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Edition by Schenker of J. S. Bach's Chromatic Fantasy and Fugue in D minor, BWV 903, first published by Universal Edition (UE 2540) in 1910.

Work Description

The work is the second in the series of critical editions by Schenker that constitute a significant part of his output (leaving aside his publication of Handel Organ Concertos in 1905, which was strictly speaking a set of arrangements). His descriptive commentary, itself a logical successor to his Beitrag zur Ornamentik of 1903, contains elements of formal analysis, textual criticism, survey of previous editions, performance practice and performing technique, concluding with subsections on non legato, dynamics, and fingering, all of which seek to foster an understanding of the "true content" (wahrer Inhalt) of the music. This commentary was the first to be characterized in its internal text as Erläuterungen ("elucidations"), hence the first in his envisioned series of Erläuterungsausgaben ("elucidatory editions") ‒ albeit without the study of manuscript sources ‒ of which the Erläuterungsausgabe of the late piano sonatas of Beethoven (1913‒20) was to prove the final and prime exemplar. The only other adoption of the genre was Otto Vrieslander's Kurze und leichte Clavierstücke: Neue kritische Ausgabe mit erläuterndem Nachwort (Vienna: UE, 1914), which the cover presents as: Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach[:] Kurze und leichte Clavierstücke[:] Erläuterungsausgabe.

The original title-page (OC Scores/11) reads:

(The first page of the score is headed "CHROMATISCHE PHANTASIE UND FUGE D MOLL," and the commentary (p. 19) employs the subheading "Chromatische Phantasie," in conformity with the spelling that he had previously adopted in the series-title of his main theoretical work: "NEUE MUSIKALISCHE THEORIEN UND PHANTASIEN.")

The edition comprises, in all, fifty pages, of which the title-page and Foreword occupy two, the engraved musical text fourteen (with occasional asterisked footnotes), the letterpress text thirty, and the engraved appendix four pages.

Since Schenker did not start recording details of the lessons he gave until 1912, it is impossible to gauge what role the Chromatic Fantasy and Fugue played in his teaching in that period, except that in 1910 he wrote to his publisher: "Year in, year out, I go through it two or three times with my pupils ‒ it is undoubtedly one of the principal works of our repertory" (WSLB 57). A letter of 1909 describes the work as "a frequently (but as often as not badly) played concert piece," and in his early diary he reported adversely on a performance by Wilhelm Backhaus that was "acoustical-mechanical" (diary, January 26, 1907). Surprisingly, in the period 1912 to 1914, he taught the work to only two of his pupils: briefly to Mrs. Stirling and extensively to the highly gifted young Felix Hupka.


First Edition

Up to 1909, Schenker had produced an edition of keyboard works of C. P. E. Bach, but none by that composer's father. On April 1, 1909 a meeting took place of Schenker and Emil Hertzka, in his account of which Hertzka recorded that Universal Edition was prepared to pay for editions of specified works of Johann Sebastian Bach (none of which came to fruition), including the vaguely worded "Fantasy and Fugue" (OC 52/920). On June 23 Schenker requested a copy of the Breitkopf & Härtel edition (by Reinecke) and Steingräber edition (by Bischoff) of the Chromatic Fantasy and Fugue, stating that he already owned those by the Bach Gesellschaft, Peters, Bülow and Busoni (WSLB 39 ‒ his copies of the Bach Gesellschaft and Röntgen editions survive as OC Scores/9 and 10, and the Peters edition [by Czerny, Griepenkerl, and Roitzsch] as OC 68/21, pp. 20‒31). The next day Hertzka confirmed agreement "for an analytical edition" (a significant phrase!) "of Bach's Chromatic Fantasy and Fugue" (OC 52/422).

On September 20 Schenker declared the edition finished, stressing how attentiveness to "exact and minute detail" in the printing would be crucial. For the first time, he used the term Erläuterungen (placing it in quotation-marks), in his exuberant declaration: I say openly, with joy, and bursting with pride: it is ‒ far surpassing Spitta et al ‒ the first genuine monument to Bach: teachers, performers, composers, etc. will at last gain insight into this genius. In my opinion, promoted by you in your customary energetic fashion, the "Elucidations" should spread to the far corners of the earth! (WSLB 42).

Schenker explained that the work was "too idiosyncratic" not to be described in all its details (WSLB 52). The contract was signed on October 17, 1909 (OC 52/423). UE was due to send Schenker's text and manuscript to the printers shortly after October 26 (OC 52/41), but there were problems at the printing works that in turn caused a delay in the engraving shop so great that, despite repeated complaints on Schenker's part, the first proofs did not reach him until June 3, 1910 (WSLB 61). These he returned corrected by June 20; the second proofs were available on July 28 (OC 52/54), and were returned by Schenker from his vacation address in the Tyrol by August 17 (OC 52/55). A further series of technical issues arose during September.

