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Fully Notated Articulation in Bach's Mature Keyboard Music

Author(s): John Boe

Source: Bach, Vol. 7, No. 1 (JANUARY, 1976), pp. 12-19
Published by: Riemenschneider Bach Institute
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Accessed: 05-06-2017 00:24 UTC

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Fully Notated Articulation in
Bach's Mature Keyboard Music
By John Boe
Southern Illinois University at Carbondale

DID no J. nomeans.
means.S. Bach often
Bach always often
furnished leave furnished
performance performance
instructions performance details instructions to the performer? in his scores By
in his scores
or (as is well known) in the slurs, dots, and slashes found in the perform-
ing parts of his cantatas. But many of his directions are found in the very
notes and rests of his musical text. These instructions in the notes them-
selves are often overlooked as models for similar passages elsewhere, where
Bach left no indications for performance.

In the study which follows, the fully written-out instructions for articu-
lated and legato playing found in some of Bachs keyboard works - espe-
cially the Ciavierbung volumes and the French and English Suites - are
systematically sampled.1 To the examples in music notation given at the
end of this study, are added lists of similar examples for each category of
articulation discussed. These lists are representative of the later keyboard
repertory, but are not meant to be complete.

When Bach wanted to insure detached articulation, he usually wrote

rests between the notes of the passage to be so articulated. Instances where
Bach could, with equal propriety, have written longer notes without rests
but chose, instead, to write shorthand notes and rests - although it meant
more work for him and his engraver - are especially interesting.

In certain contexts, Bach also indicated detached styles by the use

of dots, wedges, or vertical slashes. Whatever their meaning elsewhere,
in J. S. Bach's music the primary meaning of these dots and slashes is
separation: the isolation of a note or notes from the surrounding context
by shortening the duration of the note or notes so marked. These dots and
slashes often occur where stress or emphasis would be in order. (On the
harpsichord or organ a brilliant effect of accent can be produced by
shortening the duration and emphasizing the early rhythmical release of
a note or chord.) These dots and wedges are infrequent in Bach's late
keyboard music and are generally unambiguous. This study will have little
to say, on the other hand, about Bach's slurs. When their meaning is clear,
that meaning is conventional and self-evident - as when an appoggiatura
is bound to a resolution; otherwise, the interpretation of passages in which
slurs occur almost always remains debatable.


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Continuo-Style Detached Bass, Indicated by Rests

Bach sometimes detaches the bass line when the bass moves steadily
in notes of equal value and another part above it moves more quickly.
Note that in Example 1 (see Examples following this article) it would
have been easier for Bach to have written quarter-notes in the bass, and
note, also, that the passages, if so written, would have been musically
acceptable. Here, Bach has used rests to insure articulation of the bass line
- not for the sake of emphasis in this passage, but to lighten the texture
of a part serving a Continuo function, so as to allow the upper part to

See also: BWV 827, Partita III, Gigue : 28, 43

BWV 808, English Suite III, Gavotte 1 : 27, 29, 31
BWV 808, English Suite III, Gigue: 17, 18, 34, 37-41
BWV 812, English Suite VI, Prlude : 53-55, 70-71, 163-64,
BWV 817, French Suite VI, Gigue: 3, 16, 18, 21-22, 27, 31-32,
42, 44, 46
BWV 82 6, Partita II, Capriccio: 28-34, 51 (rests influenced by
technical demands)
BWV 676, Allein Gott in der Hh ' sei Ehr ', a 2 Clav, e Pedale:
5-6, 13, 29, 38-39, 46, 62, 70-77

Continuo^ ty le Detached Notes in Upper Parts , Indicated by Rests

Measures 14-16 of Example 2 show articulation breaks in the inner

parts over a pedalpoint.2 These articulated notes quote the beginning of
the chorale cantus firmus. (The second measure of this example shows a
phrase break in the pedal part. Should the pedal half-notes in the first
measure be detached like the alto part in measure 14? )

See also: BWV 828, Partita IV, Ouverture: 20-23, counter-subject here
and throughout; 34-35, 38-39, 41-47, 75; 79-83;
88-94, 97-103

BWV 988, Goldberg Variations, Var. 27: 2-5, 11-12, 18-19, 27

Detached Chords Indicated by Rests or, Sometimes, by Dots or Wedges

Entire chords may be detached in a forceful and vigorous style, as in

Examples 3-5.

