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On-line Book Review


Bach's Clavier-Übungen in facsimiles

Part One

Partitas (BWV 825-830)


Original size of plate: c.17 x 23.5 cm
Original size of paper: c.20.5 x 37.5 cm

Click it to view an enlarged image
Dimension: 21.9 x 30.8 cm, 1.1 cm thick
TITLE Johann-Sebastian Bach: Clavier-Übung. (1re partie - Partitas). (s.d. = 1731). Sechs Chorale von verschiedener Art (Chorals Schübler). (s.d. = 1746). Présentation par Philippe Lescat. Fac-similé Jean-Marc Fuzeau: Collection Dominantes. No. 3362
PUBL. DETAILS Courlay: Editions J. M. Fuzeau (1991, 2/1995), 41p text, 73p facs (CU1); 14p facs (Schübler Chorals); paper back. Price: Fr.F 222,00; Euro 32,08.
ISBN n/a
TO ORDER J.M.Fuzeau, Boîte Postale 6, 79440 Courlay, France. Email:
DESCRIPTION Facsimile of Bach's Handexemplar (GB-Lbl/Hirsch.III.37) + Schübler Chorals (GB-Lbl/K.10.a.23) in high-quality paper / print / binding; can be used for performance purposes.
READERSHIP Scholars and music students who need to study Bach's original prints.
Click it to view an enlarged image
Dimention: 15 x 22.6 cm, 7 mm thick
TITLE Riemenschneider Bach Facsimiles. Volume II: Bach Institute Library Holdings: J. S. Bach editions brought to press or prepared for publication during the composer's lifetime by Elinore Barber. Book I. Foreword. Clavierübung [Book I] (The Keyboard Partitas, BWV 825-830) Leipzig: Published by the author, 1731.
PUBL. DETAILS Berea: Riemenschneider Bach Institute (1986) 92p; paper back. Price: US$ $35.00 plus shipping and handling charges [$3.50 U.S.A., $4.50 Surface Canada and $5.00 Surface all other countries] Special Price for Regular and Library Members of the iemenschneider Bach Institute $30.00 plus shipping and handling charges.
ISBN n/a
TO ORDER Riemenschneider Bach Institute, Baldwin-Wallace College, 275 Eastland Road, Berea, Ohio 44017, USA.
DESCRIPTION Reduced size facsimile of the copy in their own library. Volume 1 of 3 volume set. Other volumes contain the Goldberg Variations, Canonic Variations 'Vom Himmel hoch', the Musical Offering and the Art of Fugue.
READERSHIP Scholars and music students who need to study Bach's original prints.

Six Partitas (BWV 825-830) are the first of a series of keyboard works Bach published during his lifetime. Originally Bach published them separately from 1726 to 1730; in 1731 he put them together and called it Opus 1. It was the first serious, large-scale publication project for the 46 year old. By then Bach was widely known as virtuoso keyboard player of his age. When he moved to Leipzig in 1723 to assume his new office, he was virtually denied opportunities to demonstrate his talent as a keyboard performer, as he was fully immersed under the mass of other duties as Thomaskantor for at least three years. The Partitas emerged from this background; since this publication project was little to do with his official duties, one may see this as the embodiment of both his pride as performer and his confidence as composer of keyboard works.

History tells us that Bach’s fame was firmly established with this work. In his ground-breaking biography of 1802, this is what Forkel says:

“This work made in its time a great noise in the musical world. Such excellent compositions for the clavier had never been seen and heard before. Anyone who had learnt to perform well some pieces out of them could make his fortune in the world thereby; and even in our times, a young artist might gain acknowledgement by doing so, they are so brilliant, well-sounding, expressive, and always new.”
There survives no autograph manuscript of the work that we can call the definitive version. There are several manuscripts that transmit an early version of some movements, which, when compared with the published editions, tells us some interesting aspects of the works’ development. The more interesting for our pianists would be the corrections and improvements that Bach worked out subsequently on the printed copies. By studying systematically what Bach changed, one could see why he decided to act. Knowing what Bach considered important at the time of revisiting his own works brings to our heart a strong feeling of ‘authenticity’. When carefully analysed in the context, one can learn from these changes much inspiration about Bach’s compositional methods, effective articulation and ornamentation in actual performance. If you want to pursue this idea, you can find all essential information in the Kritischer Bericht V/1 (1978, supplement 1997) of the Neue Bach Ausgabe edited by Richard Jones.
Two facsimile editions reviewed here are probably the only ones that are available today. There are other editions published in 1980s, such as Gregg (1985, based on the same exemplar as Fuzeau), Edition Peters (1984), and Broude Performer’s Facsimile, but these were not made available for this review and I cannot therefore comment on them at present.
The Fuzeau edition is a reproduction of the copy in the British Library, London. This copy is currently considered as the most important, for it was thought to have been the copy that Bach kept for his own revision purpose (= Handexemplar).(1) This facsimile edition is designed for practical use. Using thick, high-quality paper and strong but flexible binding, it sits well on the music stand on my clavichord (see the picture on the right). It also includes a very helpful introduction in French, English and German, covering some of the historical background of the work and the list of Bach’s hand-written corrections in this copy. Musicologists may find this clear and high-contrast, single-colour ink reproduction slightly problematic, as it does not help us distinguish Bach’s later additions from the printed symbols. A full-colour facsimile seems the only solution for this, though the cost of production would result in much, much higher purchasing price.
Fuzeau edition and my Clavichord
The Riemenschneider Bach Facsimile is reproduced from a copy in their own library (signa K 1512 Vault M 24.2.B2); it is a copy which contains much fewer corrections, and where ornaments appear to have been added, their shapes are less specific when compared with the copy in the British Library. There are ornaments which are added on different notes from that in the London copy (e.g. Partita 5, Allemande, p.51, bar 1 and Partita 6, Allemanda, p.65, bar 4). For this reason, these corrections may not have been entered by Bach. The size of this facsimile is much smaller than the original (nearly half the size of the Fuzeau edition), and although it is convenient to shelve it together with all the other publications by the Riemenschneider Bach Institute, the quality of image does suffer as a result: the shape of small symbols (such as sharps and trills) does not appear clearly, which is most unfortunate. It has to be said, however, that it is a great service to musicological world for making their precious collection widely available.

Published on-line on 17 May 2000

(1) Note that the both of the facsimile editions reviewed here do not contain some of the important corrections Bach made to Partitas 2 and 3, which we can find in the copy in the Library of Congress. For further details, see Christoph Wolff, ‘Text-Critical Comments on the Original print of the Partitas’, Bach: Essays on His Life and Music (Harvard Univ. Press, 1991), pp. 214-222.

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