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Canonic Variations - Which Order?


jonadkins
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I had always known this work (BWV 769) with the movements in this order:

 

canon in the octave

fifth

seventh

by augmentation

various

 

and thought that the movement with various canons by inversion a glorious way to end a work which I have gradually come to realise is one of Bach's greatest and most beautiful. Now, the generally accepted practice seems to be to end with the canon by augmentation:

 

octave

fifth

various

seventh

augmentation

 

This may well be the "authentic" order, but I can't help prefering the other one! What do others think?

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When Bach published his canonic variations on joining the Correspodirende Societät der Musicalischen Wissenschaften in 1747, he ordered the movements as in the second of your examples. So the long one with the various canons appears as the central movement of the five. In this print the canons were not written out in full, thus ensuring that the society members would have to work it all out for themselves and so appreciate his "scientific" skill. This is BWV 769.

 

However, an autograph manuscript of the work still exists. In this version Bach ordered the movements as in your first example with the long, climactic one at the end. In this version the canons are fully written out. This is BWV 769a.

 

It is not known which version is earlier. Whether the final movement is the climactic one or the arabesque, Bach's musical signature can be found near the end. There are a few minor variants between the print and the manuscript. In nearly all cases the print seems superior to me, though this does not necessarily mean anything.

 

I prefer the manuscript order myself. Both versions are in vol.2 of the NBA.

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When Bach published his canonic variations on joining the Correspodirende Societät der Musicalischen Wissenschaften in 1747, he ordered the movements as in the second of your examples. So the long one with the various canons appears as the central movement of the five. In this print the canons were not written out in full, thus ensuring that the society members would have to work it all out for themselves and so appreciate his "scientific" skill. This is BWV 769.

 

However, an autograph manuscript of the work still exists. In this version Bach ordered the movements as in your first example with the long, climactic one at the end. In this version the canons are fully written out. This is BWV 769a.

 

It is not known which version is earlier. Whether the final movement is the climactic one or the arabesque, Bach's musical signature can be found near the end. There are a few minor variants between the print and the manuscript. In nearly all cases the print seems superior to me, though this does not necessarily mean anything.

 

I prefer the manuscript order myself. Both versions are in vol.2 of the NBA.

 

I prefer 769a, too, and played it that order at the last christmas night. For that occasion, which was a more contemplative event with music in the foreground of additional meditations, this order was perfect. It might depend on the character of the player, but I always preferred the manuscript order, because to end the suite with the large stack of lines and notes of the 769 Nr. 5 variation seemed always too "plakativ" to me. As, in my eyes, it is the most learned piece by JSB except the Art of the Fugue, I would think that the IMO more refined details of the manuscript version and its more "reserved" dramaturgy serve it better. But maybe it is a too poetic or, say, mystic approach, because the quiet end moves the piece closer to the transcendency, which seems to shine over Bach's last works in general. This might be a very personal view.

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