The edition finally went to press on September 20, and UE took delivery of 500 copies on October 21, Schenker receiving the second installment of his honorarium on October 14 (OC 52/425). It was favorably reviewed by Egon Wellesz in Der Merker the same month.

Schenker claimed for his Introduction that: "no textbook on fugue up to now ‒ be it the oldest or the earliest ‒ has given within its pages such valuable information concerning fugue as does my edition" (WSLB 66/67, October 17, 1910). Two days later he insisted that all UE notices of the edition should include the word Erläuterungen (OC 52/426) (catalogues took several years to conform to this demand).

Revised Edition

The work had to wait until 1969 to be re-issued, as part of Universal Edition's series Wiener Urtext Ausgabe. The title-page reads: J. S. BACH | CHROMATISCHE PHANTASIE | UND FUGE | KRITISCHE AUSGABE VON HEINRICH SCHENKER | REVIDIERT VON OSWALD JONAS | UNIVERSAL EDITION

Schenker's wish for the word Erläuterungen to be included thus remained unfulfilled. The pagination is identical, and Schenker's notational and verbal texts are unchanged save for a few typographical corrections. Jonas appended (p. 51) five supplementary footnotes (with footnote numbers inserted below the commentary at relevant points), one of which relates Schenker's harmonic interpretation of measures 33‒42 and 49‒68 of the Fantasy back to his Harmonielehre (1906), another of which quotes the graphic analysis of the fugue subject presented as Figure 20,2 of Der freie Satz (1935), and cross refers to a passing mention in "Das Organische der Fuge" in Meisterwerk II (1926).

English Translation

Hedi Siegel's English translation was published in 1984, the title-page at last incorporating the word Erläuterungen, rendered as "Commentary": J. S. BACH'S | CHROMATIC FANTASY | AND FUGUE | — | Critical Edition with Commentary | Heinrich Schenker | Translated and Edited by Hedi Siegel | [publisher's emblem] | Longman | New York & London

The work is published in book format rather than, as with the two German editions, that of sheet music (although the music is also provided in larger format in a slipcase). The notation has been left unchanged; footnotes to the score and words in the examples appear in English translation. The translator's Foreword is a penetrating characterization of the work, which takes into account sketches of the music made by Schenker, and also the numerous annotations on his personal copy (preserved now as OC 68/2‒5 and Scores/11 respectively). Siegel provides twenty-seven pages of endnotes, which incorporate those of Schenker and Jonas, sometimes in amplified form, with a wealth of additional information on a wide variety of matters that renders this edition a piece of basic research in its own right.

Other Discussions by Schenker

Only two of Schenker's other published works refer to the Chromatic Fantasy and Fugue. The article "Die Kunst der Improvisation," in Meisterwerk I (1925), p. 21 points in a footnote to examples of motivic parallelism in measure 21‒22 and 31 of the Fantasy. Der freie Satz (1935), §78 shows "the fundamental line's progressions and the two bass arpeggiations" of the Fugue's subject and demonstrates it in Figure 20,2; four other passages refer to this figure: in §170 (notes in the inner voices), §243 ("the implied bass formula"), §248 ("conflict of chromatic tones" in the foreground), and §260 ("stationary boundary tones"). The work is not discussed in those parts of the near-contemporary Die Kunst des Vortrags , unpublished in German, that are published in English translation.

Sources and Further Reading

  • Siegel, Hedi, transl. and ed., "A Contribution to the Study of Ornamentation [by] Heinrich Schenker," The Music Forum, vol. IV (1976), 1‒139, esp. 1‒5
  • Siegel, Hedi, transl. and ed., J. S. Bach's Chromatic Fantasy and Fugue: Critical Edition with Commentary (New York: Longman, 1984)
  • Rothstein, William R. [review of Siegel transl.], Music Theory Spectrum, 7 (1985), 203‒07
  • Rink, John S. [review of Siegel transl.], Music Analysis 7/2, (July 1988), 224‒31
  • Schulenberg, David, "Expression and Authenticity in the Harpsichord Music of J. S. Bach," Journal of Musicology, 8/4 (1990), 449‒76
  • Bent, Ian, "'That Bright New Light': Schenker, Universal Edition, and the Origins of the Erläuterung Series, 1901‒1910," Journal of the American Musicological Society, 58/1 (2005), 69‒138
  • Rothgeb, John, transl. and ed., Beethoven's Last Piano Sonatas: An Edition with Elucidation, by Heinrich Schenker (New York, Oxford University Press, 2015) [= Erläuterungsausgabe]: vol. I Piano Sonata in E major, Op. 109; vol. II Piano Sonata in A-flat major, Op. 110; vol. III Piano Sonata in C minor, Op. 111; vol. IV Piano Sonata in A major, Op. 101 and associated website Beethoven's Last Piano Sonatas
  • Communications from Hedi Siegel and William Drabkin


  • Ian Bent

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