Which edition of Bach S&Ps to buy?

April 1, 2022, 3:52 PM · The three editions that I'm considering are Henle, Barenreiter, and Galamian\International edition. My teacher wants me to start working on the Allegro from Sonata 2 and it will be the first movement of a Bach S&P that I've ever attempted to (seriously) learn. So an edition with good suggested fingerings would be nice.

Replies (38)

April 1, 2022, 4:49 PM · Get the edition Szeryng edited put out by Schott. Szeryng was one of the great interpreters of the S&Ps and his edition is an urtext in addition to containing his suggested bowing, fingerings, etc. It is superb in all respects. If you feel you would like the autograph manuscript, download it from IMSLP rather than buying the Galamian edition.
Edited: April 1, 2022, 5:37 PM · In my opinion, buy as many different editions as you can afford! We have three: Galamian, Szeryng, and Rachel Barton Pine's. I am generally partial to Szeryng's fingerings and bowings, and I like how the edition differentiates between original and not original in terms of bowings. Galamian is most useful for the manuscript. Expect to change many bowings back to their originals. Fingerings are OK. Rachel Barton Pine's is interesting. I wouldn't use it alone -- I actually feel like it adds too much info (ie cresc and descresc which I don't always agree with) but it definitely gives nice ideas of how to achieve a Baroque quality. Fingerings are pretty good. Bowings OK.
Edited: April 1, 2022, 5:46 PM · greetings,
personally i recommend Szeryng as per Tom. With all due respect to the great Galamian, this version is infinitely better on every level in my opinion. Actually i would avoid the Galamian, with all due respect to the previous post.
The other approach is to start with a clean slate and created your own version. i don7t really like this approach personally.the szeryng will give you a terrific sense of how to bow, finger and express Bach. after learning from this edition one then has a solid base on which to make ones own decisions.
cheers,
buri
April 1, 2022, 5:54 PM · The main attraction of the Galamian to me is that it has a photostat of the autograph manuscript included. I am not sure if the autograph is actually in JSB's own hand (I thought it was) but its hard to not be influenced by the vigor and expressiveness of the hand-written music. We may have discussed this before, but may this not be an additional insight into JSB's musical intent?

So if another version is better, is it possible to by a copy of the autograph separately? Or maybe its worth purchasing the Galamian just for this?

April 1, 2022, 6:04 PM · https://imslp.org/wiki/6_Violin_Sonatas_and_Partitas,_BWV_1001-1006_(Bach,_Johann_Sebastian)#IMSLP29448
April 1, 2022, 6:06 PM · https://www.amazon.com/Bach-Sonatas-Partitas-Sonaten-Partiten/dp/3795795044/ref=mp_s_a_1_1?crid=2RFOIB6E61KIT&keywords=schott+bach+sonatas+and+partitas&qid=1648854320&sprefix=schott+bach+sonatas+and+partitas%2Caps%2C80&sr=8-1

Is this the right edition for the Szeryng version?

April 1, 2022, 6:45 PM · +1 for the Szeryng edition, and yes, that's the one.

But I think the answer for this right now is
a) whatever your teacher wants you to buy (even if it's Galamian, gulp) but if Galamian then also
b) something with better edits and/or an Urtext.

I currently have the Szeryng (which I love), a Flesch/Peters version that includes the urtext on the line below his edits (so, page turns...), a Wiener Urtext edition also from Schott, and the Galamian, which a more recent teacher preferred.

I will say that many of the current generation of teachers seem to have learned from the Galamian edition and are therefore partial to it–but I don't love the fingerings, and the bowings don't always make sense to me. I'm intrigued by the RBP but since I'm really not working on Bach right now, it would be somewhat gratuitous.

April 1, 2022, 7:27 PM · I went with the Szeryng edition. My teacher did not specify an edition, but I've seen hers and it is the Barenreiter one. I don't think she cares so much which edition I buy because she will just have me change anything she doesn't like. I wanted an edition with good fingerings and bowings because I am supposed to learn some of it on my own for 2 weeks until my next lesson.
April 1, 2022, 8:24 PM · szeryng edition is great! So is the Barenreiter. They're a lifetime of learning, so you'll have chances to get more.
Edited: April 1, 2022, 9:47 PM · Szeryng I like much more than his playing of the pieces. It has the advantage of being fairly transparent on what are his recommendations vs the original. It is also clearly laid out, so not bad to work from.

Otherwise, get the Henle urtext. It will be a good recipient of your own final (hah!) ideas, and will reduce your dependence on other editors.

