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Ornamentation in Bach’s “O Mensch bewein”

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Passiontide is not far off, and I am considering a performance of Bach’s “O Mensch bewein dein Sünde gross”. I am, however, rather worried about playing the ornaments. I have a copy of Paul Badura-Skoda’s  excellent “Interpreting Bach at the Keyboard”, but do not have the time at the moment to undertake an in-depth study of the c. 300 pages devoted to ornamentation, so cannot yet see the wood for the trees, although the book has unsettled me in relation to using Bach’s own ornament tables as they stand.

Does anyone know of an edition or an analysis of this work which gives a clear and comprehensible guide to how to interpret the ornaments? Modern so-called “Urtext ” editions give huge amounts of information as to sources and variants, but almost no help with actually playing pieces. The only alternative seems to be to listen to a selection of different recordings and make notes. I don’t want to get bogged down in controversy - I’d be happy with three or four succinct summaries with justifications so I can make my decision. I think information under the following headings for each kind of ornament would be helpful:

1. Starting note 

2. Length

3. Tempo

4. Use (or not) of rubato

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4 hours ago, David Drinkell said:

The Novello edition (I think by Walter Emery) feels right to me, but it's all a matter of preference.

Thanks David. I’ve been using the latest Breitkopf edition, but I’d forgotten I had a copy of the Novello edition edited by Walter Emery. You’re right - many of the ornaments are written out. It’s a start! 

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Hi

I first learned & played this from the Novello edition.  These days I use the Barenreiter urtext publication that I purchased a fe years back because my Novello volume (dating from the late '60's) was falling to pieces!  I'm probably a bit of  Philistine with the ornaments - I just play what feels right to me!

Health problems and no tradition of proper voluntaries in the church I play at has meant  I've got rather out of practice, but I've set myself to play through the Bach Passiontide Chorale Preludes from the Orgelbuchlein one each Sunday (except Family Services) during Lent.  Not sure if I'll manage it - and the organ is not the most suitable, being a Yamaha HS8 (spinet style with a 20 note pedalboard) controlling a basic computer simulator).  The first one  (O Lamm Gottes Unschulfig) yesterday went quite well - pedal part played down an octave with 4ft Pedal stop plus a 4ft coupled through from the "Swell".  O Mensch will probably make an appearance for the communion service the Sunday after next.  It's probably the one Passiontide chorale that I know best - certainly the one I've played most!  Trying to do this at least meaans that I have to practice rather more than I have been of late!

Every Blessing

Tony

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Badura-Skoda had an article published a year or two ago in 'Early Music' entitled something like 'Let's get rid of the wrong  Pralltriller', which, so far as I could see, was based on nothing more than personal feeling. His argument is certainly contradicted by some ornament tables from the period. I'm certainly no expert, but I understand that Bach's ornament table for W F Bach (?) is based on French practice and some argue that it is not necessarily applicable to music in other styles - although again I'm not sure whether there is any substance behind this. What does need consideration in O Mensch (and elsewhere) is whether a distinction should be drawn between a trill indicated by a wavy line with a vertical slash at the end and one with a wavy line without a slash but with a turn of two demisemiquavers written out at the end. Bach writes both forms in this piece. Why did he make a distinction? Did he intend one?

 

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It's not really possible to write down in words how many of these issues can be dealt with - there are no shortcuts, alas. Hans Fagius 49 Organ Works by Bach has some of the sort of thing you're after (Sensus Musicbocker) and deals in detail with BWV 641 which shares some features with 622. The weighty and still pretty much unrivalled book on ornamentation is Frederick Neumann's - it was the study which challenged the main note, on the beat orthodoxy of ornament realisation - but it is hundreds of ages long, can be pretty hard going and again there are only a couple of examples from O Mensch in it: but careful reading of it will offer analogies from elsewhere for some of the problems. Not everyone agrees with his conclusions but they are exhaustively argued. The Laukvik book on Historical Performance also has useful contemporary source information about the realisation of ornaments and some good written realisation models (not from BWV 622). But in the end your own ear - informed - has to guide you. Listen to as many harpsichordists as organists, and also as many non- keyboard musicians as you can, I would suggest. Gambists especially. Turns at the end of trills - there seems to be no difference intended in the use of different notations ( and BTW turns notated in exact values at the end of trills should not be regarded as mathematically exact). In the search for definitive ornaments, the crafting of the inner parts of these coloratura pieces is often overlooked: they contain a lot of the expressive force of the music. It's a fascinating exercise to play LH and pedal as a trio sonata.

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