On-line Book Review
|Dimension 30 x 22 x 0.5 cm||
|ach’s Sonatas and Partitas for Solo Violin (BWV 1001-1006) are preserved to this date in the composer’s calligraphic fair copy, now held at the Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin, shelfmark Mus. ms. Bach P 967. We are fortunate that because it was penned in such great care by Bach, we can read his intentions with greater confidence than those in many other works of his.|
Ever since N. Simrock published it for the first time in 1802, numerous attempts were made to present the work in printed format, each aiming to present Bach’s art better than others. This ‘scholarly performing edition’ by Mel Bay publications claims that ‘the composer’s intentions have been preserved to the last detail’ (p. iii).
My first impression on its practical appeal was on the positive side: being ring-bound, the music opens flat on the music stand even when it is new. The product has a quality feel that unlike a cheaply made computer manual, I would imagine that the binding should last for several decades or more.
The style of music engraving is a matter for craftsmanship and personal taste, but the way some slurs are shaped and positioned and the way notes are spaced out do not appear very polished. Still, the score is otherwise laid out clearly in an almost identical format as the NBA edition. But being physically smaller (i.e. 79% of the size of NBA -- see Examples below), the musical notation in the Mel Bay edition looks distinctly smaller, which is notionally comparable to looking at the orchestral score rather than performance parts. This compact notation is further crowded with additional performance-related marks supplied by the editor, such as fingering, bowing instructions and additional trills.
From a user’s perspective, it is important to know what the editor did to Bach’s text. While the editorial policies regarding the editorial additions are being laid out clearly in the Preface, there is no discussion of text-critical issues such as the ambiguities and errors left by Bach in his text apart from occasional footnotes. Instead of having a critical commentary, which is normally found at the back of the volume of any critical editions, this edition comes with an essay by the editor entitled ‘Performing Bach: Dotted Rhythms and Trills in the Sonatas and Partitas for Solo Violin’, which ‘also includes scholarly discussions of vibrato, fingerings, bowing styles, and ritardandos in Baroque music’ on pages 61-90. This essay is pitched at the students who have not yet been exposed to the issues of the historical performance practice, and for them it should serve well. Golan leans heavily on Frederick Neumann’s arguments, and consults no scholarly papers and books published after 1993 (e.g. Joel Lester’s 1999 book). But the discussion is conceived perceptively especially where it deals with the interpretation of dotted rhythms in individual passages.
As regards the accuracy of the musical text, I am impressed that it is basically error free. The erroneous reading of Bach’s rhythm error on the second half of the 4th beat in the final penultimate bar in the opening Adagio (see the Example below) is the only textual problem I have noticed. The editor also distinguishes those articulation marks that Bach wrote in from those that the editor considers desirable. Golan also reads Bach’s slurs more faithfully than the editor of the NBA. But the lack of critical commentary means that some of the questionable editorial decisions are unexplained (e.g. the amended slurs in BWV 1001/1, bar 17, 3rd beat). The treatment of Bach’s errors also appears inconsistent: the missing flat in bar 3, 2nd beat on e’ is given as a normal flat, whereas the others are given in brackets (e.g. BWV 1001/2, bars 2 and 60). Bach’s staccato in BWV 1001/3, bar 7 is also overlooked.
One particular area where Golan took care to improve Bach’s notation is the dotted rhythms. As shown in Example (b) below marked *, it removes mathematical ambiguity in Bach’s notation. While I do not think it is really necessary, he has a point, as the NBA edition (c) makes a bizarre suggestion at this point.
Examples: BWV 1001/1, bars 20-22 scanned at 200 dpi from (a) facsimile of Bach's autograph, (b) Mel Bay edition; (c) NBA edition
Overall, this edition will be a valuable addition to performers who feel the needs of consulting a carefully-prepared practical edition by musician rather than an Urtext prepared by musicologist. As for the additional phrasings marks, fingering and bowing, it is recommended that one also consults a similar edition such as one prepared by Sol Babitz and published by Early Music Laboratory (1972) to get a objective and balanced perspective.
Published online on 10 March 2007