Notebook for Wilhelm Friedemann Bach

The PIANODAO MUSIC LIBRARY
Selected & Reviewed by ANDREW EALES


Reviewing Christoph Wolff’s critical edition of the famous Anna Magdalena Bach Notebooks of 1722 and 1725 for Edition Peters a few months ago, I described the publication as a “landmark” treasure and noted:

“It hardly needs saying that every piano student and player with any interest in classical music needs to have a copy of the Anna Magdalena Notebook on their music stand at some point, nor that this edition is now the one to buy.”

The publication is now joined by a companion volume: a new edition of the less celebrated Wilhelm Friedemann Bach notebook of 1720.

While the Anna Magdalena Bach Notebooks appeared both in linen-bound Premium Scholarly Edition and more economical Practical Student Edition, this new publication appears (to my knowledge) in Premium Scholarly Edition only.

A similarly lavish linen-bound score, this volume is the perfect partner to its recent predecessor, and surely belongs beside it on every music shelf.


Let’s explore this latest wonder…


The Clavier-Büchlein

Wilhelm Friedemann Bach was the eldest son of Johann Sebastian and his first wife, Maria Barbara Bach. Born in 1710, he grew up to become one of the leading organists, improvisers and composers of his day, although sadly employment proved to be intermittent: Wilhelm Friedemann died in poverty in 1784.

Begun in 1720, when the boy was nine years old, and in the same year as his mother’s death, the Clavier-Büchlein gives us a snapshot of young Wilhelm Friedemann’s music education in the Bach family home.

The Notebook for Wilhelm Friedemann Bach contains systematic exercises, first or early versions of three of Bach’s most important keyboard cycles (some of the preludes from the Well-Tempered ClavierPreambulums for the Two-part Inventions and Fantasias for the Three-part Sinfonias) and curated compositions by Richter, Telemann and Stölzel among other items, compiled with a view to providing a rounded musical education.

Wolff breaks down this content into six sections, briefly:

  1. Easy to intermediate pieces for the improvement of playing technique and musical understanding
  2. Wilhelm Friedemann’s first compositions: two Allemandes and two Minuets
  3. Eleven Preludes (earlier versions of pieces which would soon appear in the Well-Tempered Clavier)
  4. Three preludes by Wilhelm Friedemann, showing his considerable progress in technical compositional ability since the earlier pieces.
  5. 15 Præambulums – the Two-Part Inventions
  6. 15 Fantasias – the Three-Part Inventions

The early versions of the preludes later to appear in the Well-Tempered Clavier seem to me particularly fascinating and educative, revealing how Johann Sebastian Bach would build complexity from a simple but highly effective foundation.

As an example, the C minor prelude appears here without the more bravura flourishes which complete the work as it later appears; it reveals itself as a simple exercise in contrary motion keyboard figurations, following a chord progression which explores chromatic relationships within the key.

These preludes are copied out in Wilhelm Friedemann’s handwriting. Wolff notes in the Preface to this new edition,

“The act of copying was clearly intended to promote an in-depth study of the works rather than merely the playing of them.”

Commenting on the inclusion of the Two-Part and Three-Part Inventions, which of all the pieces here have found a central place within the core pedagogic repertoire, Wolff tells us.

“Bach clearly considered these two cycles to be so pedagogically effective that in Spring 1723, before moving from Cöthen to Leipzig, he brought them together under the title Auffrichtige Anleitung (Honest Method) and created an autograph fair copy.”

Appearing between the Præambulums and Fantasias, the notebook also includes complete Suites by Telemann and Stölzel. These are well worth exploring not only for their own merits, but because Bach senior clearly considered them exemplary prototypes worthy of study.

The Wolff Edition

With its gold-embossed cover lettering, high grade cream paper and superb engraving this luxury volume beautifully matches the quality that impressed me so much when reviewing the companion Notebooks for Anna Magdalena Bach.

Here again the book is presented in its original landscape format, ideal for use on a keyboard stand; it includes several pages of illustrations, and a full critical commentary.

As the first new Urtext edition of the Wilhelm Friedemann Bach notebook in 60 years, this is an essential reference work for any musician or scholar with an interest in Bach. Anyone interested in playing or teaching this vital music would do well to acquire a copy, too.

According to Edition Peters,

“It presents cutting-edge scholarship from the world’s leading Bach authority Professor Christoph Wolff including the most up to date research regarding attributions of authors and writers, new fragments brought to light by recently rediscovered manuscripts and the latest dating of sources.”

The Last Word

This edition can happily once again be described as a “landmark treasure”, bringing together impeccable scholarship, gorgeous presentation, and of course the life-enriching music of one of the greatest composers of all.

As a pedagogic volume, there is much here that the contemporary teacher can take instruction from. But ultimately it is the eternal value of the music which shines most brightly throughout this volume, as in its companion.

Edition Peters and Christoph Wolff aren’t simply setting a new standard: they are reinventing the benchmark.

Simply Superb!


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Published by

Andrew Eales

Andrew Eales is a widely respected piano educator, published composer and author based on Milton Keynes UK.

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