During the past weeks I've been studying BWV anhang 122, the march in D major. Sheet music can be found here. I'm more or less able to perform the piece, though not yet at the tempo indicated by the publisher, "suggested M.M.: minim = c. 72". I looked up a recording on YouTube, but was surprised by the enormous difference between how I perform the piece and how it is performed in the recording. YouTube link I'm referring to can be found here.

My question is: Was I supposed to know this is how the piece is supposed to sound? There are no hints in my book, besides the point there need to be 2 distinct accents in every bar. Or is the recorded musician adding a lot (too much?) of (personal) interpretation to make the piece sound like this? Is it typical of Bach pieces or pieces of that time?

I play organ, so there is bound to be difference compared to a harpsichord, but my performance is far less "dancy" and much more "as written in the sheet music".

N.B. I'm not referring to the few additional trills in the performance.

Edit: I now realize I put hardly any emotion in the music, no real accents on any of the beats. The linked performance is doing this in abundance. I realized I wasn't making music, I was pretty much executing the notes as written and not performing the piece in an attempt to recreate the intention of the composer. Since there is no way to accent individual notes in volume on an organ, a logical way to introduce accents is by varying the length of notes.

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    You are not supposed to know how a piece has to sound. There are pharisees among musicians who would say this but I say how you played it this is ok. if you enjoyed it. I can't play my little pieces by Bach so fast as my grand children but I am pleased with my performance. And if I play a piece hundreds of times it is never twice the same. (B.t.w. I also ignore the ornaments at first and then I play the where and how I want it.) Apr 21, 2020 at 16:36
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    Maybe you could edit the question to explain more about what seems unexpected to you about this performance. It sounds to me like they're playing it pretty straight, other than the trills that you say are not what you had in mind.
    – user9480
    Apr 22, 2020 at 2:02
  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – Dom
    Apr 28, 2020 at 13:56

3 Answers 3


As PiedPiper's answer notes, written music at this time often didn't have a lot of explicit markings for tempo, expression, etc. So a lot of that is up to the original performer, taking some cues from stylistic aspects of the piece.

That said, I'm not sure what is so jarring about the linked performance. The question notes: "N.B. I'm not referring to the few additional thrills in the performance." I'm assuming that means "trills"? There are more variants than just a few extra trills in the repeats in this performance, following the expected ornamentation at the time. C.P.E. Bach actually published some works attempting to show amateur musicians how to do this sort of ornamentation during repeats, as in the Sonatas with Varied Repeats. Is that what you mean by doing something not "as written in the sheet music"? If so, it's common to add such ornaments and variations, but it's not strictly required. It goes with the general practice of improvisation that skilled musicians of the time would have acquired.

The only other specific thing the question highlights as problematic about the linked performance is "my performance is far less 'dancy'." Is that referring to the occasional rubato, ritards, etc. in the linked performance? Again, such expressive elements weren't always marked in scores at this point in history, so that sort of interpretation of meter, tempo, phrasing, etc. is up to the individual performer. For many years, it was somewhat common to perform baroque and early classical pieces with a kind of "metronomic" beat and with little added expression, taking scores that lacked such elements literally as meaning without expression. That trend has gradually shifted in the past few decades as closer reading of historical performance treatises makes clear that performers back then interpreted scores and added expression where appropriate, just as they do today. It's just that these instructions were far less common and numerous before the mid-1700s.

Again, C.P.E. Bach himself was a bit of a pioneer in using score expressions (dynamics, tempo indications, accents, other expressive markings) later in life, as he published more pieces intended for "amateurs" who wouldn't automatically know how to interpret music themselves without a professional teacher. This piece doesn't have such markings, so you need to come up with your own interpretation.


When you are interpreting Baroque music you have a lot of freedom in the interpretation. Bach (Carl Philipp Emanuel who is now believed to be the composer rather than his father Johann Sebastian) didn't write metronome markings (the metronone hadn't been invented) so the MM 144 has been added by a modern editor. The piece is call "March" so the final tempo you choose should be something one could conceivably march to, but not nearly as fast as a modern military march. If you can imagine a couple of overweight old men in long wigs pompously marching before their lord to your interpretation, you're probably getting close.
It was also customary to add ornaments or small melodic variations on the repeat of a section. The video is one example of how this can be done. There are plenty of other possibilities.
An interpretation on organ is going to sound completely different to one on harpsichord, and different again to one on piano. If you have a teacher you should trust their judgement on your interpretation, otherwise the only question you need to ask is "is this musically convincing?". The fact that you version sounds different to someone else's is not necessarily a sign that yours is bad. On the other hand, if you like what someone else is doing with the piece then try to copy their playing.

  • Why should the tempo be "not nearly as fast as a modern military march"? Do you imagine that soldiers were slower in the eighteenth century? Why would they have been overweight or wearing wigs?
    – phoog
    Apr 22, 2020 at 4:50
  • @phoog That's just my opinion as to how it should be played. The description was an attempt to describe the feel. You're welcome to play the piece at any tempo you think appropriate.
    – PiedPiper
    Apr 22, 2020 at 6:55

The 2nd version is not wrong. Of course these embellishments are always a matter of taste. In the time of Bach performers were free how they wanted embellish the notes. The function was to keep the strings of the harpsichord sounding. So the ornaments were set on the long notes (you can see this on the trills in Bachs' keyboard music.)

Ornaments are actually improvised decorations of the music. They are also called manners. Accordingly, decorations were not written down in the period before the Baroque (before around 1600). In general, a good knowledge of when to decorate something like was assumed. From around the Baroque era, however, people began to specify decorations with special characters in the musical text. This entails a certain definition and also means that you have to know the signs and their meaning in order to understand how the desired decoration is to be carried out. In fact, the different composers had different ideas about how to use ornamental symbols. There is still freedom and a certain amount of leeway when executing decoration characters, so that only a rough guideline should be given here on how individual characters are to be understood.

Translation of this link:


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