When I was in Philadelphia for the Organ Historical Society convention in June, I bought yet another edition of Bach’s Clavierübung III, the music which I’m playing in a concert on October 30. This marks my sixth edition of this music, and you’re probably asking, “Why do you need so many copies of the music?” The truth is that they are all different!
No, I don’t mean just the cover design, there are small differences in the music — the layouts are different with the number of measures per line, different page breaks, some have marked ornaments and others do not, and would you believe, there are even note discrepancies! You would think that with Bach dead and gone nearly three hundred years ago, there would be some consensus on what the notes are!
[In the order I have purchased them, the six editions I now have are published/edited by Marcel Dupré, C. F. Peters, Albert Riemenschneider, Anthony Newman, Bärenreiter, and Wayne Leupold.]
In general I like to use urtext editions, which means the originals, devoid of fingering and other editorial markings. For the Bach organ works, that usually refers to the Bärenreiter edition, the one with the blue cover, considered the definitive edition. The good thing about this edition is that it has by far the biggest notes. That would be the equivalent of the largest font size — which means it’s easy to read, especially for these old eyes. The big problem is that it has many more page turns, because it takes so much space.
Over thirty years ago, Carl Crosier and I used the Albert Riemenschneider edition, which at the time was considered urtext even though it had fingering and pedaling marks. What I discovered is that I had gotten so used to reading the notes in this layout that I couldn’t play from other editions so easily. Yikes! If you can believe this, where the page turns occurred and how the measures were laid out made a huge difference in my ability to play the music, especially in a piece like “Allein Gott in der Höh sei Ehr,” a piece which is in a trio texture.
Look at the differences below.
This week, I have made the difficult decision to re-learn a section of this piece because the latest editions agreed on the placement of an ornament, which is different from the way I played it years ago!
I was reminded of the old adage, “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks!”
I really, really struggled with this, but after many, many repetitions at a slow tempo, I think I’ve finally got it!
(Yes, that is a trill starting with a turn and ending with a mordent in the pedal!!!)
So the question for me is, which edition do I believe, and which one will I use to perform? Truthfully, I will be using a combination of the two. Further, I have reduced each of the pieces to just one page, so there will be no page turns. You remember seeing my chart for the Prelude?
(If you are asking the question, the answer is “Yes, I can still read the music,” which of course is larger in real life! but not by very much!)