Johann Sebastian Bach, Clavier-Übung III, ed. George B. Stauffer (The Complete Organ Works, Series I: Volume 8). Colfax, NC: Wayne
Leupold Editions, 2010, $58;
Wayne Leupold Editions has embarked on what may be the publisher’s most ambitious project to date: a new edition of the organ works of J. S. Bach. The complete series will contain no fewer than fifteen volumes of music (Bärenreiter’s New Bach Edition managed with eleven) and three volumes of background information, in addition to introductions and commentaries in each music volume. The Wayne Leupold Bach edition clearly aspires to the highest level of present-day Bach scholarship; to make this possible, Leupold has enlisted the help of some of America’s (if not the world’s) most prominent Bach scholars: Christoph Wolff as consulting editor, George Stauffer as general editor, and Quentin Faulkner as performance issues editor. At the same time, the edition is to serve the very practical needs of the American organist. To meet this goal, every volume is extensively reviewed and “tested” by a large group of American organists and their students (p. vii of the present volume is filled with the names of all the reviewers). From one such survey Leupold learned, for example, “that having convenient page turns is one of the most desirable qualities of a Bach edition.”
My first impression is that the book doesn’t feel very pleasant in my hands. I personally like neither the quasi-calligraphic font nor the light-brownish color of the cover, but all this is, of course, a matter of taste. Inside the book, the margins seem remarkably small, both of the pages with text and of those with music. The music notation often looks quite dense to me. One might object that that is because I am used to the Bärenreiter edition, which Leupold, in the advertisement for the Bach edition, dismisses as “very widely spaced.” In fact, Leupold, with some 102 pages of music, is hardly 10% more concise than Bärenreiter (112 pages of music). By comparison, Bach’s own edition has less than 77 pages of music; and the Bach-Gesellschaft edition, much of which is now available in Dover reprints, 88. A very nice feature of the Leupold edition is the large number of facsimiles: no fewer than 22, with four of them in full color. (The color facsimiles are especially helpful, because in his personal copy, Bach made corrections in red ink.)
Aside from page turns, perhaps the biggest problem in editing Bach’s organ works is the notation of the pedal. Bach, after all, notated the vast majority of his organ works on two staves, with the pedal sharing the lower staff with the left hand. Of the works in this volume, Bach notated only the pedaliter settings of Dies sind die heilgen zehn Gebot, Vater unser im Himmelreich, and Aus tiefer Not on three staves. As convenient as three-staff notation may seem to the present-day organist, the process of assigning the correct notes to the pedal is not at all unproblematic in earlier music. I personally consider the notation on two staves the single most important advantage of Michael Belotti’s edition of Buxtehude’s organ works (Broude Brothers): it has clarified many passages that had puzzled me for a long time, and has helped me enormously to understand this repertoire better. Although the question of using pedal or not is, of course, much less of an issue in Bach’s organ works, problems do remain, and the best solution for these would be to offer the music on two staves, just as Bach did most of the time.
A well-known example of such a problematic passage is the echoes in the E-flat-major Prelude: it’s hard to believe that the bass note finishing off the echoes is to be played in the pedal (except if you quickly adjust the registration, which most people will find too cumbersome or else will dismiss as foreign to eighteenth-century performance practice). Yet, in Bach’s edition, the notation of that note with the stem down on the bottom of the staff, looks no different than the forte note two measures earlier—or, for that matter, the pedal part in the opening section of the piece (Example 1a). If one plays from two staves, the problem becomes a purely academic one: the obvious way of playing the passage is to use the pedal for the forte measures, and to play the piano bass note with the left hand on the echo manual. But for an editor having to decide which notes to put on the pedal staff, this passage can become something of a nightmare; in a way, no solution is fair to both Bach’s notation and the modern-day three-staff organist. The Leupold team has opted for a separate pedal staff; in the case of the echo passages in the Prelude, the bass part has been put in the left-hand staff; the pedal staff is empty apart from the barlines (no editorial rests have been supplied); with a symbol, the reader is referred to the Commentary, where the problem is explained in detail (Example 1b). On the other hand, both the Prelude and the E-flat-major Fugue are also printed on two staves in an appendix (Example 1c). (I personally greatly prefer this two-staff notation; not only does the pedal feel more like an integral part of the texture, the relationship with other keyboard pieces is much clearer this way.)
