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On-line Book Review


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Measuring 30 x 23 cm
TITLE Johann Sebastian Bach: 6 Suites a Violoncello Solo senza Basso. Edited by Bettina Schwemer and Douglas Woodfull-Harris.
PUBL. DETAILS Kassel: Bärenreiter-Verlag (2000) BA 5215 (German Edition); BA 5216 (English Edition); paper back. Price: DM 78.
ISMN M-006-50571-5 (German Edition); M-006-50572-2 (English Edition)
TO ORDER Bärenreiter-Verlag, Heinrich-Schütz-Allee 35, D-34131 Kassel, Germany.
DESCRIPTION scholarly critical performing edition, accompanied by separate volumes of critical commentary and facsimiles of five main sources all at an affordable price.
READERSHIP performers (esp. cellist)
all the essential information required for constructing an 'authentic' performance is provided here conveniently.

The source situation of Bach’s six suites for unaccompanied cello (BWV 1007-1012) is not very clear: this is primarily due to the fact that Bach’s autograph is lost, and four manuscript copies that survive today do not seem to give reliable text in all aspects. The text-critical study on these sources indicates that there were two autograph manuscripts now considered lost, viz. an early draft and a fair copy. The former is thought to be attested to a copy in the hand of Johann Peter Kellner (copied in c1726), and the latter to a copy by Anna Magdalena Bach (c1727-31). The other two surviving manuscripts date from the late 18th century; they are considered to have derived from a yet another lost intermediate source, which can be considered to have derived from Bach’s fair copy independently of Anna Magdalena’s. Because none of them reliably transmits the text of Bach’s original, all the surviving sources are considered important for establishing the authoritative text.

In 1990, the Neue Bach Ausgabe (edited by Hans Eppstein) actually published two versions of the work: Fassung A (based on the text by A.M.Bach and J. P. Kellner) and Fassung B (based on the remaining sources). It is widely felt that this edition was not very satisfactory with respect to their editorial principles usually applied to the NBA edition, as the text for each Fassung (version) was arrived at by effectively mixing up the different traditions of sources.
The edition reviewed here gives a single text based on Anna Magdalena’s copy with all the major variants found in the other sources which are marked on the music as ossia text on the same page (see the image on the right), so that one can see at a glance what variants there are in the sources. Minor variants and errors are discussed separately at the back of the volume under ‘Critical Report’. 

Furthermore, it does away with the articulation marks that were inaccurately and incompletely given in the manuscript sources. This is compensated by providing the facsimile edition of all the four manuscripts mentioned above plus the first printed edition of the work by Janet et Cotelle in Paris in c.1824 shown below. 

Suite I, Prelude (BWV 1007/1), bar 22
This new edition (2000)

The NBA edition (1990)
Each of the five sources is presented separately in a large performance format (23 x 30 cm). They are:
A: Anna Magdalena Bach, manuscript copy (1727-1731)
B: Johann Peter Kellner, manuscript copy (1726)
C: anonymous copy (second half of the 18th century)
D: anonymous copy (late 18th century)
E: First Edition, Paris (1824?)

Although these facsimile editions enclosed here are reproduced much larger than those published in the NBA Kritischer Bericht (1991), the clarity of musical text suffers from the high contrast of reproduction, especially around the erasures and smudges, which is most unfortunate. If you need to check such fine details, you really need to consult other facsimile editions that distinguishes the gradation of greys. It should be noted that the NBA Kritischer Bericht volume does not include the facsimile for Source E, which is apparently a very important source for this work.

Also accompanied is the text volume (41 pages) explaining almost all aspects of the work’s genesis and transmission as well as some important issues of historical performance; it covers the sources, genesis of the work, performance practice covering form and structure, instrument, historical performance techniques, bowing, articulation, embellishments, vibrato, dynamics, the execution of chords and scordatura, all with a useful list of bibliography for further reading. Clearly this edition is intended for serious performers who are seeking not only the critical knowledge of the work but also a historically informed interpretation. It is a very innovative publication, setting a new standard for performance studies for the next century.

Published on-line on 5 October 2000

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