List of compositions by Johann Sebastian Bach printed during his lifetime

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Title page of the oldest ascertained publication of a work by Bach: Gott ist mein König, BWV 71 (1708).

Compositions by Johann Sebastian Bach printed during his lifetime (1685–1750) include works for keyboard instruments, such as his Clavier-Übung volumes for harpsichord and for organ, and to a lesser extent ensemble music, such as the trio sonata of The Musical Offering, and vocal music, such as a cantata published early in his career. Other works, such as several canons, were printed without an indication by which instruments they were to be performed.

No more than a few works by Johann Sebastian Bach were printed during his lifetime. Extended works for choir and instrumentalists were not printed very often in his day. Bach selected mostly keyboard compositions for publication, which conformed to such contemporary practices, and was instrumental in establishing him as a keyboard composer. His works not only circulated in print: also manuscripts were copied and transmitted. Whether or not a work was selected for print was independent of the quality of the music.


Whereas earlier composers such as Palestrina, Monteverdi, Praetorius and Schütz had their works printed to ensure that the entire range of their music became more widely known, this was not the case with Bach, who only had a small proportion of his works printed. Christoph Wolff has suggested three reasons: firstly the financial support from municipal councils or noble patrons available to previous generations had diminished in Germany as a result of the Thirty Years War; secondly the expense of printing contrapuntal keyboard music which, at that time in Germany, was more often typeset than engraved; and lastly the low number of potential customers for works that were often technically difficult and unconventional.[1]

Counting by BWV numbers, less than ten percent of the composer's output was printed during his lifetime. Especially the choral works, less than half a percent of over 400 BWV numbers, are under-represented. This was however not exceptional for Bach's time when larger works for chorus and orchestra were less often printed. Bach's own efforts to get his works printed concentrated mostly on his keyboard compositions, which contributed to the fact that, at least until the 19th-century Bach Revival, he was mainly regarded as a keyboard composer. Whether or not a work was selected for print was independent of the quality of the music.[2]

Compositions by Johann Sebastian Bach printed during his lifetime
BWV Work Print
0071 Council election cantata Gott ist mein König 1708
0439–507 songs and arias in Schemellis Gesangbuch 1736
0552 Prelude and Fugue in E for organ in Clavier-Übung III 1739
0645–650 chorale preludes for organ (Schübler Chorales) 1747–1748
0669–689 chorale preludes for organ in Clavier-Übung III 1739
0769 Canonic Variations on "Vom Himmel hoch" for organ 1747–1748
0802–805 duets for keyboard instrument in Clavier-Übung III 1739
0825–830 partitas for harpsichord in Clavier-Übung I 1726–1730, 1731
0831 French Overture for harpsichord in Clavier-Übung II 1735
0971 Italian Concerto for harpsichord in Clavier-Übung II 1735
0988 Goldberg Variations for harpsichord (Clavier-Übung IV) 1741–1742
1074 Canon a 4 1728, 1739, 1747
1076 Canon triplex a 6 1747
1079 The Musical Offering for diverse instruments 1747–1749
1080 The Art of Fugue 1751, 1752
1138.1 Council election cantata for Mühlhausen #2 (lost)[3] 1709
1138.2 Council election cantata for Mühlhausen #3 (lost)[4] 1710

Most of the prints of Bach's music which appeared during his lifetime were commissioned by the composer.[5] Bach's personal copies, often containing handwritten corrections or additions, have been recovered for several of his printed works. The German expression for personal copy, Handexemplar, also appears in English-language Bach-scholarship, and is used in the list below when referring to prints once contained in the personal library of Johann Sebastian Bach.[6]

During Bach's lifetime his compositions were mostly distributed amongst his immediate musical associates through manuscript copies. After his death in 1750, manuscript copies of keyboard and vocal works were made by professional copyists and distributed by musical publishing firms, especially Breitkopf (Leipzig), Traeg (Vienna) and Westphal (Hamburg). This in turn led to the appearance of printed editions of his works, beginning with the publication of Bach's four-part chorales in the second half of the eighteenth century. The fact that Bach had published representative samples of his music for keyboard instruments contributed to his fame, and to an increased demand for such works after his death.[1]

In his 1732 Musicalisches Lexicon [scores], Johann Gottfried Walther listed all keyboard compositions by Johann Sebastian Bach which had been printed up to that point, that is, the six partitas of Clavier-Übung I.[7][8] In Bach's obituary, which was published four years after the composer's death, printed and unprinted works are listed separately: the list of engraved compositions contains eight items, all of them instrumental works, and concludes with The Art of Fugue, which had been printed shortly after the composer's death.[9] A comparable list, starting with the same eight items, appeared half a century later in Johann Nikolaus Forkel's Bach-biography.[10][11] In 1937 Georg Kinsky published an extensive study of Bach's original publications.[5][12]

Printed music[edit]

The eight publications listed in Bach's obituary included The Art of Fugue which was in fact published shortly after the composer's death. Further, two publications with vocal music and two canons are extant.