If that is too expensive, there is a public domain copy of Barenreiter on IMSLP.

I should probably go back and look at the Galamian. He wasn't a famous teacher for no reason at all. But when I first used it, it annoyed me because of all the unnecessary markings and (I thought) unmusical fingerings. It didn't help that I was studying with one of his disciples, who was very good at saying "Mr Galamian says..." I improved from her lessons, but not during the year. It took a break each summer before I got past my irritation and figured out what she really meant for me to learn.

One more option, not as commonly seen today: Joachim and Moser. Not sure how much of that is actually Joachim, but there are some very useful, if old-fashioned, ideas, and a transcript of the urtext running underneath.

April 2, 2022, 7:57 AM · Peters do the Flesch edition, which has an urtext in parallel.
I haven't taken the time to compare, but Flesch's fingerings are sometimes better for small hands than Galamian's.

My favorite discs are Grumiaux (trancendental elegance), Mullova (non-quirky HIP), and Enesco (heart rending and majestic).

April 2, 2022, 8:40 AM · Incidentally, I've been told that Galamian didn't actually do the fingerings/bowings in "his" edition. It was his assistant.
Edited: April 2, 2022, 8:51 AM · I once asked my teacher this question. He replied, "It doesn't matter because I'm going to change everything anyway." But I agree it's nice to have some kind of hopefully self-consistent starting point.

My (limited) experience with the Allegro movements is that fingering them doesn't take a lot of imagination. Whenever there are a lot of single-position shifts, you find ways to do them on half-steps.

April 2, 2022, 11:12 AM · If a student is mature/advanced enough to learn solo Bach, then it is time to learn how finger and bow the music. They should not just be following someone else’s recipe, especially those of long-gone players from bygone eras.

I too grew up on Galamian in an age where everyone did. He was still a dominant voice in violin pedagogy and some of my teachers were either students of his or “grand-students.” Much of my music was a Galamian edition, including Bach.

I’m sure others reading this had similar training, so sorry to offend your rosy nostalgia: those days are long gone and good riddance. It’s one thing when a young student needs every fingering and bowing dictated to them. But at a certain point—romantic concerti and Bach—they need to start figuring out things for themselves instead of slavishly following directions. That is an old-style way of teaching:
“Take dis musik und do vhat is written!”

Instead, the student should be buying the absolute cleanest urtext available and struggle. If something is obviously not working, then the teacher should lead the student to something better, but not by saying “just do what I do.” Often, students will try to make something work without having considered alternatives. The teacher should ask, “what else can you do here? Did you try second position?”
It’s more of a Socratic method that teaches students, if nothing else, the concept that they actually can think for themselves and start to make decisions.

It doesn’t mean they always will. Some students will, unfortunately, always be dependent and might never have the energy or initiative to puzzle out the music. They will need everything on a silver platter.
And the teacher, having been brought up in that tradition, or having lacked the training themselves (or still retaining their own hero worship, either for their Famous Teacher or favorite Famous Violinist), will not question what learned decades prior. They may be perfectly happy to serve it up on a silver platter. Or not have the energy or creativity to explore alternatives.

From a musical perspective, I found Szering’s Bach to be rather a bore: a loud, aggressive, Soviet-style with little nuance, unburdened by historical “baggage.” In fact, I found this to be true of Bach recording of most of the great violinists of the 60s, 70s, and 80s. Like him or not, at Tetlaff was a breath of fresh air: someone who actually thought about Bach instead of regurgitating stale traditions. So was Kremer…albeit frantic and lacking in tonal beauty.

Buy an urtext, learn to struggle make your own decisions, and teach your own students to explore and struggle.

April 2, 2022, 11:40 AM · She actually gave me a choice between any of the final movements of the 3 sonatas. I picked the A minor kind of arbitrarily, but after listening to it a lot last night, I'm thinking that I probably should have gone with the Presto. The A minor Allegro and C major Allegro Assai, at least to me, sound a fair bit more difficult than the presto. The C major, in particular, I can imagine being a complete scratch fest with the string crossings and bariolage (I don't know if you call it bariolage in this case, but watching Hahn play it, there are definitely lots of places where you do that kind of string crossing like in the Preludio). The only difficulty I can see with the Presto is the tempo unless I'm missing something. Yes there are lots of string crossings there too, but they don't seem as bad as the other 2.
April 2, 2022, 11:50 AM · Scott - as a perennial student myself, what you wrote is most refreshing. Thanks. Just one question: What about working on the autograph (as noted above, the main reason I have both urtext and the Galamian editions) itself rather than an urtext? Do you think that the emotion in the writing is useful or irrelevant?
April 2, 2022, 12:28 PM · @Scott Cole I agree with you completely. I just don't think it applies here because I doubt I am at the level that you would consider ready for Bach S&Ps. I am definitely going to treat this as a serious go at it, but I don't think my teacher is expecting an honest S&P movement with good phrasing and stuff like that. I could be wrong, she didn't say anything about what she was expecting from me yet, but I imagine this is more along the lines of a bowing study for me in her mind.
April 2, 2022, 1:51 PM · I recommend Barton-Pine’s edition for the following reasons.
1. You can ignore her bowing and fingering, which tends to lean historical performance.

