In this post I consider an edition of a central item in the Bach keyboard repertoire, BWV 971, the Italian Concerto from Clavierübung II. The edition at hand was the work of Rosalyn Tureck (1914-2003), and it was published by G. Schirmer in 1983 under an imprint revealing that it was to be the first of many:
|SOURCE: cropped scan of the title page of Tureck’s 1983 edition|
The series nameplate combines three terms that do not necessarily mix well: critical edition, performance edition, and urtext. (Later issues in the short-lived series add facsimile to the namplate, and this is accurate as each one includes a facsimile reproduction of her principal source(s), although sometimes these are reduced in size or too faint to be very useful.)
A critical edition is particular type of scholarly edition: it is the product of the studious application of some text-critical method involving multiple sources. In musical editions these methods are usually deployed in pursuit either of the earliest version penned by a composer, the last version as revised by a composer, or (increasingly, so it seems to me) a version that the composer never got down on paper but for which there is some authoritative evidence; but a critical edition need not seek a version known to the composer, but might seek a subsequent version (like Mendelssohn’s or Vaughan Williams’s re-scorings of Bach’s St. Matthew Passion—in either case the usual Bach sources would be generally irrelevant to the text-critical process). Whatever goal a critical edition is aiming for, I am all in favor of it when it is done well.
Many critical editions also claim the label urtext, which was coined to refer to the original reading of a text, but which in musical editions has come to describe little more than editions purged of interpretive editorial accretions—slurs and other articulation marks, dynamics, fingerings, pedalings, bowings, etc. In that sense an urtext may not prove to be “critical” in the sense described above. I would argue that an edition based on a single source—that is, in which there has been no collation of variant readings—cannot be a critical edition in its strict sense, although it may well be an urtext in at least the marketing sense. (Although a number of webpages credit the publisher Günter Henle as the first to apply the term to music, the OED has a 1932 citation from the TLS referring to “the nearest thing possible in Chopin’s case to an Urtext,” and Breitkopf & Härtel used it for a series of publications in the 1890s.)
A performance edition aims to make visible to the user the various unwritten or obscure conventions that are otherwise invisible on the page—or, indeed, performance practices that are quite far removed from the composer. Editorial additions to the text in such editions vary widely, and sometimes recognizing them for what they are can be difficult, as you have to know what a composer “looks like” to know when something has been added; at other times the interpretive suggestions are bleedingly obvious. And—as I indicated in my very first post—I don’t disparage such editions in the least, as they are vital resources in understanding performance conventions of their time. The goals of urtext and performing editions are essentially at odds. While it is a standard practice to adapt a text to modern notation conventions (for example, using treble and bass clefs only for keyboard music), many editions I see marketed as urtexts make more extensive concessions to aid in performers’ interpretations. Tureck’s does this, but at least she explains in her preface exactly the sorts of interpretive marks she has added. Nonetheless, her approach to these editions seems to transfer them out of the urtext realm into something else altogether.
The two other issues of the Tureck’s series were the lute suites BWV 996 and 997 adapted for the guitar. These bear a curious note in which the editor insists that “[t]he Suites in this series, edited for classical guitar, are not arrangements. This edition preserves the original form of Bach’s compositions” [p. ii]. Indeed? An urtext for the wrong instrument? If the word arrangement was too slippery for her to assert authority, why not transcription? Clearly adjustments have been made in order to make this playable at all: “Where notes are considered unplayable on the guitar the editor does not omit them. For the sake of musical completeness they are included within parentheses in the musical text. 8ve signifies an octave above the original register, an editorial solution” [BWV 996, p. v]. An “editorial solution,” that is, to a problem created by the editor. These are transcriptions—very good ones, perhaps, made by an authority on Bach performance—but they unnecessarily claim a specious scholarly objectivity. She is posing to be more than she is.
So too her edition of the Italian Concerto (which Tureck significantly describes as edited “for Harpsichord or Piano”), which presents not merely a critically-established text, but overlays it with her interpretation. The fidelity is not thus to the text of the work but rather to a learned artist’s understanding of it. She glosses the Italian Concerto so that we can see what she perceives when she reads the music. Not that there’s anything wrong with that: I am reminded of Malcolm Bilson’s complaint that everyone uses urtext editions but few know how to read them. Tureck’s profuse prefatory remarks give the impression that hers is—for the first time ever—the text Bach meant.
