# Notation of triplets in Bach’s *Orgelbüchlein*

In the following piece from J.S. Bach’s Orgelbüchlein, the nearly constant triplet line seems to be incorrect:

The time signature is 3/2, but there are 9 eighth-note triplets per measure rather than the 9 quarter-note triplets I would have expected. The composer’s intent is perfectly obvious, but I’m still curious—it seems there are a few possibilities here:

1. I am simply wrong, and this is a well-accepted way to notate the rhythm in question
2. Bach (or the editor) has made a mistake and they should be quarter-note triplets
3. Neither of us is wrong, but the proper notation for triplets has changed between the Baroque and now. This was considered entirely correct in Bach’s day.
4. Notation of lots of things was far less standardized then than it is now, and this is simply an example of that. My search for a “proper” notation of triplets in this era is anachronistic in much the same way as a search for the “correct” spelling of English words in the 17th-century would be.

I’m sure there are other possibilities as well. Does anyone know for certain?

• Interesting catch! Bach himself seems to have notated it this way; see page 14 of the manuscript. Feb 17, 2019 at 16:53
• 3 and 4 are not exactly inconsistent with one another. Feb 18, 2019 at 4:53
• @phoog I meant for them to be mutually exclusive, but didn’t word it very well. In 3, I meant to suggest a situation in which there was indeed a entirely standardized notation for triplets, just one different from today’s. In 4, I meant a situation where there was no standardized way to notate triplet (or several ways that were widely considered to be acceptable variants). Feb 18, 2019 at 12:31
• Triplets are certainly easier to read as quavers, with their tails joined in threes, so why not make the minims (as in the first bar) crotchets, and put it all in 3/4 (maybe just 9/8?) and mathematically it woud make more sense? And just as easy to read.
– Tim
Apr 30, 2019 at 6:45
• Related question. Apr 30, 2019 at 7:04

I was thinking that it makes it easier to read, because you can easily distinguish the triplets from the quarter notes this way. Then I googled Bach’s Orgelbüchlein and found this Wikipedia page: Orgelbüchlein. Here is a quote from that link from the section on In dulci jubilo:

Bach notated the triplets in the accompaniment as quavers instead of crotchets, to make the score more readable for the organist.

• It's not clear to me that the unsourced assertion of a pseudonymous contributor to Wikipedia should have any more weight than your own thinking. Feb 18, 2019 at 5:12
• @phoog I don't understand your comment. I was thinking that it makes it easier to read. Then I googled it and found a wiki page that says the same thing. I certainly did NOT say that the wiki text has more weight. Jan 23, 2023 at 0:42

Another example that comes to my mind:

Triplets in the courante of the french suite in Eb have been notated as 3 eighth notes.

You are right:

The composer’s intent is perfectly obvious!

there are a few possibilities here:

I am simply wrong, and this is a well-accepted way to notate the rhythm in question.

Yes.

It seems it has been use to notate triplets throughout a piece this way, probably as abbreviation (like „simile“, maybe for better reading).

Bach (or the editor) has made a mistake and they should be quarter-note triplets.

No.

There is no mistake as the intention is obvious - as you say.**

Neither of us is wrong, but the proper notation for triplets has changed between the Baroque and now. This was considered entirely correct in Bach’s day.

Yes.

This was considered correct, and also in a hand writing (manuscript) of today we would still understand it.

Notation of lots of things was far less standardized then than it is now, and this is simply an example of that.

That’s right.

My search for a “proper” notation of triplets in this era is anachronistic in much the same way as a search for the “correct” spelling of English words in the 17th-century would be.

Also this analogy will fit.

• See my comment above.
– Tim
Apr 30, 2019 at 6:46