Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750) was one of the most creative musicians ever to walk the earth. He was constantly composing, improvising, arranging, re-arranging, transcribing, and re-contextualizing his and others’ music. Assuming he ever had time to play the same work twice, it is virtually inconceivable that he would have repeated himself note-per-note in any given piece.
Numerous examples include his transformation of the A Minor Violin Concerto, BWV 1041 into the G Minor Harpsichord Concerto, BWV 1058; an altered version of the C Major Invention, with triplets in the subject; his polyphonic augmentation of a part of Caldara’s Magnificat from five to seven voices; and his habit, according to his son C.P.E. Bach, of creating an entirely new line when playing a trio.
What liberties might J.S. Bach have taken with his own keyboard works? How might he have embroidered or expanded his own pieces? While musicians from earlier eras unabashedly answered those questions (such as Charles Gounod in 1853 with his “Ave Maria” on the C Major Prelude, and Louis Victor Saar in 1932 and Ruggero Vené in 1941 with their additions to the Two-Part Inventions), our current Urtext generation still seems generally reluctant to add anything to the score.
The present volume purports to counter such literalism, re-ignite creative interaction with Bach’s text, and expand performance-practice horizons, by exploring the concepts of added lines, chorales, continuo parts, Durchgänge (lead-ins), da capo Verzierungen (ornamented lines on the repetition of a section or piece), original codettas, and original preludes.
Adding notes to Bach doesn’t have to be limited to an occasional trill or mordent! Bach was prolific and daring. Why shouldn’t modern keyboardists have the same spirit of adventure?
Of course, as C.P.E. Bach said, “not everything should be varied, for if it is the reprise will become a new piece” and any alterations “must be done with no small deliberation” (Essay on the True Art of Playing Keyboard Instruments, 1753). But C.P.E. would have just as likely found the contemporary practice of playing only what is written in the score equally disturbing and non-idiomatic.
The solos in this volume, while conceived at a modern Steinway, can be played on any keyboard instrument. In Bach’s day it was customary to use whatever instrument was available — organ, harpsichord, or clavichord —and his interest in Gottfried Silbermann’s pianos, illustrated by his 1747 visit to Potsdam, further confirms that he was open to a variety of keyboard sounds. Of course, the idiom will morph according to the instrument —the inflection of a two-note slur will be different on the dynamically nuanced piano —but somehow Bach’s musical genius shines across different mediums. An old Mason & Hamlin can sound beautiful for these arrangements but so can a Fender Rhodes or MIDI synthesizer.
To highlight what creative liberties were taken with these solos, all the variants are displayed above Bach’s original notation.
The duets were conceived for two pianists at two pianos, although, in the spirit of Bach’s creative imagination, other instruments may be employed as well. For instance, the duet arrangement of Invention No. 6, with the addition of a third line to the original two-part texture, could be played by two violinists and a cellist, resulting in a re-creation of a Baroque trio sonata. A daring church organist might play the fugue from the duet arrangement of Fugue No. 17 from WTC I while a choir sings the added four-part chorale. A pianist could play the Prelude No. 1 from WTC I while a violinist supplies the single-line obbligato.