2. The size of the music is very easy on the eyes.

3. If you can’t ignore her markings, the digital content has a very nice urtext that is clean and easy to read.

4. She made some cool digital content that pasted snippets of the autograph manuscript in context for study.

April 2, 2022, 6:04 PM · Elise,
Yes, I also had the autograph in my Galamian. But why try to make sense of that chicken scratch? Might as well get the urtext. No, I don’t see any emotion in the chicken scratching.

There are, however, a couple of interesting dynamic markings in the autographs, and one has to wonder if they are actually original. Why would Bach have wrote p and f in the A minor allegro, but almost nowhere else? Did he feel that strongly about an echo effect? It’s puzzling.

The fact that there is generally just one version each of the mentioned artists’ editions, whether Szering, Galamian, Pine, etc, is also puzzling to me. I studied Bach my whole career and my edits were never cemented in place—the movements changed over time as I studied with different teachers, listened to various versions, and thought about them. It seems strange that someone would print them up, in effect saying to the world, “this is how I do it. Period.”

Edited: April 2, 2022, 8:59 PM · In my case, the composer's manuscript is useful for exploring the original articulations because of the possibility that other versions could contain wrong transcriptions(e.g. ambiguous slurs).
April 2, 2022, 9:22 PM · Regarding Bach's chicken-scratch: Where others see emotion I see haste.
April 2, 2022, 10:54 PM · I sense some avian prejudice here. Why can’t chickens be emotional when they scratch?
April 3, 2022, 12:47 AM · It's a chicken-egg type question, right?
April 3, 2022, 2:09 AM · Exactly. Is my Bach scratchy because I am too emotional, or do I get too emotional because my Bach is scratchy?
April 3, 2022, 5:55 AM · I learned first on Szeryng and the free Werner Icking one online. When I did it with a teacher later, he strongly suggested Galamian Bach (as I found when I searched it, many music schools do to).

After a bit of playing I figured out why: at every hardest point, Galamian has an extremely clever fingering to de-risk it, and many of them were far better than what I had been able to figure out on my own. He often uses second position to good effect, and in a few cases he uses nonobvious position choice for reasons of left hand balance.

That said, the manuscript at the end is just as valuable in the Galamian edition (and my teacher frequently sent me there for matters of bowing and dynamics), and I found myself loving Galamian's left hand ideas once I mastered it, but often disagreeing with his bowing choice (where it different from Bach's), and sometimes after I learned the notes I would play from the manuscript directly. In some cases I went back to Szeryng's bowings, where I didn't stick with what Bach had written (or not written).

Everything Galamian has is done for a reason, and it can be instructive to figure out the reason, even when you then remove it - some of his bowings which struck me as backwards were there to avoid an incorrect emphasis, etc, and while I may not choose to use them, I then need to solve hte problem he was solving some other way. There were, however, very few cases in which I could improve on his fingerings.

April 3, 2022, 7:13 AM · One reason I respect but don’t like Perlman’s Bach recording is that it sounds like the Galamian edition sprung to life. No surprise— he studied with Galamian.
April 3, 2022, 10:11 AM · One of the interesting aspects of Bach's manuscript, IMHO, is that in many cases you have trouble discerning exactly which notes are within a particular slur. There also appears to be a certain amount of inconsistency in sense that Bach does not necessarily bow similar passages the same for no apparent reason. Anyhow, this always puzzled me.
April 3, 2022, 6:35 PM · The Szeryng edition arrived in the mail today. It seems he has a love of the 4th finger. I don't know if it's just for this particular movement, but I think a lot of those 4th fingers are going to be replaced with open strings for me. That seems so much more difficult. Is he doing that just to have a more even tone color? I can't imagine that it's there for simplicity...
April 3, 2022, 7:52 PM · When you vibrate a lot, open strings are to be managed carefully.
Edited: April 4, 2022, 7:14 AM · Time to go back to Schradieck and find the ones that work your fourth finger.

