In a book with this piece given to me there is a mordent in tact 34: enter image description here

on the other hand when I downloaded the piece from the Internet, the mordent at this place was missing:

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So, did it exist in the original Bachs piece or was inserted by an editor later?

2 Answers 2


This is easily answered in the literal sense, by looking at what Bach actually wrote:

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(Source: https://imslp.org/wiki/Special:ImagefromIndex/457551/torat)

On the other hand, what Bach actually played is not necessarily the same thing - and bear in mind that most of this prelude was originally written as a set of chord changes, as an improvisation exercise for his son Wilhelm Friedemann, so there is some historical justification for playing anything you like!

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enter image description here

Source: https://imslp.org/wiki/Special:ImagefromIndex/325943/torat

  • As a general broad brush rule, I believe ornamentation should be added to baroque pieces. That sort of thing was usually left to the performer, and sheet music books for modern classical musicians often have ornaments added in because modern classical musicians tend to rigidly follow a score a lot more than baroque musicians would've done. Same thing for dynamics IIRC. But I turned to the dark side of jazz and pop many moons ago so what do I know, please someone correct me if I'm talking rubbish...
    – Some_Guy
    Commented Jul 11, 2017 at 22:57
  • @Some_Guy Agreed, but the OP's question was about what was in "Bach's original piece" and the only way to give a "short" answer to that is just look at the notation - AFAIK there is no written record of how Bach (or his pupils, or contemporaries) actually played this particular piece. (And for a modern performer with no background knowledge, just adding a few editorial ornament signs may not actually mean much either!)
    – user19146
    Commented Jul 12, 2017 at 1:49
  • Absolutely, and this is a great answer to OP's question, I was just trying to provide a helpful addition. One might be forgiven for thinking that what was written (or especially what wasn't written) in the original manuscript is the same as what was intended by the composer, whereas that isn't necessarily true at all for this period.
    – Some_Guy
    Commented Jul 12, 2017 at 8:21

First remark that manuscripts of Baroque pieces are wildly different. Part of the reasons are that back then there is no concept of a fixed substantiation of a piece. Players are allowed and even expected to add ornaments themselves, and even melody may be modified. If Bach himself had written that phrase twice, he may have erased that mordent, or add even more ornaments. I am not saying this is good or bad, nor saying all ways are equally good (they are not, otherwise criticism of performance loses its point), but in general Baroque conception of music performance was rather free.

Things are different in later ages, when composers usually give detailed indication of ornaments, articulation, and dynamics. He may have been happy (or crossed) when hearing a performance of a piece of his, with some modification by the player.

I remember one Urtext edition I possess has that mordent there as you pointed out, which indicates at least one reliable manuscript has it. Use it or ignore it according to your judgement.

Jazz music or popular music likewise gives more license to the players; an singer, bass player, or a drummer are all likely to change the original key, rhythm, and sometime melody of the piece in question, and in some respect music is creative and fun to them. In the "classical" context, however, the modern concept of a definite edition of music is at least somehow problematic. I agree that we should try hard to know, and respect, the composer's intention. But on the other side of the matter, music performance always requires a certain degree of freedom.

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