BWV 565: The Fitting Filler for the Fugue

December 23, 2020
The x in the score

Michael Gailit graduated from the University of Music and Performing Arts in Vienna, Austria, with both performance and pedagogy diplomas in organ as well as in piano. Teaching piano at this institute since 1980, he has also conducted the organ studio at the Musik und Kunst Universität in Vienna since 1995. As church organist he served at St. Augustine’s Church 1979–2008; in 2011 he was appointed organist at the Jesuit Church (Old University Church).

Both in his performance and teaching repertoire, Gailit includes all style areas on the base of their individual performance practices. He toured with solo recitals on both instruments in Europe as well as in North America and appeared with leading orchestras and renowned conductors. Recordings, master courses, invitations to juries, musicological publications, editing sheet music, compositions, arrangements, supporting the piano-organ duo repertoire, commissioned works, first performances, and finally occasional trips into the theatre and silent movie repertoire should be noted.

Particular attention was received in 1989 for the first performance of the complete piano and organ works by Julius Reubke (1834–1858), the performance of the complete organ works by Franz Schmidt (1874–1939) the same year, as well as in September 2005 a series of six recitals with the trio sonatas by Johann Sebastian Bach, the organ sonatas by Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy, and the organ symphonies by Louis Vierne. Currently Gailit is working on a book, The Enigma BWV 565, a study elucidating new answers and new questions.

BWV 565 has survived only through one single copy by Johannes Ringk (1717–1778), with the title Toccata con Fuga ex d. According to Dietrich Kilian,1 all other existing copies can be traced back to Ringk’s manuscript, directly or indirectly through an intermediate copy. We do not know if Ringk copied from a copy or from the original. A major debatable matter of the source is the incomplete measure 72. It comprises only three beats, four sixteenth notes are missing (Example 1).

Friedrich Griepenkerl published the organ works of Bach with Edition Peters in 1845. As for measure 72, he followed a copy of Johann Andreas Dröbs (1784–1852). Over 175 years have passed until today, and this version has become an integral part of the piece (Example 2).

The Dröbs version, however, cannot be considered original. Ringk’s measure 72 is too different to pass as a misread variant of Dröb’s measure 72. Dröbs invented a fitting filler for the falling fourth at the end of the bar, which rose to a welcome solution for all following editions.

The discovery presented here came along with a thorough investigation of the piece, which revealed a number of intriguing observations. One of them is a mistake that has been overlooked in all those 175 years. Throughout the whole fugue, all twelve other entries of the theme are complete, not shortened anywhere, comprising four tetrachords, groups of four consecutive steps in one direction.3 Apparently the theme in measures 70–72 lacks its penultimate sixteenth-note group (Examples 3, 4, and 5).

The smooth filler by Dröbs sounds satisfying. But the matter is not about filling a missing beat. It is about eliminating the obvious mistake of a missing beat in the theme and the counterpoint! The theme entry in measures 70–72 deserves to be complete like all other theme entries. The completion of measure 72 is only a welcome side effect. Needless to say that the passage has to be played on two manuals so that the two beats do not sound the same.

And exactly this makes the error in the source(s) comprehensible. All notes copied by Ringk in measure 72 are correct, no mistake there. In the course of the piece, Ringk had occasionally used abbreviated forms of notation. The different voice leading of beat 1 and 2 might have been overlooked, and it remained only mere intention to add bis over the group, a form of abbreviation Ringk applied for instance in measure 38 (Example 6).

A tiny x can be spotted at the beginning of measure 72 (Example 7). It suggests that Ringk was aware of the mistake, placing this marker as a reminder for further clarification, which in turn suggests the manuscript was not the autograph. This marker is placed exactly where the theme lacks the penultimate sixteenth-note group.

So, after 175 years, we follow the marker and apply the true fitting filler.


1. Dietrich Kilian, Johann Sebastian Bach, Neue Ausgabe sämtlicher Werke. Serie IV, Kritischer Bericht, Teilband 2 (Kassel: Bärenreiter, 1979), p. 518. 

2. Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin - PK,

3. Only the last note of the very last entry takes another direction, in order to fit into the cadence.

Related Content

September 27, 2022
Editor’s note: Part 1 of this series appeared in the June 2021 issue of The Diapason, pages 18–19; part 2 appeared in the July 2021 issue, pages 12–…
September 27, 2022
The ability to move from one key to another smoothly and convincingly is one of the church organist’s highly valued skills. Facility in modulation is…
September 27, 2022
Make me an instrument. I have been involved in the world of building musical instruments since I was about twelve years old as the organist of my…