“No autograph copy of the Italian Concerto exists. Although several manuscripts in other hands are extant, the most reliable source is Bach’s own corrected copy of the first printing, published in 1735, in which revisions are set down in his hand. [Bach-Digital description here.] The second printing appeared in 1736. The inestimable value of Bach'’s text is self-evident. It is a rare instance in the keyboard works of direct contact with the original textual and performance intentions of Johann Sebastian. The editor employs this musical text [i.e., the 1736 edition or the hand-corrected 1735 edition?] for this edition which, besides being an urtext edition, is also edited for performance on the piano or the harpsichord according to all the original indications in Bach's corrected copy. The stem directions, which in the editor’s opinion are of prime importance, have also been preserved as closely as possible.... [p. iii] It has long been the custom to present a ‘clean’ score with urtext references, leaving the performer to find the way to performance solutions. This procedure has served two functions: (1) it has rescued editions from erroneous music texts and anachronistic performance directions[,] and (2) it has reflected scholarly research and orientation. The bare urtext editions give the performing musician and teacher contact with the scholar’s approach and with increasingly reliable scores which provide a textual foundation upon which an authentic performance art may be developed....” [p. iv]The eyes glaze over at some point, and she relies increasingly on an authoritarian passive voice:
“In addition to current editing procedures, performance practices must now be introduced if musicians are to employ an urtext which will contribute to an authentic performance style. Heretofore, the performer has been left uninstructed, an impossible practice for music composed some 250 years ago. Innumerable specific, historical performance practices are indentifiable, and substantial data concerning them are available.... This edition integrates the textual sources with Bach’s own performance indications and historical style, based on Baroque performance practices for harpsichord. These practices, when combined with an uncompromising purity of Baroque style, considerations of the musical structure, and a fitting piano technique, have valid applications on the piano.” [p. iv]Paul Badura-Skoda blasts this edition in his Interpreting Bach at the Keyboard, particularly in a section he calls “The Urtext Problem: An Imaginary Interview” [p. 188-200], where he imagines all the questions he wants to be asked and so that he can respond pithily. In particular he takes Tureck to task for her radical proposal that in the second movement the accompanying alto line may be ornamented. See her note before the beginning of the movement:
|SOURCE: digital scan of Tureck ed., p. 8|
B.-S. Look, if a professional musicologist comes up with a sensational claim such as, for example, that in the second movement of the Italian Concerto the alto voice should be freely embellished throughout, then he or she should adduce some evidence to support it. I know of no Italian or German treatise written during Bach's lifetime that suggests the embellishment of accompanying (in contrast to imitative) inner voices. Thus one might expect from Dr Tureck some evidence or explanation for such a claim...
DR C. Doesn’t she point to the fact that the thirds in the lower system of the Andante have two tails [stems] throughout, thus proving that they are two distinct voices?
B.-S. This is simply a naïve remark and doesn’t prove anything. Everyone who is acquainted with the keyboard music of the eighteenth century knows that it was common notational practice to add tails to all thirds, sixths, and so on. This even occurs in Haydn and Mozart. If what she says were true, one could also, in the Italian Concerto, set about enriching the accompaniment of bars 30f., 46f., and 129f. of the first movement with ornaments.
DR C. But Tureck points to bar 17 of the second movement, where, in the first edition, there really is a Pralltriller sign in the middle voice...
B.-S. ... which is almost certainly an engraver’s error... [p. 195f.; the ellipses are his]He belabors this point at some length, adding that her suggested execution of the trill is wrong “because the Pralltriller formula she adduces is not found in a single treatise before 1757, seven years after Bach died.”
This notwithstanding, the only thing that irks me about Tureck’s edition is that she overreaches, imposing her way as the one true path to Bach. Badura-Skoda does the same. Maybe this is an occupational hazard for performers, but particularly for one who communed with the composer as “the high priestess of Bach.” And, like any editor, Tureck is delighted when she can restore some textual variant in order to give us the truth:
“As a result of this comparative analysis, the editor brings to light an error in the first movement which appears in well-known 19th and 20th century editions including the Neue Bach Ausgabe. At measures 13-14 the figure in the soprano had been altered to match measures 175-176 in the closing da capo section. This figure is restored in this edition to its original version.” [p. iii]The figure to which she refers is this:
|SOURCE: composite; my own transcriptions (clefs updated) from the first edition (1735) from IMSLP #417409|
In any case, “Original version” may be too much for Tureck to claim, as it appears that this figured had changed a bit before the 1735 publication. A manuscript copied by Johann Christoph Oley (1735-1789) held by the Boston Public Library (details at Bach-Digital here, but a scan is available at the IMSLP) presented an earlier reading of the text which Oley subsequently updated to match the published version (altering even the title page to conform—see the account in the NBA Kritischer Bericht). Wherever they might be placed metrically, these twiddles seem to have been second thoughts. In these and other instances Oley has originally written 16th-notes, and then crammed the extra note in to make a pair of 32nds. (Note that here, in addition to the cramped space, often the stem of the added note does not cross the closest beam, although in the places where Oley originally wrote 32nds (as throughout the second movement), the stems cross all the way to the main beam.)
|SOURCE: cropped screenshots from Oley MS, at IMSLP #302163|
Tureck’s labors devoted to Bach interpretation are admirable—especially her “progressive anthology” series, An Introduction to the Performance of Bach (3 vols, Oxford, 1960). Most interesting there is a sort of etude in which she has rewritten the C-major 2-part invention (BWV 772) so that the hands are essentially reversed “for the development of flexible thinking in two parts”:
|SOURCE: cropped page scan from Tureck, An Introduction to the Performance of Bach, vol. 2, p. 14|