Faculty of Performance, Visual Arts and Communications

School of Music


Bach Concerto in A minor, BWV 1041 - Duncan Druce

The first edition of Bach's A minor Concerto was published by Peters of Leipzig in February 1852, edited by Siegfried Dehn (1799-1858), the custodian of the Royal Prussian Library. It is based on the primary source for the work, a set of parts compiled by Bach around 1730 with the help of his son Carl Philipp Emanuel, and a pupil, Johann Ludwig Krebs. The solo violin part is in Bach's own hand. Following this publication, several annotated editions appeared; of the ones on the CHASE website, those by David, Hermann, and Alard date from the 1860s and 1870s, while the Joachim/Moser edition is included in their Violinschule (1905). The Bach Gesellschaft Edition, edited by Wilhelm Rust, appeared in 1874. Bach's manuscript solo part is fully bowed, although there is sometimes room for doubt as to how far his slurs extend. This is particularly significant in the Andante, where the autograph bowing is varied and elaborate, and in the finale, where Rust, along with the other 19th-century editors, generally extends the slurs over running quavers to three notes (a complete beat) whereas the Neue Bach-Augabe (ed. Dietrich Kilian, Kassel, 1986) interprets the slurs as covering just the first two of each three-note group. 

The principal interest in the annotated editions concerns the adaptation of Bach's phrasing by the different editors to the demands, as they saw it, of modern violin playing. Bach's bowing frequently asks for a swift, light up bow on an unaccented note in order to bring the bow back towards the heel. The 19th-century ideal was to play broadly, with more gradual nuances of phrasing and a more constant bow speed. In the first movement of this Concerto, our editors are happy to keep Bach's bowing when he marks the last three notes of a group of four with a slur; the first, separate note, which marks the beat, can be played with a swift, accented stroke taking the bow to the point, and the slurred notes can easily accomplish a return to the middle of the bow for the next accent. But where Bach, in order to stress the first beat of the bar, slurs the first three notes, all the editors feel the need to find a different bowing - if the separate semiquavers are to be played with a firm detaché stroke, it will not be so easy to adopt what we can imagine was Bach's solution - a swift, light recovery of the bow before the next stressed group. Where this pattern first occurs at bar 7 of the movement, both Hermann and Joachim/Moser include the remaining five semiquavers in the bar, as well as the two quavers at the start of bar 8, in a single up bow staccato. Another instance of where the editors wish to balance the distance travelled by up bows and down bows occurs at bar 44 of the Concerto's first movement (line 7 in David and Hermann, line 8 in Joachim/Moser). Here Bach writes out an ornament, a "slide", comprising two demisemiquavers (32nd notes) slurred to a quaver. The beat is completed with a detached semiquaver. All the editors except Alard indicate that this separate note be included in the same bow as the three previous notes - but detached from them - so that the down bow on the first beat of the bar is balanced by an up bow on the second beat. 

These examples show the editors keeping to Bach's phrasing whilst adapting it to their own style of playing. However, there are many instances where they are all prepared to change or supplement Bach's indications. In the Concerto's third bar, with eight semiquavers, the composer marks no slurs; the implication is that he intended vigorous, separate bow strokes. Here, all the editors except David slur the notes in groups of four, leading to a smoother, more sustained delivery. All the editors are prepared to make such changes, but it is striking that David's alterations are by far the most radical, frequent, and far-reaching. They are identified and discussed in detail in the notes accompanying the scanned edition. The Andante of this Concerto presents the editors with a particular challenge. Bach has bowed the solo part fully, though not entirely consistently. And, typically for the 18th century, he has indicated short slurs, covering for the most part only two or three notes, with occasional slurs over six triplet semiquavers. Appreciating its lyrically-flowing melodic line, with its predominance of six notes per crotchet beat, the editors all tend to make the bowing smoother - Alard and Hermann are fairly systematic in changing Bach's two-plus-one triplet groups to three-note slurs, and where Bach slurs an extended phrase in threes, they usually change to groups of six. Alard even changes the rhythm of the first solo bar so as to establish at once the smooth flow of sextuplets. The bowings of David and Joachim/Moser are more elaborate, introducing a mixture of longer slurs and separate bows marked with tenuto lines to indicate a smooth, expressive stroke. David is especially creative with his varied bowings, including phrases played with up-bow staccato, and slurs that extend over a beat to the first note of the next group. The Joachim/Moser edition reproduces, alongside their own bowing, the original slurs. In this movement, all the editors find places where they can suggest expressive portamenti; slides up to harmonic As and Ds are especially popular. Hermann seems the most restrained editor in this respect, but this is probably only because his violin part is not fully fingered. In the finale, all the editors indicate the passages of alternate crotchets and quavers to be played with the shorter note in the same bow as the previous longer one. Apart from this, Alard stays very close to the urtext bowing (though with three notes per bow at the start and in all similar places). Of the other editors, once again it is David who makes the most extensive alterations, generally inventing his own bowings for the solo passages, and giving the music a strongly individualistic character. Hermann and Joachim/Moser, too, make many alterations, usually in the direction of including more notes under a slur. In both these editions, however, the original bowing is shown as an alternative, or on occasion, perhaps, so that an articulation can be made at the end of a shorter, Bachian slur. Two eccentricities deserve mention. In bars 6 and 7 of the opening tutti, David doubles the repeated B's at the octave below, no doubt to increase resonance and brilliance. And in the long bariolage passage near the end, Alard (p.7 lines 3-7) adds fingerings designed, after the first bar, to avoid the open E string. We can be sure Bach intended the open string throughout this passage, and Alard's fingering makes the music much more difficult. We can only assume he disliked the sound of the constantly reiterated open string, and was anxious to promote a more mellifluous alternative.