Mühlhausen council election cantatas[edit]

Gott ist mein König, BWV 71, Bach's council election (Ratswahl) cantata composed for Mühlhausen in 1708, was printed that same year at the expense of the town council.[5][13][14] Also in 1709 and 1710 Bach wrote the council election cantatas for Mühlhausen, which likewise would have been printed.[15][16] These cantatas, BWV 1138.1 and 1138.2, are however lost: neither a print nor a manuscript survives.[3][4]

The Mühlhausen council commissioned the publication of the Ratswahl cantatas. The parts and libretto of the Gott ist mein König cantata, printed in Mühlhausen in 1708, are extant.[5]
Mus. 11495 of the Berlin State Library, one of the surviving prints of the BWV 71 cantata, has a handwritten note by Bach on the front page.[14]

Clavier-Übung I[edit]

Title page of the 1726 edition of BWV 825, the first of six partitas that would be grouped into Clavier-Übung I in 1731

Bach's Six Partitas, BWV 825–830, for harpsichord, were published in instalments from 1726 to 1730:[8][17][18][19]

  1. Autumn 1726: Partita No. 1 in B-flat major, BWV 825.[20]
  2. Easter 1727: Partita No. 2 in C minor, BWV 826.[21]
  3. Michaelmas 1727: Partita No. 3 in A minor, BWV 827.[22]
  4. 1728: Partita No. 4 in D major, BWV 828.[23]
  5. 1730: Partita No. 5 in G major, BWV 829.[24]
  6. 1730: Partita No. 6 in E minor, BWV 830.[25]

In 1731 these partitas were collectively published as Clavier-Übung ("Keyboard Exercise").[17][18][26][27]

According to an announcement published in May 1730, it was originally planned to publish seven suites.[28][29]
In 1774 Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach, son of Johann Sebastian, sold a print of Clavier-Übung I from his father's personal library to Johann Nikolaus Forkel.[30] In 2008 Andrew Talle identified SH J. S. Bach 56 of the Austrian National Library as the Handexemplar that changed hands in 1774.[31][32] Previously, Bach scholars had (tentatively) identified Bach's Handexemplar of Clavier-Übung I as either 3.3.B2 Case of the Music Division of the Library of Congress (e.g. Peter Wollny in 1996)[33][34] or Hirsch III. 37 of the British Library (e.g. Walter Emery in 1952, and Richard D. P. Jones in 1978, 1988 and 1997).[35][36]

Canon a 4[edit]

Bach's "Canon mit 4" (canon for four voices), BWV 1074, was published in Georg Philipp Telemann's Der getreue Music-Meister [scores] in 1728.[37][38][39] This canon was also published with two solutions in Johann Mattheson's Der vollkommene Capellmeister in 1739, and with three solutions in Volume 3 of Lorenz Christoph Mizler's Musikalische Bibliothek [de] in 1747.[37][40][41]

Clavier-Übung II[edit]

The second volume of the Clavier-Übung was first published in 1735,[27][42][43] soon followed by a reprint with several corrections.[44][45] It contained two compositions, specified for performance on a two-manual harpsichord:[27][42][44][46]

"Komm, süßer Tod", BWV 478, No. 868 in Schemelli's Musicalisches Gesang-Buch
Clavier-Übung II was printed in Nürnberg by Christoph Weigel. In the second printing pages 20 to 22 were replaced by new engravings.[44]
K.8.g.7 from the British Library was Bach's Handexemplar: it is a copy from the first print run with more than hundred corrections in Bach's hand.[47][48][49]

Spiritual songs and arias from Schemelli's Musicalisches Gesang-Buch[edit]

Georg Christian Schemelli's Musicalisches Gesang-Buch (musical songbook) contains 954 song texts, 69 of which, BWV 439–507, are printed with a setting for singing voice and thoroughbass.[50][51] Not all 69 melodies were composed by Bach, but he provided (or "improved") an accompaniment for all of them.[50] Schemellis Gesangbuch was published in 1736, and contains some of Bach's probably least known compositions.[52]

Clavier-Übung III[edit]

Title page of Clavier-Übung III

For organ, containing:[53]

  • Prelude in E-flat major, BWV 552/i
  • German Kyrie and Gloria settings, BWV 669–677
  • Catechism chorales, BWV 678–689
  • Four duets, BWV 802–805
  • Fugue E-flat major, BWV 552/ii

