So, the old Invention No. 1 by JSB:


The B on the 4th beat of the 1st bar has a [lower] mordent.

I thought it had to be realized like this:


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However, almost all recorded performances I can find start with a C, not unlike a trill:


Thank you.

EDIT: Darren has pointed out correctly that I simply have a different edition - the Czerny one.

I checked with a more recent edition and boom: there are trills in there. I should have thought of it.

However, I wonder if Czerny wanted the player to exert his historical knowledge or if he meant those mordents to be played verbatim. His fingerings make me suspect the latter is true.

  • Then again Gieseking plays it with a straight Mordant: youtube.com/watch?v=gH6OT1yfhJ4 I wonder if I can play it either way. Mar 14, 2015 at 23:26
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    Yeah, regarding your edit, I read it in my own edition (Bach Gesellschaft), which has trills, not mordents; ditto the MS. I see Czerny replaced them.
    – user16935
    Mar 15, 2015 at 14:41
  • The plot thickens. Why would he do that? Mar 15, 2015 at 14:44
  • 2
    Taste, probably. We tend to treat the text as a sacrosanct object nowadays; it wasn't always so (especially in matters of ornamentation). The countersubject trill's auxiliary creates an open fifth with the subject's note; Czerny's mordent creates a third, and that would probably have been more to the taste of the early 19th century, that and the fact that the trill requires repeating the preceding C.
    – user16935
    Mar 15, 2015 at 15:08
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    Czerny is not an "authority" on anything to do with Bach. For example in the first prelude of the "48" his edition has a whole bar added part way through, which is now known to have been inserted by somebody 23 years after Bach's death. (We know when the crime was committed and whodunnit, but not the motive for it.)If you are serious about Bach, get a modern Urtext edition and study that.
    – user19146
    Mar 16, 2015 at 23:04

2 Answers 2


Here is the Table of Ornaments with which Bach prefaced his Clavier-Büchlein vor Wilhelm Friedemann Bach: table des agréments

To put it simply, what he wrote there (according to the MS and Bach Gesellschaft edition) was a short trill starting on the upper auxiliary.

  • I assume that on the piece in question, though, the trill must be played in 64th notes, right? Mar 25, 2015 at 12:11
  • 2
    Not really. Listen to how some of the performers are doing it. These kinds of trills (Pralltriller) can be played with the auxiliary iterated only twice before the main note is held (i.e., the number of iterations is variable), and, with short notes at fast tempi, the main note may not be held at all, i.e., you just have a short shake that starts on the upper auxiliary.
    – user16935
    Mar 25, 2015 at 16:51
  • Well, if my memory isn't failing me (I can't listen to them right now) the first one I linked, as well as Gould, play it in 64ths, iterating the auxiliary twice and landing on and holding the main note for 1/16 + 1/64th. Playing them in 32ths, like this guy does, youtube.com/watch?v=mLz4j6tA-Cg sounds... weird and un-trill-like to me. Is it still acceptable? Can I choose either? (I would still choose the former, although it puts considerable demand on my pinky :-) Mar 25, 2015 at 17:00
  • 6
    That is entirely up to you, what you are capable of playing, and what you find tasteful. This is why they're written as ornaments, not written out. When I write Pralltriller (and I use 'em a lot), I prefer two iterations and a long held note, but others may play them differently to good effect. With ornaments, the main thing is the shape of the ornament - which notes are used in which order, whether there is a termination, etc. - because that affects the voice leading, The rest is up to the taste and discretion of the player.
    – user16935
    Mar 25, 2015 at 17:07
  • Thank you. Would you mind integrate this last bit into your answer? I guess it could help somebody else, and it would better do so if it's not buried under my ramblings :) Mar 25, 2015 at 17:33

From http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mordent:

"Although mordents are now thought of as just a single alternation between notes, in the Baroque period it appears that a Mordent may sometimes have been executed with more than one alternation between the indicated note and the note below, making it a sort of inverted trill."

I gather that our modern interpretations of Baroque period music are often heavily colored by the often-highly-prescriptive practices of later musicians. Like with much popular music, a lot of interpretation is left to the performer and it is only in certain contexts/with certain groups of people that excessive reinterpreting is discouraged.

It is very doubtful that we know with any certainty at all how Bach would have 'wanted it played', or if he would have even particularly cared. I could be way off base, so if there are some music historians who could add to this information I'd love to hear it.

  • Well, I'm not asking "how Bach wanted it played" - I'm asking why everybody and their dog is reading something that apparently just isn't there - there is some consistency which makes me think playing it like a trill is the correct way. However, I would have expected the engraver/music editor to, well, put a trill instead of relying on the player's historical knowledge. Mar 14, 2015 at 22:57
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    What makes you think 'everybody and their dog is reading' the same publication of the music that you are? Or that they haven't perhaps used their historical knowledge to defy what is on the page? Mar 14, 2015 at 23:59
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    you are perfectly right. I have the Czerny edition. I checked with a more recent edition and boom: there are trills in there. I should have thought of it. However, I wonder if Czerny wanted the player to exert his historical knowledge or if he meant those mordents to be played verbatim. His fingerings make me suspect the latter is true. Mar 15, 2015 at 0:50

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