In the “great” Christ unser Herr zum Jordan kam, too, assigning the pedal part to its own staff can cause misunderstandings. Stauffer addresses the problem in the editorial report, pointing out that the left-hand part is really “the bass voice of a four-part score. Thus one would have the option of registering it with a 16′ foundation.” On the other hand, the pedal part carrying the cantus firmus “is the tenor voice . . . of the four-part score. Thus it would appear to call for an 8′ solo stop.” I think the problem is in fact a bit more complicated. In my mind, a 4′ stop for the pedal cantus firmus is at very least a possibility (I personally prefer it that way); but if one decides to play the cantus firmus at 8′ pitch, the left hand must have a 16′ in it to avoid undesirable inversions (for example in mm. 18 and 43 of Leupold’s edition; Example 2).
In the “great” Jesus Christus unser Heiland, the cantus firmus is also played in the pedal. Like Christ unser Herr, this piece was printed on two staves in Bach’s original edition: the right hand occupies the upper staff (with an occasional note on the lower staff), the left hand moves between the lower and the upper staff (using three different clefs!), and the cantus firmus is written on the lower staff with the stems consistently down. While I agree with Stauffer that the cantus firmus is best played “with an 8′ solo stop,” I don’t understand how he knows that “the Pedal part is the tenor voice . . . of the three-part score” (emphasis mine). Bach’s notation of the cantus firmus with the stems down doesn’t seem to support this (Example 3); and in almost half the number of its measures, the cantus firmus (when played at 8′ pitch) is the actual sounding bass of the piece (assuming the left hand is also played at 8′ pitch, as one would expect it to be). It seems to me that labeling the parts as voices is simply not very helpful in this piece; it is probably best to simply refer to them as right hand, left hand, and pedal.
An important advantage of the
Leupold edition is that the division of the inner voices over the staves is in principle identical with Bach’s original edition. In the fugetta (that’s how Bach spelled that word, although fughetta is correct Italian) on Dies sind die heilgen zehn Gebot, it is clear that the three upper voices are often to be taken together in the right hand. In the Leupold edition, these right-hand chords are clear right away, in contrast to the Bärenreiter edition, which tried to emphasize the polyphonic nature of Bach’s music by writing the tenor in the left-hand staff as consistently as possible. The problem however is that, on the one hand, Leupold is not always consistent in this regard and, on the other, that the space between the staves is so much bigger in Leupold’s edition than in Bach’s; so that where Bach could conveniently be somewhat ambiguous, placing notes exactly “in-between” the two staves, Leupold was forced to make many tricky choices.
Towards the end of the manualiter version of Aus tiefer Not, some notes are obviously to be played in the right hand, and this is clear from Bach’s original edition; Leupold places some of these notes in the lower staff—the player’s loss, I think (see, for example, Leupold’s mm. 68 [last two notes in tenor]; 69 [last two notes in tenor]; 71 [first two notes in tenor]; 74 [last two notes in tenor]). In the fughetta on Dies sind, the Leupold edition keeps the tenor notes in m. 31 in the upper staff, even though they technically landed in the lower staff in Bach’s original; I agree with Leupold here, as these notes can only be played in the right hand. But a measure later, Leupold places the tenor in the lower staff, while—as is clear from Bach’s original—these notes are obviously to be played in the right hand. The last note in the left hand of m. 25 in the same piece is double-stemmed in Bach’s original, underlining that it and the following two notes are obviously to be played in the left hand. The Leupold edition obscures this by separating the alto from the tenor and placing it in the upper staff.
Although it is understandable that Bach’s original stemming is not necessarily followed in the Leupold edition, it is sometimes unclear why this is not done. The very beginning of the fughetta on Dies sind is stemmed down in Bach’s original but up in the Leupold edition (Example 4a/b). It is true that this is technically the tenor part, but it is also true that the listener (and in a way the player) doesn’t really know this until the bass enters in m. 8. (Moreover, Leupold stems the tenor down all the way from m. 23 to m. 27.) By stemming the tenor up, a serious problem occurs in mm. 6–7. At the end of m. 6, the alto joins the tenor on the lower staff (in fact, this is somewhat arbitrary as the C is right in the middle between the two staves, at the same height as the alto C earlier in the measure). Of course, the alto is now the higher of the two lower-staff parts and is therefore written with the stems up. Consequently, starting with the last note of m. 6, the tenor is stemmed down. As a result, the voice leading is completely obscured; in fact, one is inclined to think that the alto crosses the tenor at the last eighth of m. 6.
