Edition of Bach?

June 21, 2007 at 06:36 PM · What edition of the Bach Sonatas and Partitas would you guys recommend?

Replies (38)

June 21, 2007 at 07:22 PM · Absolutely Barenreiter which based on the original manuscript!!

June 21, 2007 at 07:14 PM · The Galamian edition (published by International) has fingerings that are clever but some don't like them (lots of half position). It also has a facsimile of Bach's autograph that you can consult if you don't like the suggested bowings.

Many violinists swear by the Szeryng edition (Schott), which incorporates fingerings and bowings recommended by one of the most eminent performers of this music.

The Baerenreiter edition purports to be a scrupulously edited version of the manuscript sources (primarily Bach's autograph) and has no added fingerings or bowings. You might consider it if you are comfortable devising your own fingerings and bowings.

The Henle edition has an unmarked version of the manuscript sources as well as an edited version with fingerings and bowings by Wolfgang Schneiderhan. It's a masterpiece of musical engraving and quite beautiful to look at, but I can't vouch for the fngerings and bowings in the edited version.

There is an edition by Flesch published by Peters. It included a careful reproduction of Bach's autograph, but some might find Flesch's fingerings and bowings somewhat dated.

If you feel you need help with fingerings and bowings (and inventing workable fingerings can be particularly tricky in these works), the Galamian or Szeryng editions are probably your best bet. If you prefer to devise your own fingerings and bowings, Baerenreiter is probably the one you want.

Avoid the Schirmer, Carl Fischer or International editions (other than Galamian), which are heavily edited based on late 19th/early 20th century performance styles and (apart from the Joachim edition) were prepared before the Bach autograph became available.

June 21, 2007 at 08:59 PM · There have been previous threads on this. Please refer to them. Bill Walderman has given you very good advice. One thing that should be pointed out is that "urtext" is a relative term in this context. Many of Bach's slurs in the original manuscript are not all that clear, and his slurring is not necessarily consistent, so looking at the slurring of similar passages does not necessarily answer the question of what Bach intended. I like the Szeryng which is an urtext because he distinguishes between what Bach wrote and what he is suggesting, it has good fingerings, and contains a lengthy dicussion not only of baroque practice but of the choices Szeryng made at certain points. Have fun!

June 21, 2007 at 10:06 PM · For sure Szeryng is not a master in baroque practice.

Barenreiter is the best for everything (it is the CHOICE).

I suggest to you Lucy van Dael interpretation of Sonatas and Partitas (A=415 Hz) played according to the baroque practice. It's great!

For contemporary interpretation Szeryng or Grumiaux are pretty good.

After you make your choices!!

P.S. I don't work for Barenreiter it's just it is the best!

June 23, 2007 at 04:43 PM · Antonio-I like Van Dael's recording. However, none of the A-415 crowd has put out an edition. I still think Szeryng's edition is the one to get. Remember that getting an edition is only the first step. HOwever, I would start with Szeryng for the reasons stated.

June 23, 2007 at 06:58 PM · Right because yoy have to do the right interpretation you have to follow the most similar edition to the original manuscript possible.

You know very well that in 60' none was talking about baroque practice so I wouldn't trust Szeryng or Flesh because they played chords instead of arpeggio (practice that should be followed) or to play trilli with the inferior note instead of the superior or fingering which brings to portamenti which didn't exsist in the baroque practice

That's all

It is just respect toward the will of the composer

June 23, 2007 at 08:16 PM · Barenreiter.

June 23, 2007 at 11:01 PM · Dion, I don't know you but I would shake your hand for your suggestion:


June 24, 2007 at 12:36 AM · Or, get the Galamian, tear out the first half of the book (Galamian's edits) and read from the facsimiles of the manuscripts in the back. It takes a bit to get used to the handwriting, but it gets easier.

June 24, 2007 at 03:23 PM · You might look at the Scholarly Performing Edition by Lawrence Golan. (Published by Mel Bay.)

June 24, 2007 at 03:37 PM · "It is just respect toward the will of the composer"

There are almost no dynamic markings or fingerings in the Bach ms and the slurs are notoriously difficult to interpret. There are also apparent errors in the ms -- for example, sometimes runs of very short notes are lacking a cross-bar. (In fact, even the Baerenreiter edition deviates from the Bach ms in some instances.)

So how do we know what the "will of the composer" is? And how do we know that Bach would have insisted on arpeggiating chords instead of allowing performers using modern bows to break them in the modern fashion?

How do we know that Bach wanted to impose on all violinists for all eternity a single and unique way of performing these works?

June 24, 2007 at 03:54 PM · The only thing I can give you reason about is the fingering but it is better to find them by ourselves than using the ones which make you play romantic portamento.

