As I have written elsewhere, back in 1986, when I had the privilege of a long dinner with Gustav Leonhardt, as I told him that I had transcribed this fugue (and played it in a harpsichord recital back in 1981), he responded “Oh! I also did exactly that!”.
Decades later, Leonhardt’s transcription has recently been published and even more recently a recording of it is available on YouTube.
Upon listening at the recording I was amazed at how incredibly different our two versions (both in d minor) are. Before dealing with the detail, let me remind us about the sources.
VIOLIN. This the widely-known original version by Bach.
ORGAN. This was also produced by Bach, with more filling and pedals, often in five voices, and the result sounds overloaded. Not surprisingly, organists rarely include it in their recitals.
LUTE. This version is anonymous. However, it is apparent that it was based on the violin version. Or was it vice versa? It is also apparent that this masterpiece sounds most satisfactorily on the lute, to the point that I strongly suspect this to be the original version.
Listening to GL’s version, I personally find it like something that somebody in Bach’s milieu would have produced, but arguably not Bach himself. GL not only introduces some of the less fortunate additions of Bach’s organ version, but sometimes these additions subtly depart from Bach’s original harmony.
But the main issue I have with GL’s version is the number of voices. As we all know, Bach (unlike Handel) was very punctilious with voices in his keyboard fugues. Indeed, in a handful of them at some point near to the end he added a further voice, and very, very occasionally a chord here and there had one or two more notes. This said, about 99% of the time, Bach’s keyboard fugues have a consistent number of voices.
My own transcription work took weeks, during which I painstakingly collated the three extant versions. Initially I collated the violin and lute scores (preferring the latter which, although very similar, has an idiom nearest to the harpsichord ) to produce a initial harpsichord version. Then, when I felt that a filling would be appropriated, I added some passages from the organ version.
Being a version with no pedalboard, to be consistent with the original versions, I followed two principles throughout:
- My additions never exceeded the four voices.
- Every single note in my version is taken from one of the 3 extant versions.
Needless to say, I personally find my own version more satisfactory.
GL lovers will surely differ.
In YouTube we can hear GL’s version played by Chiara Massini.
Back in 1981 (on my Hubbard instrument still in A=440) I recorded my transcription during practice for a recital. There are a few obvious wrong notes, but I am still fond of that recording. I just found it in an old Audio CD and have uploaded it here. It is played on the lower 8’ with its “singing buff”.