See also: BWV 828, Partita IV, Aria: 1-2, 4-6, 17-18
BWV 830, Partita VI, Air: 1-2
BWV 811, English Suite VI, Gigue: 3 (counter-subject here
and derived from chords throughout)


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(Indicated by dots: )
BWV 827, Partita III, Burlesca : 5-6, 21-22 (See Example 16.)
BWV 552, Praeludium pro Organo Pleno (E- flat Major) :
33-40, 112-19
BWV 811, English Suite VI, Gavotte I: 31 (wedges over cadence
chords; note, however, that we have no autograph
of the English Suites , only copies)

Phrasing Breaks Indicated by Rests

Earlier, in Example 2, Bach's use of a rest in the pedal bass to secure

a particular phrasing was pointed out. Many similar instances exist. In
Variation 24 of the Goldberg Variations (see Example 6), Bach must
certainly have introduced the rests in the bass part to secure the separation
of motives. He might easily, instead, have tied each dotted-quarter-note
to a quarter-note at the same pitch on the second beat of each measure.
(None of the hundreds of rests which precede thematic entrances have
been listed in this study.)

See also: BWV 664, Trio super Allein Gott in der Hh' sei Ehr', a 2 Clav,
e Pedale: 1, 2, 4, 5, and throughout
BWV 663, (see Example 2): 2, 5, etc.
BWV 988, Goldberg Variations, Var. 10: 6-7, 9-13, 15, (25),

BWV 828, Partita IV, Gigue : 2, 8, and throughout where head

of subject appears
BWV 829, Partita V, Gigue: 1, 3, 7, and throughout in middle
of subject
BWV 804, Duetto III: 1-4, and throughout in subject
( See Example 7. )
BWV 826, Partita II, Rondeau: 1-17, 33-54, 65-81, 91-95, 99-111
BWV 826, Partita II, Capriccio: 1-11, 15-21, 35-44

Detached Pairs of Notes or Single Notes Isolated from

Surrounding Context by Wedges or Dots

Example 7 shows two kinds of articulation: (1) the separation of

motives from each other by rests and (2) the emphatic isolation of one
or two notes within a phrase or motive by dots or wedges. In Example 8,
pairs of notes are, again, isolated by wedges.

See also: BWV 810, English Suite V, Courante: 3, 7, 8, 11, 24,

25 (no autograph)
BWV 810, English Suite V, Passepied II: 10, 13, 18,
20 (no autograph)


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BWV 816, French Suite V, Bourre'. 9
BW V 816, French Suite V, Lour e: 7, 15
BWV 802, Duetto I: 72
B W 827, Partita III, Burlesca: 5-6, 21-22 (See Example 15.)
BW 828, Partita IV, Menuet: 1, 5

Detached Series of Notes of Equal Time Value, Marked with Dots

Bach sometimes writes dots over a series of notes of the same time
value, especially when these notes are eighth-notes and when other parts
move against these eighth-notes in quicker time values. Example 9 is

See also: BWV 544, Praeludium for Organ in B-Minor: 18-21, 43-45,
BWV 677, Fughetta super Allein Gott in der Hh ' sei Ehr ': 1-4
BWV 682, Vater unser im Himmelreich, C.F. in Canone a 2
Clav, e Pedale: 10-11, 14-15, 17-18, 20, 28, 30-32,
39-40, 42-55, 57-59, 63-70, 75-82, 87-90
BWV 988, Goldberg Variations, Var. 16: 8-9
BWV 988, Goldberg Variations, Var. 20: throughout - here
indicated exceptionally by sixteenth-rests

Detached Notes Marked by Dots, Intermingled with Slurs in Florid Style

Bach's florid lines for obbligato solo instruments in his cantata arias
- as marked in many autograph parts written out for performances -
often show an abundance of articulations marked by both dots and slurs.
Occasionally, Bach transfers this florid style to the keyboard, as in Exam-
ple 10.