As for arpeggio who on earth has ever played chords in the third movement in Bach concerto in A minor?

As for the dynamic it is better to find our own way without being influenced by romantic interpretation. it is enough to use few rules. In baroque practice you have to give more emphasis on odd subdivisions and less on the even ones.

That's all

June 24, 2007 at 07:25 PM · Neither the Galamian nor the Szeryng editions offer fingerings that call for "Romantic" (whatever that means) slides. Galamian claimed that his fingerings, not just for Bach but for later music as well, revived 18th century practices (such as abundant use of the half position and "creeping" shifts) that avoid slides.

And has any violinist ever tried to reproduce Bach's bowings exactly?

The Baerenreiter edition is for advanced violinists who have the maturity, skill and self-confidence to devise their own fingerings and bowings. (Those who are interested in 18th century performance practice will need to study the subject extensivly before turning to the score, however.)

For Zippfelgeiger like myself, especially those using modern bows, the Galamian and Szeryng editions provide helpful suggestions about bowing and fingering while faithfully allowing you to see the markings in Bach's manuscript. I can't speak for the Golan edition, which may be helpful with 18th century performance practice.

June 25, 2007 at 02:00 AM · Who knows? The most important source of information about violin performance practice in the 18th century was written mid-century by a man whose highest attainment as a violinist was the second violin section of a provincial orchestra. Who's to say that outstanding Saxon and Thuringian violinists earlier in the century didn't cultivate expressive portamenti?

One thing is certain: no one alive today has the slightest first-hand knowledge of how Bach or any other violinist in his neighborhood performed his music.

June 25, 2007 at 03:08 AM · The half position and "creeping" shifts, indeed! A lot of 2nd and 4th positions too. Thanks for the helpful explanation, Bill.

June 25, 2007 at 11:52 AM · Now that I know the editors "have made" people play romantic portamentos (portamenti BTW...) I can die in peace...! Actually I own all the discussed editions, but when I must learn some Bach solos I do prefer the online version available (legally & for free) at the Icking Music Archive, for the simple reason that it's very easy to resize and so a page-turner is not needed, from the first day on...Using a smaller size has also the advantage that I can't see the fingerings/bowings I don't like anymore...Anyway, AFAIK the manuscript used by the Baerenreiter & Int'l (Galamian) editions is handwritten...But NOT by J.S.Bach...

And Bill, the 2nd violinist of the province orchestra was not the only (LOL) one...I have somewhere a couple of (live & actually "bootlegs", no one would even think of commercial use of it!) recordings of a VERY BAD Viennese string quartet which members (not the violist, but that shouldn't also be expected...) are now famous & respected so-called "experts"...Sounds really epic(or epochal, or I don't know so right!)even if they used an "non-historic" A = 440...

June 25, 2007 at 12:33 PM · There's all this huff and bother about "period Performance" and performing how it was performed back then. The thing is, we will never really know how it was performed, we're only making educated guesses. You can also possibly assume that Bach wrote these pieces possibly for himself to play, possibly in a large German cathedral, where the notes would blend into each other. Therefore, a piece like the G minor Presto becomes a series of changing harmonies, rather than a flurry of notes. But we'll never really know.

Take some heed of what has been said, but develop your own style of Bach. If you don't like the period performance style of playing, then don't try and replicate it. There's nothing wrong with the performances of the so called "romantic" Bach players - it's all personal taste, and we can have a world where there is Period Bach and Romantic Bach, and everything in between and outside.

June 25, 2007 at 12:47 PM · soli not solos!

Hey what do you think? that Barenreiter edition is written on a egyptian papyrus with gregorian neumi instead of notes?

June 25, 2007 at 01:14 PM · Soli not solos...It's right, so sorry if I did offend you w/ it... BTW the Baerenreiter edition is written in VERY BAD paper (where I live there's always 80% or more humidity , so I'm an expert in paper quality...LOL) and tends to fall apart as soon as you have learned the second/third sonata or partita... Also to be considered...

June 25, 2007 at 02:08 PM · Claudio--yes, I know the manuscript's not written by J.S. Bach, but what's a girl to do? I figured if you're using Barenreiter already, there's no reason not to give the manuscripts a whirl. Just play the stuff in tune with proper attention to the rhythms and you'll be doing better than most. (Unless you live in a terribly humid climate, in which case, it seems, you should find a copy of Bach which is engraved in vinyl?)

June 25, 2007 at 02:16 PM · Kimberly...LOL! Actually an online copy and knowing 4 of the "sol_I per violino senza basso" by memory are 'nough for me...And about playing it in tune...hmmm...The stuff could need some "polish", we talk in a couple of years again...