The Prelude and Fugue were published separately as a pair by C. F. Peters in 1845 in Volume III of the Organ Works of J. S. Bach, with the fugue listed in the contents as the "St Annen-Fuge".[54]

Clavier-Übung IV[edit]

In 1741 or 1742 another Clavier-Übung volume was published, the Aria with diverse variations for double manual harpsichord, later known as the Goldberg Variations, BWV 988.[27][50][55][56] Not thus numbered in the print it was the fourth Clavier-Übung publication.[50] This publication does not carry a reference to Johann Gottlieb Goldberg: the music was published over half a century before the perhaps exaggerated anecdote involving Goldberg was printed in Forkel's biography of Bach.[57]

The work was published by Balthasar Schmid in Nürnberg.[47][56]
Ms. 17669 is at the Bibliothèque nationale de France (BnF).[48] It contains corrections by Bach as well as the autograph manuscript of the canons BWV 1087.[56][58]

Canon triplex a 6[edit]

The Canon triplex a 6, BWV 1076, which had appeared on Elias Gottlob Haussmann's portrait of Bach in 1746, was printed in 1747.[37][59]

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

Autograph manuscript of second version of first Canonic Variation

The Canonic Variations on "Vom Himmel hoch da komm' ich her", BWV 769, for organ, were published on the occasion of Bach's admission to Mizler's "Society of the Musical Sciences" in 1747.[60][61][62][63][64]

Musikalisches Opfer[edit]

The Musical Offering, BWV 1079, was published in 1747, after Bach's visit to Frederick the Great in Potsdam.[65][66][67][68] The work contains a trio sonata for flute, violin and continuo.[69]

Schübler Chorales[edit]

The Schübler Chorales, BWV 645–650, is a set of chorale preludes for organ, published around 1748 as Sechs Chorale von verschiedener Art (Six Chorales of Various Kinds) by Johann Georg Schübler.[63][70][71][72]

There is some doubt whether Bach commissioned the publication, which mainly, perhaps even exclusively, consists of arrangements of cantata movements which he had composed a few decades earlier. The work was published in Zella Melsi, and the engraver apparently prepared the print unsupervised by the composer. It is likely that Bach at least chose the six pieces, determined their sequence in the publication, and gave some instruction on how they were to be arranged.[73][74]
Bach's Handexemplar is part of the Scheide Library at Princeton University Library.[33][48][75] It contains several corrections by Bach, but misses the title page and the first page of music.[75]

Kunst der Fuge[edit]

In preparation for print when the composer died (1750): The Art of Fugue, BWV 1080.[67][76][77][78] The printed versions (1751 and 1752) contain BWV 668a, a variant of the chorale prelude "Wenn wir in höchsten Nöten sein", BWV 668.[78]

Further reading[edit]

  • Kinsky, Georg (1937). Die Originalausgaben der Werke Johann Sebastian Bachs: Ein Beitrag zur Musikbibliographie (in German). Vienna, Leipzig, Zurich: Reichner.