On the other hand, one thing I have noticed about editions "of a certain age" is that open strings were very much out of fashion. So were even-numbered positions. Maybe some shifts into 2nd position -- even for just a few notes -- will help you in the short term? I have found them useful in solo Bach.

April 4, 2022, 11:53 AM · Christopher - the practice I am familiar with is using open strings when you are going up and 4th finger when you are coming down. I can't recall if Szeryng sticks to that convention in his fingerings. However, Paul is correct that you really need to try to get your 4th finger in shape because you have to use it in higher positions. Paul is also correct that even-numbered positions can be used to avoid the 4th finger/open string choice. 2nd position is quite underrated. Good luck with the S&Ps and enjoy, however, you decide to deal with the 4th finger issue!
Edited: April 4, 2022, 12:06 PM · It's not that my 4th finger is necessarily weak, it just seems that using the 4th finger in a lot of these spots (for instance, on the fast slur of A-C-D-E) seems unnecessarily difficult. Lifting off of the A on D-string and getting it to the E on the A-string in such a fast passage just seems like a pain with no musical purpose that I can see. The 4th finger on descending patterns is something I've always been taught and have stuck with, but I thought open strings were encouraged in Baroque to add contrast to the music since decoration with heavy vibrato is discouraged. In romantic music, I completely understand you would always want to use the 4th instead of open because you don't want to interrupt a melodic line with a sudden change in color with an open string. But it would be a great exercise to strengthen the 2-4 stretch of A-C. It's always a tricky one in scales with thirds for me.
April 4, 2022, 4:16 PM · Christopher - The fast slur of A-C-D-E you allude to is probably one where you really want to use something other than open E, which is really strident compared with the other notes and has you jumping a string.

Baroque practice, as I understand it, did encourage use of open strings, but with gut strings back then, the difference in color is probably not as pronounced. I also play viola, and this is not an issue for us. We use open strings all the time. The bottom line is you have to do what works best for you and sounds good rather than slavishly following conventions, etc.

April 4, 2022, 5:32 PM · Christopher,
One of the most important points about the Szeryng edition is that he treats each string as a voice in our choir. Therefore, he uses a fourth finger in order to stay with a particular voice for musical reasons. You can learn a tremendous amount from this. If you decide to get rid of those things simply because they are difficult then you are choosing the path of least resistance and losing and great learning opportunity. You should be making fingering decisions based on colour and music line, not convenience. Of course you may decide that, For musical reasons, you do not want to use Szeryng‘s fingerings, but at least you have thought about them. I personally believe it will greatly enhance your musicianship and technique if you give them a try and then adopt or reject them according to your own unique musical personality.
Cheers,
Buri
Edited: April 4, 2022, 7:11 PM · @Tom the use of the 4 on the E is fine to me, he says to use 4th finger for the A. A C D E-->4 2 3 4. I've never seen anyone play it this way it's always 0 2 3 4. At least I don't think I've ever seen anyone play it that way.
April 4, 2022, 8:25 PM · I grew up with the Schirmer edition edited by Herrmann. The same version was re-published in 1973 by Paganiniana in a 11.5" x 15.5" enlarged size that included the Bach "signature facsimile" for the 2nd 1/3 of the pages (2 facsimile pages per sheet). So one can compare them note for note.

I also signed up and "bought" the MIRIAM FRIED Bach S&P masterclass on-line a few years ago but only looked into the Chaconne thinking I had forever to follow up, but by the time I returned to it I found out my purchase was actually a 1-year rental that had expired. But her performances on CD are definitely worth hearing.

April 4, 2022, 11:20 PM · Buri nails the reason for Szeryng's fingerings. Fingerings are also used for color, and to maintain a consistent pattern of string crossings. They're musically thoughtful -- not designed to maximize ease.
April 5, 2022, 1:01 PM · To begin, I completely agree with Scott Cole's comments above. Buy the cleanest urtext available and enjoy the struggle! I have several editions, including the Szeryng edition that he himself personally autographed for me. I find it too busy and marked up. I've been working with the Flesch edition for over 35 years and like the fact that the urtext is written directly below. Sometimes I follow Flesch, sometimes I follow Bach, but most of the time I follow my conscience and whatever works best for me. I find that the Szeryng edition has similar bowings and fingerings as the Flesch edition. Perhaps it's because Szeryng was a student of Flesch. The fruit doesn't fall too far from the tree. I'm still changing bowings and fingerings after so many years, so make sure to buy a good pencil eraser also!

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