June 25, 2007 at 02:41 PM · Claudio - what is your evidence that the manuscript was not written by Bach? It certainly is not a copy by Anna Magdelena since I have seen a copy of her handwritten copy of the cello suites, and there are significant differences between that document and the S&P manuscript.

June 25, 2007 at 02:35 PM · "Anyway, AFAIK the manuscript used by the Baerenreiter & Int'l (Galamian) editions is handwritten...But NOT by J.S.Bach..."

The opinion of the experts seems to be that the manuscript used as the basis for the Baerenreiter and Galamian editions is a fair copy made by Bach himself. A different manuscript discovered in the early 19th century, which was used as the basis for printed editions prior to the Joachim-Moser edition of 1906 (including the first Bachgesellschaft edition), is no longer believed to be by Bach.

June 25, 2007 at 03:44 PM · Bill -thanks for straightening that out. I have heard this falsehood from time to time, and someone once said (on this forum or another one) that Aaron Rosand is among the people purveying it.

June 25, 2007 at 04:07 PM · Hi Tom, my "evidence" is only looking at the facsimile and comparing it to a couple of (evidently ...?)authentic J.S.Bach manuscripts, that's all.And about experts & "experts"...Hmmm...I remember the same violin being offered to me, one time as a Camilli, one time as a Gobetti, by two different "experts"...Enough said?

June 25, 2007 at 04:20 PM · Claudio - my understanding is that those who think it is not authentic Bach have attributed it to Anna, but it is not in her hand for the reasons stated. Who, in your view, wrote it, and what evidence is there for it?

June 25, 2007 at 05:21 PM ·

June 25, 2007 at 06:04 PM · OK, then I simply don't know (I said AFAIK, or not?) where I have it from. Anyway I'm not the right person for this kind of discussion, since I think they're by far too much musicologists(What makes them experts for old documents BTW...?)around nowadays...My opinion, not purveyed by R.,Y. nor Z. I only wanted to recommend Icking's edition online and that was it.

June 25, 2007 at 07:08 PM · "What makes them experts for old documents BTW...?)"

Bach's musical and non-musical handwriting has been studied by musicologists in detail. A lot of what we think we know about Bach depends on their ability to identify his hand. I'm not a musicologist, either, but I think it's reasonable to trust their ability to identify Bach's hand, though a measure of skepticism is always healthy when facts about which we don't have first-hand knowledge are in question.

June 25, 2007 at 08:20 PM · Claudio - Icking's edition online is a good one since it comes in both "urtext" (with all the caveats I have mentioned about urtexts in my previous posts) and edited versions and is free. His transcription of the cello suites for violin is also good. I still would go with Szeryng's edition for the reasons stated in my previous post.

June 25, 2007 at 09:55 PM · you know, szeryng rarely uses the fingerings and bowings in his own edition. compare with his recordings...i would swear by it just because it has his name on it. when you're at that level of playing, you play different fingerings and bowings with bach each time....

just a thought....


June 25, 2007 at 10:02 PM · Amen, d. Violinists who are that good do not need the music anyway; they have the piece memorized already.

June 26, 2007 at 10:59 AM ·

July 29, 2007 at 02:55 AM · how large are the staffs and notes in the szeryng edition?

July 29, 2007 at 09:17 PM · as large as every other edition

July 29, 2007 at 09:18 PM · What are your opinions on the Breitkopf & Härtel edition?

I see the pdf files on imslp.org.


Is this also an urtext?

I also has another Breitkopf & Härtel on my hand and it seems to be a edited version with fingerings and some perplexing slurs. The editor is Walther Davisson.

Is this edition suitable for a beginner like me to start with s&p?

July 30, 2007 at 01:21 AM · I'm currently using B&H edited by Davisson. It seems to have some weird bowings, as far as my teacher is concerned.

July 30, 2007 at 01:46 AM · A serious violin student should have three or more editions.

1. An urtext. Barenreiter is fine. There is no need to use a facsimile of the manuscript. You won't learn anything more than you would from the Barenreiter, (although it might give you some inspiration.

2. An edition with good practical fingerings -- Galamian or Joachim-Moser. Galamian is probably the most practical although I find his edition pedantic and not terribly musical. Joachim is more artistic, although it is old fashioned both violinistically and musically.

3. An edition which shows how a great artist really plays this music. The only one I know of is the Szeryng edition. His fingerings and bowings are extremely personal, complex and idiosyncratic, but they are on a much higher artistic/violinistic level than any of the other editions. I have learned more from this edition than any other, even though I end up using hardly any of his markings.

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