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On-line Book Review


Dimension: 24.2 x 16.4 x 1.3 cm
TITLE Bach Tempo Guide: With 200 Practical Exercises by Clemens-Christoph von Gleich and Johann Sonnleitner
PUBL. DETAILS Göteborg University (Göteborg, 2002); 176p; SEK300
ISBN 91-973916-6-2
TO ORDER GOArt Publications, Box 200, SE-405 30 Göteborg, Sweden.
Tel: +46-31-773 52 11; Fax +46-31-773 52 00. Email:
DESCRIPTION A practical guide offering various ideas for finding the tempo of Bach's works. With a CD-ROM containing music examples.
WORKS COVERED BWV 4, 9, 12, 21, 23, 28-9, 31, 34-6, 38, 40, 43, 46, 52, 66, 68, 70-1, 80-1, 91, 94, 97, 100-1, 106, 110, 112, 114, 120a, 122-3, 127, 131, 133, 137, 140, 143-4, 150-3, 167, 171, 173-4, 178, 182, 187, 194, 199, 202, 212-3, 215, 226-7, 229, 232, 243, 244-5, 248, 515, 517, 225-30, 532, 535, 546, 548, 550, 552, 572, 600, 607, 612, 619, 622, 626, 631, 656, 717, 736, 758, 768, 774-5, 777, 781, 801, 808-17, 822, 825-31, 846-7, 849-51, 853, 855, 857-61, 865, 867, 869, 871, 873-5, 878, 880-1, 884, 887, 889-90, 906, 910, 933, 971, 988, 1001-17, 1021, 1027-8, 1030-2, 1035, 1041-4, 1046-51, 1053, 1055-6, 1060-1, 1066-8, 1076, 1080, 1087
READERSHIP Students studying the performance of Bach’s works.
RESEARCH CONTRIBUTION Thorough and systematic discussion of tempo.


or performers finding the right tempo is very important. Unlike the pitch and duration of notes, the information about tempo and the manner of execution is not encoded unambiguously in Bach’s score. The musicians of his time seem to have had a common understanding on this subject; but after Bach’s death, the notational convention went through many changes, and some aspects Bach’s convention was not retrained. Today, it requires great deal of efforts to gain access to this knowledge that belongs to the lost tradition.



To Begin: WWW.Bach?

a) Swing and Beat

b) Tempo Ordinario and Tempo Giusto -- Common Time

c) Inégalité

First Intermezzo: On Time Signatures and Tempo Indications

d) Triple Times

e) Andante and Adagio

f) Allegro and Presto

Second Intermezzo: What Do Vivace and Largo Mean?

g) Other Duple Times

h) Tempo Correlations

i) Six-, Nine-, and Twelve-Beat Times

Third Intermezzo: On Experiencing and Enlivening

j) Suite Movements

k) Semiquaver Times

l) Proportions

To End: A Credo


Tempo and Character Indications in J. S. Bach

Overview of Tempi and Their Gradations

I Duple Times

II Triple Times


References to the Neue Bach-Ausgabe

Contents of the enclosed CD

engaging argument with 200 examples

In this book, the authors attempt to explain this subject by carefully organised sections as you can see in the list of contents. They make use of 200 music examples (which they call ‘exercises’ as questions are attached to them), which help engaging their readers. The examples were drawn from a wide range of Bach’s works. There are frequent cross references to draw readers’ attention to the concepts that are potentially confusing. Tables and figures are also used frequently to summarise information for easy reference.

It is often considered difficult to suggest an appropriate tempo or how to execute the unequal rendering of rhythm for a particular piece, especially in written form. The authors boldly suggest these with sound argument, which is probably the most useful part for the target audience. The book is thus pitched towards university students studying the performance of Bach’s works, and I believe this book will serve their purpose very well. The enclosed CD “Famous Organ Works by Jacques van Oortmerssen” is an added bonus.

Although this is an easy-to-use guidebook for performers, there are places where I felt more thorough presentation of information would benefit the serious students who wish to pursue their study further. Their discussion of two similar terms ‘tempo ordinario’ and ‘tempo giusto’ is one of these, as it is still unclear when these terms became in general use, and why we need to bother with them. The list of words Bach used for tempo and characterisation is another: although there is a useful list on p. 61, this is in no way complete, and when the terms are listed more fully on p. 167, the other types of information are now lacking, e.g. in which work Bach used these words and when. (I suggest the readers to refer to Robert Marshall, “Tempo and Dynamic Indications in the Bach Sources: A Review of the Terminology”, Bach, Handel, Scarlatti: Tercentenary Essays, ed. Peter Williams, Cambrdige UP, 1985, pp.259-275, for further study on this issue.)

For a practical guide, an index to Bach’s works cited is also a must, for I am sure students will want to revisit what they learned previously.

Published online on 28 September 2003

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