List of compositions by Johann Sebastian Bach printed during his lifetime

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Title page of Gott ist mein König, BWV 71, Bach's first work to be engraved, and the only of his over 200 extant cantatas to be printed during his lifetime

Since the publication of the BWV catalogue in 1950 lists of compositions by Johann Sebastian Bach are often ordered by BWV number. That ordering says however little about chronology of composition, and even less about chronology of publication. Historians did however study which works the composer selected for print, and when and how they were published.[1]

Note that in Bach's time, compositions could circulate in manuscript and be copied by hand, which sometimes amounted to publication, for example the Well-Tempered Clavier was considered "published" in this fashion years before it was printed the first time (all long before copyright even existed).

The scores of more extended vocal and orchestral works were less often published in print in Bach's time, at least as far as Bach's music is concerned. Such scores were generally intended for local use, and the expenses for printing all the parts were high. However, text-books of the special Easter and Christmas services, celebrated in the churches for which Bach composed music in Leipzig, were regularly printed (e.g., Music for Easter, 1731; Christmas Oratorio, 1734; etc.). As these publications only contain texts without music notation, they are not further considered in this article.

Cantata BWV 71[edit]

The parts of the cantata Gott ist mein König, BWV 71 were printed in Mühlhausen in 1708.[2] Records suggest that Mühlhausen council may also have paid for the printing of a later cantata, known as BWV Anh. 192, but, if so, it is now lost.[3]

Clavier-Übung I[edit]

For harpsichord, published in installments from 1726 to 1730: Six Partitas, BWV 825–830:

  1. Autumn 1726: Partita No. 1 in B flat major, BWV 825
  2. Easter 1727: Partita No. 2 in C minor, BWV 826
  3. Michaelmas 1727: Partita No. 3 in A minor, BWV 827
  4. 1728: Partita No. 4 in D major, BWV 828
  5. 1730: Partita No. 5 in G major, BWV 829
  6. 1730: Partita No. 6 in E minor, BWV 830

In 1731 these partitas were collectively published as Clavier-Übung ("Keyboard Exercise").

Clavier-Übung II[edit]

Published in 1735. Both works specified for performance on a two-manual harpsichord.

Bach contrasted a work in Italian style – a Concerto nach Italienischem Gusto (Concerto after the Italian taste, now known as the Italian Concerto), BWV 971, with a work in French style, a suite which he called Overture nach Französischer Art (Overture in the French style, now commonly referred to as the French Overture), BWV 831.

The French Overture had previously been written down in C minor; for the publication of 1735 Bach transposed it to B minor and made slight changes to the musical text, for example in the rhythms of the first movement. The reason for the transposition is not known: one speculation is that the aim was to increase the contrast between the two works. F major is a "flat" key and B minor is a "sharp" key, and the keynotes are related by a tritone, which is the most distant modulation. Another possible motivation is that out of the eight German note names A, B (B flat), C, D, E, F, G, H (B natural), six had already been used as keynotes in the Partitas, thus only F and H remained.[4]

Geistliche Lieder und Arien aus Musicalisches Gesangbuch G.C. Schemelli[edit]

69 Sacred Songs and Arias for Georg Christian Schemelli's Musical Song Book, which contained in total 954 song-texts, for voice and an accompaniment written down as a figured bass. Not all 69 melodies were composed by Bach, but he provided (or "improved") a thorough bass accompaniment for all of them, BWV 439–507.

Schemellis Gesangbuch was published in 1736, and contains some of Bach's probably least known compositions.[5]

Clavier-Übung III[edit]

For organ – published 1739:

Note: The Prelude and Fugue are often played as a unit with the nickname "St Anne"

Clavier-Übung IV[edit]

In 1741 another Clavier-Übung was published, the ARIA with diverse variations for double manual harpsichord, later to be known as the Goldberg Variations, BWV 988. Not thus numbered in the print it was the fourth Clavier-Übung publication. Note that this publication also carries no reference to Johann Gottlieb Goldberg either: the music was published over half a century before the perhaps exaggerated anecdote involving Goldberg was printed in Forkel's biography of Bach.[6]

Canonic Variations on "Vom Himmel hoch da komm' ich her"[edit]

For organ, published in 1747 upon Bach's entrance into the Mizler society, BWV 769

Musikalisches Opfer[edit]

Published 1747, after a visit to Frederick the Great: The Musical Offering, BWV 1079

For diverse instruments, including a triosonate for flute, violin and continuo.

Schübler Chorales[edit]

The Schübler Chorales BWV 645–650, published around 1748 as Sechs Chorale von verschiedener Art ('Six Chorales of Various Kinds'), is a set of chorale preludes for organ.

Kunst der Fuge[edit]

In preparation for print when the composer died (1750): The Art of Fugue, BWV 1080

Both instrumentation and performance order of the fugues and canons contained in this work remain subject to debate amongst scholars.


  1. ^ Forkel/Terry 1920/2011, pp. 114-124
  2. ^ Forkel/Terry 1920/2011: footnotes 10 (p. xxvii), 70 (p. 15), 223 (p. 115) and 225 (p. 116)
  3. ^ Mincham, Julian. "BWV 71". Retrieved 18 May 2015. 
  4. ^ [1] Programme notes for recording by Lucy Carolan
  5. ^ Brilliant Classics, CD No. 99361/5 and 99361/6 (CD 14 and 15 from "Bach Edition")
  6. ^ Forkel/Terry 1920/2011, pp. 119-120