  1. ^ a b Wolff 1991, p. 371373.
  2. ^ Wolff 1991, p. 340 and endnote 1 pp. 430–431.
  3. ^ a b "Zweite Mühlhäuser Ratswahlkantate BWV 1138.1; BWV Anh. 192". Bach Digital. Leipzig: Bach Archive; et al. 7 August 2018. Cite has empty unknown parameters: |subscription=, |registration=, and |editors= (help)
  4. ^ a b "Dritte Mühlhäuser Ratswahlkantate BWV 1138.2". Bach Digital. Leipzig: Bach Archive; et al. 31 July 2018. Cite has empty unknown parameters: |subscription=, |registration=, and |editors= (help)
  5. ^ a b c d Emans & Hiemke 2015, p. 227.
  6. ^ Talle 2008.
  7. ^ Emans & Hiemke 2015, pp. 228229.
  8. ^ a b Walther 1732.
  9. ^ Bach & Agricola 1754, pp. 167168.
  10. ^ Forkel 1802, pp. 50–53.
  11. ^ Forkel & Terry 1920, pp. 116–123.
  12. ^ Wolff 1991a, p. 340 and endnote 1 pp. 430–431.
  13. ^ Forkel & Terry 1920, footnotes pp. xxvii, 15 (No. 1), 115 (No. 1) and 116 (No. 1).
  14. ^ a b Bach 1708.
  15. ^ Emans & Hiemke 2015, pp. 227228.
  16. ^ Wolff 2002, p. 111.
  17. ^ a b Forkel & Terry 1920, p. 116.
  18. ^ a b Emans & Hiemke 2015, p. 228–230.
  19. ^ Schneider 1907, p. 95.
  20. ^ Bach 1726.
  21. ^ Bach 1727a.
  22. ^ Bach 1727b.
  23. ^ Bach 1728.
  24. ^ Bach 1730.
  25. ^ Lost source: original print of BWV 830 at Bach Digital website.
  26. ^ Bach 1731.
  27. ^ a b c d Schneider 1907, p. 96.
  28. ^ Wolff 1991, p. 189.
  29. ^ Williams 2016, p. 361.
  30. ^ Talle 2008, pp. 157–158.
  31. ^ Talle 2008, p. 164.
  32. ^ "A-Wn SH J. S. Bach 56". Bach Digital. Leipzig: Bach Archive; et al. 6 March 2020. Cite has empty unknown parameters: |subscription=, |registration=, and |editors= (help)
  33. ^ a b Wollny 1996, p. 17.
  34. ^ "US-Wc M 3.3 .B2 Case". Bach Digital. Leipzig: Bach Archive; et al. 26 February 2019. Cite has empty unknown parameters: |subscription=, |registration=, and |editors= (help)
  35. ^ Talle 2008, pp. 158–160.
  36. ^ "GB-Lbl Hirsch III. 37". Bach Digital. Leipzig: Bach Archive; et al. 17 January 2020. Cite has empty unknown parameters: |subscription=, |registration=, and |editors= (help)
  37. ^ a b c Emans & Hiemke 2015, p. 233.
  38. ^ D-LEm Becker III.13.86 at Bach Digital website.
  39. ^ Telemann 1728, p. 68.
  40. ^ Mattheson 1739, pp. 412–414.
  41. ^ Mizler 1747, pp. 482ff and "Tab. II. part III. Tom. III. Bibl. mus." (in musical annex).
  42. ^ a b Forkel & Terry 1920, p. 117.
  43. ^ Original print of Clavier-Übung II (BWV 971 and 831), 1st printing at Bach Digital website.
  44. ^ a b c Emans & Hiemke 2015, p. 230.
  45. ^ Original print of Clavier-Übung II (BWV 971 and 831), 2nd printing at Bach Digital website.
  46. ^ Bach 1735.
  47. ^ a b Wolff 1991, p. 375.
  48. ^ a b c Talle 2008, p. 165.
  49. ^ GB-Lbl K.8.g.7 at Bach Digital website
  50. ^ a b c d Emans & Hiemke 2015, p. 231.
  51. ^ Schemelli 1736.
  52. ^ Brilliant Classics, CD No. 99361/5 and 99361/6 (CD 14 and 15 from "Bach Edition")
  53. ^ "Original collection: Clavier-Übung part 3 BWV 552/1 + 669‑689 + 802‑805 + 552/2". Bach Digital. Leipzig: Bach Archive; et al. 6 July 2020. Cite has empty unknown parameters: |subscription=, |registration=, and |editors= (help)
  54. ^ Recorded as 00632 in the Bach Archive.
  55. ^ Forkel & Terry 1920, p. 118.
  56. ^ a b c Bach 1741–1742.
  57. ^ Forkel & Terry 1920, pp. 118–120.
  58. ^ Work 01273 at Bach Digital website
  59. ^ Bach 1747.
  60. ^ Emans & Hiemke 2015, pp. 232233.
  61. ^ Breig 2010, pp. 18–20.
  62. ^ Forkel & Terry 1920, pp. XXIV, 112–113 and 120.
  63. ^ a b Schneider 1907, p. 93.
  64. ^ Bach 1747–1748.
  65. ^ Emans & Hiemke 2015, p. 232.
  66. ^ Forkel & Terry 1920, pp. 120–121.
  67. ^ a b Schneider 1907, p. 101.
  68. ^ Bach 1747–1749.
  69. ^ Work 01265 at Bach Digital website.
  70. ^ Forkel & Terry 1920, p. 117–118.
  71. ^ Emans & Hiemke 2015, pp. 231–232.
  72. ^ Bach c. 1748.
  73. ^ Wolff 1991, p. 343.
  74. ^ Breig 2010, pp. 17–18.
  75. ^ a b "US-PRscheide BWV 645-650". Bach Digital. Leipzig: Bach Archive; et al. 29 July 2019. Cite has empty unknown parameters: |subscription=, |registration=, and |editors= (help)
  76. ^ Forkel & Terry 1920, p. 121–123.
  77. ^ Emans & Hiemke 2015, p. 233–234.
  78. ^ a b Bach 1751–1752.


Music prints[edit]