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On-line Book Review


Bach's Clavier-Übungen
in facsimiles

Part Two

Italian Concerto (BWV 971)
French Overture (BWV 831)


Original size of plate: c.31.5 x 21 cm
Original size of paper: c.34.5 x 25 cm

Click it to view an enlarged image
Dimension: 33 x 24 cm
TITLE Johann-Sebastian Bach: Clavier-Übung. (2e partie - Concerto italien - Ouverture à la française). (1735). Einige canonische Veraenderungen (Variations canoniques). (1747). Présentation par Philippe Lescat. Fac-similé Jean-Marc Fuzeau: Collection Dominantes. No. 3286
PUBL. DETAILS Courlay: Editions J. M. Fuzeau (1992, 2/1998), 33p text, 27p facs (CU2); 6p facs (Canonic Variations); paper back. Price: Fr.F 138,00; Euro 19,94.
ISBN n/a
TO ORDER J.M.Fuzeau, Boîte Postale 6, 79440 Courlay, France. Email:
DESCRIPTION Facsimile of Bach's Handexemplar of CU2 (GB-Lbl/K.8.g.7) + Canonic Variations (F-Pn/Rés F1104) 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.

The Second Part of the Clavier-Übung was published in 1735. It consists of the Concerto after the Italian Taste (BWV 971) and the Overture in the French Style (BWV 831), which effectively deal with two of the most topical orchestral genres of his time, each representing the most important national styles of the day, i.e. Italian and French. In transcribing them for a two-manual harpsichord, Bach explores contrast at many different levels, e.g. styles, keys, textures, rhythms, tempo and dynamics.

The work must have caught public attention very quickly, for the second edition appeared in a year’s time. It was highly praised by Johann Adolph Scheibe in 1739, who earlier criticised the style of Bach’s writing as ‘turged and confused’; his review of the Italian Concerto runs as follows:

… But preeminent among published musical works is a clavier concerto of which the author is the famous Bach in Leipzig and which is in the key of F major. Since this piece is arranged in the best possible fashion for this kind of work, I believe that it will doubtless be familiar to all great composers and experienced clavier players, as well as to amateurs of the clavier and music in general. Who is there who will not admit at once that this clavier concerto is to be regarded as a perfect model of a well-designed solo concerto?
As regards Bach’s manuscripts, there survives no autograph of the work that transmits the definitive version. There are several manuscripts that transmit an early version of the work, which, when compared with the published editions, tells us some interesting aspects of the works’ development. The interested readers may consult the following articles published recently:
Italian Concerto: Kirsten Beißwenger, ‘An early version of the first movement of the Italian Concerto BWV 971 from the Scholtz Collection?’, Bach Studies 2, edited by Daniel R. Melamed (Cambridge, 1995), pp. 1–19.
French Overture: Ido Abravaya, ‘A French overture revisited: another look at the two versions of BWV 831’, Early Music, 25/1 (1997), pp. 47–61; see also Matthew Dirst’s article ‘Bach’s French overtures and the politics of overdotting’ in the same journal, pp. 35–44.
The printed edition was published by the Nuremberg publisher Christoph Weigel (1703–1777), but he closely worked with several others, including Balthasar Schmid who engraved the title-page shown above. Their names are disclosed only recently by Gregory Butler. For further details, see his article ‘The Engravers of Bach's Clavier-Übung II’, A Bach Tribute: Essays in Honor of William H. Scheide, ed. by Paul Brainard and Ray Robinson (Kassel: Bärenreiter, 1993), pp. 57–69.

Engraved by J. G. Puschner (above) 
and J. C. Döhne (below)
Probably because the engraving was carried out in Nuremberg, Bach was unable to check the proof, and hence there are numerous engraving errors in the first edition (5 copies are known to have survived). The second edition (11 copies are known to have survived) not only corrects many of these errors (on the same plates), but also improving the pagination of Gavotte II in the French Overture by re-engraving pages 20–22, so that one can play the movement without a page turn. For some reason, this new edition does not incorporate all the corrections that Bach made to the copies of the first edition he possessed.

Bach’s corrections on his editions give insight into the way he assessed his own work critically; there are many interesting details that we can learn from these, especially lots of extra ornaments that he felt necessary. Knowing what Bach considered important at the time of revisiting his own works brings to our mind a strong feeling of ‘authenticity’; when carefully analysed in the context, one can also learn from these changes much inspiration about Bach’s compositional thinking, 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/2 (1981) of the Neue Bach Ausgabe edited by Walter Emery and Christoph Wolff.

The facsimile edition reviewed here is probably the only one that is available today. There are other editions published in 1980–90s, such as Gregg (1985), Edition Peters (1984), and Performer’s Facsimile (1990), but these were not made available for my review and I cannot therefore comment at present.
The Fuzeau edition is a reproduction of the first edition in the British Library, London (K.8.g.7). This copy is currently considered as the most important, for it appears to be the copy that Bach kept for his own revision purpose (= Handexemplar). The facsimile edition is designed for practical use; it gives perfectly legible text. In fact, the print image is enlarged for better legibility. 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 this work and the list of Bach’s hand-written corrections in this copy. 

Musicologists may find its clear and high-contrast, single-colour ink reproduction slightly problematic, as it does not help to distinguish Bach’s later additions from the printed symbols, though the information is provided in the introduction. 

Fuzeau edition and my Clavichord

Published on-line on 24 May 2000

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