can think of to account for this is that the resonance of the lowest string in each group of 4 notes pulls the ear to it.

BTW, no takers for my earlier Chaconne question?

May 10, 2007 at 10:50 PM · Greetings,

Raphael, the aural illusion you refer to is infamous. I don`t think there is much one can usefully do about it. I think of the moment of getting back on track in the listening ear (not the player) as `Bach`s Burp.`



May 11, 2007 at 01:57 PM · Bach and his contemporaries used to mix rhythms all the time. The Chaconne, which clearly is in 3/4, ends in a 2/4 rhythm. There is absolutely no need for emphasizing these rhytmical aberrations, because Bach has already taken care of that by writing them. As for the discussed g# in the Preludio, this is the only place in this piece where Bach writes two the same notes in a row - the two a's -, that are no open string notes. Which might speak for a slip of the pen and for a g#. To join the ranks with Milstein and Szigeti supports the choice for g# . But the best solutions I always find those, which are based on your own observations and taste. Play what you like best, either g# or a.

May 11, 2007 at 03:07 PM · Or use expressive intonation: play the g# ultra sharp and use a lot of vibrato. I suppose this is the same as an earlier suggestion.

May 11, 2007 at 09:17 PM · Greetings,

if you used a baroque instrument tuned down a semitone but played 'a" you could legitimately be claiming to do both, thus keeping everone happy.



May 12, 2007 at 03:47 AM · >at the beginning of the Chaconne, to re-articulate the chord on the last 8th note, or to play a single A?<

When i was younger i insisted on playing the entire chord. Recently i tend to repeat the top line.

I try to imagine the Chaconne as the Anonymous 4 would sing it; when i imagine the piece vocally in that way, the repeated chord sounds out of place and rhythmically unbalanced, so i no longer play it that way.

May 17, 2007 at 05:36 PM · Hi folks! Re my postings on 5/6 & 5/7, I've just located what I may be looking for, regarding a better reproduction than in the Galamian edition of the autograph score, preceded by scholarly notes, but otherwise left alone. Check out

The question now is do I want to pay $90 for it??

May 18, 2007 at 01:18 PM · Raphael, $90.00 sounds like a nice little tax write-off.

As for re-articulating the chords in the opening of the Ciaconna, well, I change my mind every time I play the piece. And when I listen to various recordings or performances, the opening chords are never a "Make or Break" issue for me.

Just for kicks, I wonder what everybody thinks about measure 19, downbeat chord, of the G Minor Adagio. Barenreiter has A + F#, but Galamian has D + A + F#. I looked at the facsimile in the back of the Galamian edition, and it sure looks to me like a D + A + F#, but it could also be interpreted as a sixteenth note flag.

In his book, Lester comes out strongly for no D on p. 50, citing both harmonic and handwriting consistency reasons.

June 21, 2007 at 03:36 PM · I thought I would bring this thread back. I was visiting my Aged Ps last week, and rescued my old Joachim-Moser International Edition from a box in the basement. I thought I'd quote from Moser's Foreword:

"By a happy chance Joachim came across the autograph of Bach's Sonatas and Partitas which was is possession of a private collector and remained until then practically unknown. The owner made a photographic reproduction of it and placed it at our disposal. Thus we were in a position to produce an 'entirely independent work which is not based on any previous edition'." [Those words in boldface lettering]


"The first printing of the present work occurred a few years after Joachim's death. Its delayed publication was due to the long negotiations with the owner of the autograph purporting to include the photographic reproduction in its entirety in this edition. We were finally obliged to limit ourselves to including in facsimile only the Adagio of the First Sonata."

Well, it is good that Galamian and IMC got the complete facsimile in their edition.

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