JS Bach: Complete Organ Works – Volume 1, 2 & 4

JS Bach: Complete Organ Works
Volume 1 & 2 – Preludes & Fugues I & II
Ed. David Schulenberg
Breitkopf & Härtel 2013/14.
Volume 1
: Edition Breitkopf EB8801.
140 pages | 32 x 25 cm | 626 g | ISMN: 979-0-004-18372-4 | Softbound + CD-ROM
Volume 2: Edition Breitkopf EB8802.
148 pages | 32 x 25 cm | 658 g | ISMN: 979-0-004-18373-1 | Softbound + CD-ROM

Volume 4 – Toccatas and Fugues, Individual Works
Ed. Jean-Claude Zehnder
Breitkopf & Härtel 2012.
Edition Breitkopf EB8804.
184 pages | 32 x 25 cm | 793 g | ISMN: 979-0-004-18375-5 | Softbound + CD-ROM

Further to my reviews of Volumes 3 and 8 of the Breitkopf & Härtel complete Bach organ works (see here and here), I have now been sent the remaining six published editions. Two more are in preparation. The first two volumes contain the pieces generally known nowadays (but not in Bach’s day) as Preludes and Fugues, the other (Volume 4) pieces called ‘Toccata’ and other miscellaneous individual pieces with various titles. The pieces are presented in key order, starting with C major. As with the two other volumes reviewed earlier, the production quality is excellent, with clear and good-sized print, generally (but not always) helpful page turns and, most importantly, very detailed notes on the pieces and the editorial process. All three volumes include CD-ROMs with additional pieces and variants on the main pieces. The Introductions are in German and English, but the Commentary is only in German. However an English version can be found on the CD-ROM or downloaded from the Breitkopf website. The editor for the two volumes of Preludes and Fugues is David Schulenberg, with volume 4 edited by Jean-Claude Zehnder, both well established Bach scholars. 

Schulenberg’s introduction outlines many of the conundrums of producing editions of Bach. Key is the fact that there are very few original Bach manuscripts, most pieces only surviving (if, indeed, they have survived at all) in copies, or copies of copies, made by others, often well after Bach’s death. Many of the pieces now known as Prelude and Fugue were never intended to be paired, but were independent compositions, put together by later editors.  The generally used 17th century Latin title of Praeludium is an appropriate one, although the expanded Praeludium cum Fuga, often used in sources, is not correctly translated as Prelude and Fugue, but is closer to Prelude with Fugue. Pre-Bach composers would use the title Praeludium for a piece that included on or more fugues. By Bach’s day, that could also mean a Praeludium with an attached fugue.

Other issues include that fact that Bach rarely wrote free organ works on the three staves common today, so deciding whether the bass line should be played on the pedals or manuals can be unclear. This also applies to music of Buxtehude and his ilk. Most editions of Bach prior to the current Breitkopf series have used later, rather than earlier, copies of pieces, arguing that these present a preferred version. But Breitkopf often prefer earlier manuscripts or copies, noting that later versions are more open to interference by copyists or editors. So, for example, some pieces exclude ornaments that players have become used to, but are now accepted as being later additions to the text, probably reflecting a later playing practice.

Volume 1 usefully includes BWV 566 in both its C major and E major versions. It is not at all clear which is the most ‘authentic’ version, but Schulenberg opines that the E major version was probably the original, written for a very specific organ that had a low pedal C# or the top c#’, but not both, and was also capable of coping with the temperament issues of E major. The C major version avoids both pedal c#’s (which many organs of the period lacked) and is also playable on more extreme temperaments – but ends up in rather low pitch. It also appears in sources close to Bach, so may well have had Bach’s approval. BWV 545 also appears in several versions, with this edition including the Trio movement as well as the shorter, and probably earlier, version of the Prelude, plus other versions on the CD-ROM. Volume 2 includes two works that Schulenberg no longer views as Bach compositions – BWV 551 and 534. The latter  (the F minor Prelude and Fugue) might be a surprise to those who haven’t kept up with recent Bach scholarship, which strongly doubts the attribution to Bach. It appears on the CD-ROM.

There are a couple of corrections to Volume 2, published on the Breitkopf website here.

Volume 4, edited by Jean-Claude Zehnder includes pieces known until the title of Toccata, together with several well-known, and not so well-known, individually titled pieces, including the Passacaglia, Pastorella and the Pièce d’Orgue. None of the pieces have autograph sources, but the detailed Breitkopf analysis of sources and the presentation of one primary source, with others easily accessible, helps in understanding the history of the pieces. As with all the volumes in this new edition, there are important deviations from the Neue Bach-Ausgabe (NBA), published some 25 years ago. In his introduction, Zehnder discussed the changes between early and later sources and their influence of issues of articulation. A different version of the Passacaglia is included in the main text, with variants of other pieces on the CD-ROM.

Two pieces often considered not to be organ pieces are included, as they contain passages for the pedals. The low B in the central section of the Pièce d’Orgue (a note that didn’t exist on organs) is left untouched, with a discussion in the introduction. the Pedal-Exercitium fragment includes the five curious chords added at the end of the source. The appendix also includes the heavily ornamented version of the Canzona in d complete with its added fingerings.

These volumes are an important addition to organist’s almost impossible quest for what Bach really intended in his organ music.



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