In Glenn Gould's recording of Bach's Toccata in C Minor, it sounds like he modifies the melody in the the right hand to add two extra notes

enter image description here

You can hear it here.

Is this just a Gould improvisation, or are there editions where these notes exist?

  • 2
    I was explicitly told to improvise ornaments in my Baroque piano exam pieces. (I wasn't too good at that back in the day.)
    – Dekkadeci
    Jun 14 at 3:12

2 Answers 2


It is comparatively typical baroque phrasing to add the intermediate as an appoggiatura to a descending third in ending phrases. It would be unusual if the staccato marks were there in the manuscript, though. But I don't see dots in the Urtext: your edition is filled to the brim with fingerings and articulations that are not in the original.

So while it seems like a Gould addition, it is not out of the period execution style.


To make @user87310's point more explicit. Embellishing on the written score was perfectly normal practice in the baroque. However,

  • Bach's writing is dense enough that it's not necessary
  • Bach is the baroque composer that's most familiar to people not into early music.
  • Bach is also the baroque composer most played by classical musicians who otherwise stay away from early music.

So it's to be expected that it may come as a surprise to the OP that a performer so clearly deviates from the score. However, be assured that for other performers to supply some extra notes is the most normal thing to do.

  • 1
    Other pianists freely embellish, e.g. Murray Perahia does it on repeats in his Goldberg Variations.
    – sehe
    Jun 14 at 9:24
  • It was actually common practice in those times for the entire left hand part to not even be explicitly written out, but just give a chord progression, and the performer was expected to fully improvise this. See basso continuo. Jun 14 at 14:41
  • @DarrelHoffman Did you mean to say "right" hand? Also, realizing a continuo from figured bass (or sometimes just the bass line, no numbers or anything!) is something different from altering the melody. It pertains to accompaniment. Under discussion here is altering the melody. Jun 14 at 14:48
  • 2
    No, figured bass is of course more about the left hand, but it's just another indication that improvisation (whether in melody or accompaniment) was an expected skill for performers to have at this time, which is often overlooked by modern performers of classical music. (Obviously it's still alive and well in jazz, but that's a whole other thing.) Jun 14 at 14:53

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.