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All,

After having played piano for a very few years I began to wonder about the authenticity of the music which I have purchased. I have a few Schirmer books (not beginner ones) and other books of Bach music, and last evening began to wonder if what I am reading and playing is what the composer actually wrote.

Any thoughts or insight?
 

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All,

After having played piano for a very few years I began to wonder about the authenticity of the music which I have purchased. I have a few Schirmer books (not beginner ones) and other books of Bach music, and last evening began to wonder if what I am reading and playing is what the composer actually wrote.

Any thoughts or insight?
Generally, respectable sources like Schirmer and the like are considerably what the composer actually wrote.

Of course, many composers have gone back to works and made changes, but by and large, this IS what the composers wrote. The publishers will, however, hire editors, who will make editorial additions. With Bach, they'll often add phrasing, fingerings, and dynamics and tempos that the composer didn't actually write down.

With tempos, if Bach wrote a gigue, or a sarabande, at that time the musician would automatically know what the tempo would be. For Bach's keyboard works, he had only the organ, harpsichord, and clavichord, the last two being unable to create crescendos or diminuendos, although you COULD do changes from soft to loud simply by changing manuals.

There are plenty of works where the actual composer attribution is questioned, but you can now easily Google most common works and read up on them.
 

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JSBach didn't detail his scores. No dynamics for the violin neither, no tempo changes, very few bowing indications. No 3 over triplets. Arpeggi written as chords with "arpeggio" written above, so the rhythm is unsure. Or even: the continuo written as single boring notes when the musician was expected to improvise.

Musicians at that time interpreted the score necessarily much more than we do today. I don't believe a word from the musicologues' claim, that they played the score straight and with little vibrato, quite the opposite. Playing the continuo part as written is just a nonsense that makes it boring.

Editors added indications because now we're used to have them, but at Bach's time it was the musician's choice, so we shouldn't feel bound by the arbitrary additions made by editors. Have a look at an original by JSBach to discover your good right to differ.

For some pieces we have originals, for others only copies of copies which must be approximative. Extreme example: for one oboe concerto we have 8 bars from the original, and nevertheless it is played in concert halls, so doubts about authenticity are legitimate.
 

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The older the music is the more 'what the composer actually wrote' becomes a concern.
This is due to manuscripts that were intentionally corrupted by unscrupulous copyists and publishers, in the name of money, in multiple countries that became pressed down through decades and centuries.
Composers were known to raise you-know-what about that and would fire, then publicly embarrass copyists, drop publishers and stop offering them anything.
Today, the best musicians can do is use Urtext sheets.
The best are put out by Henle-Verlag and Wiener Urtext, in that order.
Honorable Mention should be ascribed to Alfred's Masterwork series, A/K/A the poor man's urtext.
 
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