So, Czerny, in his edition of Bach's two part inventions, says 138 BPM (crotchets per minute) is appropriate for the first invention:


But if I set my metronome at 138 BPM and try to count - well, it's not pretty.

Gould played it at something more like 55 BPM - but I hear you say, Gould was crazy - okay, then there is this Zelda Spellman lookalike who plays it at something like 65:

Is my (digital) metronome gone haywire? Am I reading metronome markings horribly wrong, I have forgot how to count or what?

Thank you!

  • Quich metronome check - 60 or 120 against a clock or watch. – Tim Mar 7 '15 at 13:56
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    138 certainly seems like a more appropriate quaver pulse to me. But then, I'm not the world's greatest pianist... – Bob Broadley Mar 7 '15 at 14:28

I little history lesson might be relevant here. Czerny used the fact that he was a pupil of Beethoven, and recording Beethoven's interpretation of Bach for posterity, as a major selling point. Beethoven certainly saw a few copies of Bach's music that had survived in the Imperial Court Library, but at that time, Bach's entire musical output was unknown and unplayed. Most of it had never been published, and finding a few handwritten manuscripts that had been copied (and probably altered) an unknown number of times by unknown people was not exactly a definitive record of what Bach had intended. Czerny and Beethoven had nothing to guide them beyond pure guesswork. Bach's keyboard instruments (the harpsichord and clavichord) were as obsolete and unknown as his compositions for them.

Czerny's editions of Bach are interesting as an example of an indisputably great musician (Beethoven) trying to make sense of something totally foreign and close to incomprehensible, but compared with modern editions based on (infinitely) better historical research, they tell us a lot more about Beethoven and Czerny than about Bach.

This http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Ref/BWV772-801-Ref.htm gives some idea of the amount of contemporary research - and note that new facts are still coming to light, and opinions on the Inventions and Sinfonias have changed even within the last 10 years. Beethoven and Czerny knew none of this.

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  • I don't feel this explains adequately a metronome marking that is more or less double the reasonable speed (at this point I'm beginning to suspect an engraving mistake), but this is a great post in itself. +1 – Some Dude On The Interwebs Mar 8 '15 at 19:20
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    Beethoven put some very improbable MM marks (also too fast to be playable) on his own compositions, for example some late piano sonatas. Maybe his metronome was defective - Maelzel had only just been invented it and he was an "early adopter". A charitable explanation (given by Tovey in his edition of the sonatas) is that being completely deaf, he watched the metronome swinging and set it to match the excitement of the music in his imagination, without a reality check. – user19146 Mar 10 '15 at 22:06

Bach's music frequently allows a wide range of interpretations. Both Czerny's "Allegro Vivace" and his metronome mark are completely editorial of course. Bach (characteristically) didn't seem to give any indications at all. I like the idea of "Allegro Vivace", many performances strike me as drab or over-"expressive". Maybe Czerney saw q=138 as a goal to be aimed at in the spirit of his "School of velocity"!

Is that an answer? Not really. But it's as near as you're going to get, and I hope it prompts you to listen to many pianists' ideas on this piece. There are plenty on YouTube. And thank you for introducing me to a very pretty, if somewhat self-promoting, lady :-)

Here's a link to a quite individual interpretation. "Right"? What's that anyway. "Valid"? Why not?

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  • Laurence, thanks for the suggestions and for the very interesting Schiff version. Unusual as it may be, it still seems to me that when I count them, Schiff's crotchets (not quavers!) are 55 per minute or something like that, certainly not >100. This only reinforces my suspicion that I am getting something fundamentally wrong. – Some Dude On The Interwebs Mar 7 '15 at 15:43
  • BTW your impression is right - as you can see in the description the woman is trying to sell her books and/or instructional videos - if you refer to the fact that she happens to be quite beautiful, let's just hope this will draw more adults to give a serious try at piano :P – Some Dude On The Interwebs Mar 7 '15 at 15:49
  • I dropped into OP's video at about 16:30 and she's talking about the passing tones that Schiff does here, as being written as triplets in a second version that Bach produced of the piece. But then she goes to say that the performance practice of those triplets would be shifted to fit a duple rhythm -- exactly the opposite of what Schiff does. – NReilingh Mar 8 '15 at 18:09
  • I don't think anybody knows for sure who wrote the triplet version. The different handwriting suggests the triplets were added to the manuscript at a later date. One possibility is the JS's son CPE Bach, who inherited the manustript after Bach's death, added them for some unknown reason. They may have just been a composition exercise for a pupil in adding passing notes to some counterpoint, and never intended for posterity. – user19146 Mar 10 '15 at 22:19

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