See also: BWV 988, Goldberg Variations, Var. 25: 13

BWV 831, French Overture, Gavotte II: 13-15, 16-23
BWV 971, Italian Concerto, Movement I: 15-20, 75-80, 177-182

Repeated Notes at the Same Pitch Marked with Dots or Wedges

In Example 11, observe first that Bach wrote three repeated quarter-
notes in measure 95 instead of one dotted half-note; and that Bach then
articulated and stressed these repeated quarter-notes by writing dots above

See also: BWV 988, Goldberg Variations, Var . 20: 25-28

Detachment of Dotted Rhythms Indicated by Rests

Essays on the performance of late Baroque music call for certain

rhythms often found in French Overtures to be double-dotted and sharply


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articulated. Example 12 shows Bach's use of a sixteenth-rest to achieve
both ends. (Without the sixteenth-rest the first three notes in the soprano
part, measure 15, would have been written as a dotted-quarter-note, an
eighth-note, and a half-note. The sixteenth-rest produces the same effect
as would have resulted from double-dotting the first soprano note.)

See also: BWV 552, Praeludium pro Organo Pleno (E-flat) : 5-30, 59-69,
99-110, 175-203
BWV 988, Goldberg Variations, Var. 23: 9-13, 17-20


1 The English Suites come to us only in copies; slurs and dots found in these
may, indeed, derive from Bach's students rather than from Bach himself. B
evidence of those passages in the English Suites , where performance indication
written out fully in notes or rests, cannot be objected to on these grounds.
2 Although it is included in a late collection of organ works based on chorale
663 is probably an early work.


Ex. 1. BWV 827, Partita III, Corrente : continuo-style detached bass

Ex. 2. BWV 663, Allein Gott in der Hh' sei Ehr', a 2 Clav, e Ped., C.F. in
Tenore, meas. 1-2, 14-16 (see also 7-9) : continuo-style detached
upper parts


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Ex. 3. BWV 827, Partita III, Scherzo, meas. 1-4 and 28-30 (see also
12-16) : detached chords

Ex. 4. BWV 829, Partita V, meas. 1-4 (also 17-18, 20, 37-44, 65-68,
73-77): detached chords

Ex. 5. BWV 831, French Overture , Echo , meas. 1-2 (also 33 and
throughout ) : detached chords


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Ex. 6. BWV 988, Goldberg Variations, Var. 24, meas. 1-2 (also 4-6, where
technical considerations influence the use of rests ) : phrasing breaks

Ex. 7. BWV 804, Duetto III, meas. 1-3: isolated detached pairs of notes

Ex. 8. BWV 805, Duetto IV, meas. 78-81 ( see also 17-24, 49-56, 83-85 ) :
isolated detached pairs of notes

Ex. 9. BWV 831, French Overture , Ouverture, meas. 20-23, 38-40 (see
also 26-30, 71-72, 98-102, 104, 106, 134-36) : detached series of
equal notes, marked with dots


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Ex. 10. BWV 988, Goldberg Variations , Var. 13, meas. 11-16 (see also
21-24, 29-32 ) : detached notes marked by dots intermingled
with slurs

Ex. 11. BWV 971, Italian Concerto , Presto , meas. 94-96: repeated notes
marked with dots

Ex. 12. BWV 831, French Overture, Ouverture, meas. 15-16 (see also
1-20 and 144-162 ) : detached dotted rhythms


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