Bach und die Zukunft Bach and the Future
29 April - 8 May 2005

Playing Bach (J.S + W.F.?) on the Harpsichord

The two pieces I played were the Prelude in C major (BWV 870/1) and the Fugue in A-flat major (BWV 886/2), both from the Well-Tempered Clavier, Part 2. They are not the versions commonly played, but unique variants transmitted in the hand of Bach's eldest son, Wilhelm Friedemann Bach in manuscript DD 70 currently held at the Civico Museo Bibliografico Musicale, Bologna. (The manuscript contains four movements only, two others being the Fugues no.1 and 22 from WTC I.) We do not know exactly how this source ended up in Italy; it was perhaps J. C. Bach who brought there, as one of the known former owners was G. B. Martini (according to Tagliavini 1983, p.322).

This manuscript is interesting musicologically for a number of reasons. For a start, both pieces were the last to be added to the collection when Bach completed the work in 1742. Bach did so by reworking his own earlier compositions (BWV 870a/1 and 901/2, both dating c1720) in which he must have seen great potential as more effective pieces. The autograph manuscript, now in the British Library London, reveals how Bach approached revision at that time. The version transmitted in DD 70 is derived from a slightly more advanced compositional stage than the 'London' autograph. When Altnickol (Bach's private student who later became his son-in-law) produced a fair copy in 1744, Bach had apparently worked out a significant improvement on both movements, not based on DD 70 but the 'London' autograph. We do not know whether the variants in DD 70 were the product of Bach's abandoned version or the work of his eldest son. I am hoping to gain some insight from practising to play these pieces.


Photo of the courtyard and the Civico Museo Bibliografico Musicale (16.ix.03)

About the pieces in DD 70

BWV 870/1 (score in pdf | facsimile image )

This version still lacks the characteristic demisemiquaver flourishes found in the later version. But it explores chromatic voice-leadings (bars 9, 24) that we do not see in other versions. Some passages also receive quite different textural treatment (bars 6, 15-19, 21). All these make this version not only different but also quite charming.

The facsimile images are reproduced here with the kind permission of the Civico Museo Bibliografico Musicale.

BWV 886/2 (score in pdf | facsimile image)

This version is basically identical with the so-called "Berlin autograph" (SSB, Mus. ms. Bach P 274), which is a later copy of the "London", spelling out the voice texture which is vague in the original design of the fugue. The only notable difference from the "Berlin" is the use of appoggiaturas (accent steigend) added to the crotchet of some subject entries. These appoggiaturas are quite tricky to execute in performance, as the melodic embellishment often clashes with the chromatic inflection given to one of the other voices (e.g. bar 7 as c'/c-flat'').

My rehearsal recording in the Sommersaal, Bach-Archiv Leipzig on 5 May 2005

BWV 870/1 (mp3: 2:35 -- download)

BWV 886/2 (mp3: 3:07 -- download)

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