Editing Bach

Edited: October 16, 2019, 7:57 PM · I'm discovering some interesting things about editing Bach.
Maybe someone who knows more about musicology can point me in the right direction?
I'll probably plaster this across multiple forums, so, I apologise if you read it more than once.
I was listening to Rostropovitch and Tortelier playing the BWV 1007 prelude, and I preferred Tortelier. Rostropovitch seemed to go more for détaché with a scrapiness to it, and I felt that it should be more legato. So I found three editions online.

Baerenreiter according to amazon

Samwise (never heard of them). Here perhaps the prelude is poor evidence, as some of the rest is perhaps over-edited. (you'll need to look inside at the preview)

And Anna Magdalena Bach's transcription from IMSLP.

And it all seems to be about interpreting her obviously abbreviated slurs - literal/slightly abbreviated (as in the Baerenreiter) or very abbreviated (as in the Samwise).
Baerenreiter have a huge reputation, but I'd go for Samwise initially, cross-referencing with IMSLP. And I'd be very interested to chase up all the other original MSS to see where other things may be more abbreviated than people realise (there's the famous bourée for example from Suzuki 3, which has some disputed bowings, if we can judge from the online pdf that's floating around)

Replies (6)

October 16, 2019, 10:11 PM · Suzuki should not be used an an example of good editing.

Articulation marks were not used during Bach's time. This is a matter of interpretation. Some play more detached, some play more legato. The bow, whether modern or Baroque, will lead to a more detached stroke. So will the choice of venue: a very large, live hall may require a different stroke than a small, dead space. So will the recording process.

There is a bigger mystery in Bach's autograph: how can one explain the very few dynamic markings? Are they Bach's? Why didn't he use more of them? The last movement of the A minor sonata is an example where forte and piano appear. There are a few other places. Very odd.

Edited: October 16, 2019, 10:27 PM · Note that this question is about the cello suites, for which there is no autograph. There are at least three contemporary copies, all of which are believed to contain errors.

To some extent, anyone playing the cello suites will have to come up with their own version, even when playing from the "best" editions.

Edited: October 17, 2019, 2:49 AM · I hadn't realised the cello suites were a special case.

@Scott "how can one explain the very few dynamic markings?" The same thought occurred to me with Corelli. I thought it was the Op5, no 3 adagio (but I could be wrong, as my copy doesn't have an annotation, and I thought I had annotated it). There are no dynamics in the original and possibly the only one in the Baerenreiter is a piano three bars from the end?

October 17, 2019, 8:14 AM · One can find summaries and translations of the work of Leopold Mozart, W.A. Mozart's father, which gives bowing rules that might be an insight into the practices of the period.

There are also scholarly articles on ornamentation during the baroque period, which apparently varied dramatically among regions.

I have transcribed a bunch of stuff from Bach autographs of violin works and, in general, there are no dynamic markings.

Slurs are sometimes included which probably inform players to play whole works detache style if there are no slurs, but I am not convinced Bach was concerned with indicating slurs as a matter of habit. A lot of the stuff appears written in a rushed hand.

For ornamentation, there are trill and turn markings, although used sparsely. Also, grace notes are indicated with some frequency.

I am not a professional musician, but after transcribing a work and learning to play through it with some confidence, I will agonize over the placement of slurs and articulations. I will record variations and playback to decide which sounds more appealing to me. Of course, listening to the interpretations of skilled artists is always useful. The variations in performance suggest to me that they, too, agonized over the placement of slurs and articulations.

October 17, 2019, 9:53 AM · Slurs are not just indications of articulations, but emphasis as well.

Bach did indicate slurs as a matter of habit, as one can see in the violin sonata autograph. I realize that there isn't an autograph available for the cello--violins are lucky to have one.

October 17, 2019, 10:20 AM · WA Mozart reminds me of Waluigi from Mario Brothers.


Back to Bach -- Some years ago Valerie Arsenault made a scholarly trek through the Cello suites en route to her stunning transcription for violin, which is among my favorite "editions" of anything. She took great care as to the various markings and her fingerings are very sparse.

Scott wrote, "Articulation marks were not used during Bach's time. This is a matter of interpretation. Some play more detached, some play more legato." To that I would only add that in modern times, what we often hear is that articulations and dynamics can be varied within the same performance when the piece contains repeats.

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