In m. 14, the C-sharp in the alto—right in the middle between the staves—is stemmed up by Bach, with the following G stemmed down. From Bach’s notation, it is immediately clear that the C-sharp is to be played in the left hand; the
Leupold edition, by placing the note in the upper staff, obscures this—a great loss, in my opinion.
Although Leupold, supported by his reviewers, greatly prioritizes convenient page turns, one is surprised to find a number of unnecessary, awkward turns in this volume. In the Bärenreiter edition, I found 28 inconvenient page turns; Leupold does a much better job, but I still counted thirteen “bad” page turns. In some pieces, perhaps most prominently the “great” Jesus Christus unser Heiland, this is obviously unavoidable, but not always. In the fughetta on Jesus Christus unser Heiland, the very unpractical page turn is at the end of m. 38. A few measures earlier, however, I can easily free up my left hand and I have almost a measure to turn the hypothetical page (Example 5). In the third Duetto, turning after m. 24 is hardly possible; six measures later, it would have been a breeze. It seems to me that Leupold should have been able to print those six measures on the previous page; it is true that this would have meant five two-staff systems on pp. 96 and 97, but elsewhere, Leupold has no difficulty with as many as twelve staves on a page (see pp. 30 and 31, for example). In the E-flat-major fugue, too, Leupold missed a chance: the turn at the end of m. 109 is, I think, not possible unless one possesses three hands; but turning in the middle of m. 111 would have been quite manageable. A different problem is posed in the second Duetto, where one has to turn back to play da capo. In my experience, this is asking for trouble; I don’t see why the da capo couldn’t have been written out. Alternatively, the whole piece could have been printed on two pages, as it was in the old Breitkopf edition (the one edited by Heinz Lohmann; it is about to be replaced by a new edition).
The history of the corrections in the known copies of Bach’s own edition is a bit complicated—so much so that some corrections in a copy in the British Library seem to have been overlooked until now. This copy appears to be a second personal copy of Bach’s; at least, the corrections (in black ink) are thought to be in his hand. The most spectacular of these is the additional trill on the penultimate chord of the E-flat-major fugue: the trill in the soprano is “mirrored” by one in the tenor (on the F). The Leupold edition is the first to include the additional trill, a remarkable world première, to be sure (Example 6)!
Despite the extensive editing process, this first volume does contain a number of fairly serious errors. In m. 21 of the F-major Allein Gott, the third beat is simply missing. In m. 47 of the “great” Christ unser Herr zum Jordan kam, the prolongation dot is missing in the alto. In the second Duetto, it seems to me that a dashed barline is missing before the da capo. At the end of the “great” Jesus Christus unser Heiland, the two rests are missing in the soprano. In the introductory essay, Stauffer refers to variations 14 and 28 of the Goldberg Variations as a “Scarlatti-like Italian essercizo.” The word is indeed spelled with two s’s by Scarlatti himself, though standard Italian has only one; in any case, the singular of esercizi is esercizio. The list of known copies of the original edition includes one in “Gravenhage, Netherlands.” That village, home to the Dutch government as well as the International Court of Justice, is commonly called Den Haag in Dutch these days; the official alternative, ’s-Gravenhage, with its tricky beginning, is too cumbersome even for the Dutch. English on the other hand has long adopted the name The Hague for this fair city.
An interesting theoretical issue occurs in m. 61 of the fughetta on Aus tiefer Not (Leupold’s numbering; it is apparently unavoidable that three different Bach editions can count measures in as many different ways). The second half of the first beat has a B in the tenor, but Stauffer proposes in an “ossia” to play a C-sharp instead (Example 7). Although Stauffer suggests that the ledger line may be missing in the original, a simple glance at a facsimile edition proves that this is not the case: the note is written significantly lower than the two nearby C-sharps. The emendation may have a long history (it comes from the Bach-Gesellschaft edition), but I don’t agree with Stauffer that it “appears to produce a better harmonic effect”: I hear the C-sharp in the soprano and the A in the bass as passing tones over a held B-minor chord, which is indicated as minimally as it is beautifully by the B in the tenor.
It is perhaps fair enough that English translations of the titles of the chorales are included in this American Bach edition, yet I personally would have preferred these in a convenient table in the back of the book. And in addition to English, why not include the titles in French, Spanish, even Korean? Paradoxical as it sounds, that would make the edition even more American.
The Leupold Bach edition is an excellent initiative. With some improvements, this could well become the edition of choice for many American organists.