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References: Main Page | Cantatas BWV 1-50 | Cantatas BWV 51-100 | Cantatas BWV 101-150 | Cantatas BWV 151-200 | Cantatas BWV 201-224 | Other Vocal BWV 225-249 | Chorales BWV 250-300 | Chorales BWV 301-350 | Chorales BWV 351-400 | Chorales BWV 401-438 | Geistliche Lieder BWV 439-507 | AMN BWV 508-524 | Vocal Works BWV Anh
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Discussions of BWV Numbering System: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3

Two-Part Inventions BWV 772-786
Three-Part Inventions BWV 787-801


Chronology of their origin and development

1. Frühfassungen

It has been established by evidence such as watermarks and handwriting analysis that two-thirds of Bach’s Inventions and Sinfonias existed in some form or other before they were collected and organized in Cöthen in late 1722 and early 1723 in the Clavier-Büchlein vor Wilhelm Friedemann Bach and almost simultaneously, but only a little later also in 1723 probably before moving to Leipzig, in Johann Sebastian Bach’s autograph manuscript of the entire set of the Inventions and Sinfonias. (Actually, experts have posited another stage of development between the Clavier-Büchlein and Bach’s all-important autograph manuscript containing the complete set of Inventions and Sinfonias – see below for further details on this.)

A partially completed (possibly only a sketch) or a complete early version (Frühfassung) must have existed for each of the following pieces contained in the Clavier-Büchlein (this is based upon the fact that, according to the most recent research, as given on p. 69 of NBA KB V/3 published in 2007, J. S. Bach’s handwriting reveals a ‘clean’ and not a ‘composing’ copy quality for these – this contradicts and revises the results contained in the NBA KB V/5 published in 1963):

BWV 772 (Invention 1) in C major
BWV 774 (Invention 3) in D major
BWV 775 (Invention 4) in D minor
BWV 776 (Invention 5) in Eb major
BWV 778 (Invention 7) in E minor
BWV 779 (Invention 8) in F major
BWV 781 (Invention 10) in G major
BWV 783 (Invention 12) in A major
BWV 784 (Invention 13) in A minor
BWV 785 (Invention 14) in Bb major
BWV 786 (Invention 15) in B minor
BWV 787 (Sinfonia 1) in C major
BWV 788 (Sinfonia 2) in C minor
BWV 789 (Sinfonia 3) in D major
BWV 791 (Sinfonia 5) in Eb major
BWV 792 (Sinfonia 6) in E major
BWV 793 (Sinfonia 7) in E minor
BWV 797 (Sinfonia 11) in G minor
BWV 798 (Sinfonia 12) in A major
BWV 800 (Sinfonia 15) in Bb major

It is not known whether these compositions were already arranged according to a certain tonality scheme or if they simply existed previously only as isolated, unconnected manuscripts, possibly even scored for a different instrument or instruments. It is most likely that they would have been composed during Bach’s Cöthen Period before the summer of 1722 when both father and eldest son began copying the section containing the Praeambula and Sinfoniae in Wilhelm Friedemann’s Clavier-Büchlein (its inception date is 1720, but the pieces in question were added at least two years later in late 1722 and early 1723). Since the manuscripts for these Frühfassungen (the pre-WFB Clavier-Büchlein versions) have not survived (they might have helped in dating and ascertaining their original purpose and use), there is nothing to preclude the possibility that they may stem from an even earlier period in Bach’s life.

This is the nature of the copy process used in entering the Inventions and Sinfonias into Wilhelm Friedemann’s Clavier-Büchlein:

Johann Sebastian Bach began this section (the left-hand side/page of the Notenbüchlein – p. 36) by writing the title: Praeambulum 1. ã 2 followed by BWV 772 as a clean copy from the Frühfassung that no longer has survived. On the second, right-hand page, the last quarter of the penultimate measure and the concluding bar had to be placed after a new accolade. The composition can be played completely through without turning a page. This procedure of avoiding any page turns by placing the individual compositions so that a piece begins on the left page of the open book and ends on the page on the right side is followed throughout for all the Praeambula and Fantasiae. It has even been surmised that one of J. S. Bach’s didactic goals here was to teach his son how to plan ahead so that page turns would become unnecessary. Because the handwriting of father and son had not been properly identified and discriminated according to ‘clean’ or ‘composing’ copies in BWV KB V/5 (in 1963), it was believed that J. S. Bach had copied/composed the first dozen or so measures and then left the completion of the piece to another copyist (The NBA KB V/5 is generally very careful about not identifying W.F. Bach as this mysterious copyist; nevertheless this has left many readers claiming that the father, as a consummate teacher, allowed/made the son finish copying/{composing?} the compositions that the father had deliberately left incomplete. However, the recent research results contained in the NBA KB V/3 (2007) have identified the 13-year-old W.F. Bach as copyist, not composer, of the Praeambula and Fantasiae only in the following instances:

Praeambula 3 (BWV 778) later known as Inventio 7 in E minor
Praeambula 4 (BWV 779) later known as Inventio 8 in F major
Praeambula 5 (BWV 781) later known as Inventio 10 in G major
Praeambula 6 (BWV 784) later known as Invention 13 in A minor (only partially copied by WFB)
Praeambula 7 (BWV 786) later known as Invention 15 in B minor (only partially copied by WFB)

Also, in the WFB Clavier-Büchlein, one half of the Praeambulum 14 (Inventio 3 in D major – BWV 774) and all of Fantasia 15 (Sinfonia 2 in C minor – BWV 788) are missing (possibly they were pages that had been torn out of the notebook for reasons that cannot be ascertained). Fortunately Bach’s autograph copy comprising all of the Inventions and Sinfonias has preserved the definitive versions of the missing section of Invention 3 and all of Sinfonia 2.

The NBA KB V/3 has devised a rather complicated stemma to help in visualizing the relationships between the various sources that still exist and for those which have been posited; for instance, Bach’s autograph (A) does not always look back directly to its slightly earlier compositional state in the WFB Clavier-Büchlein (B) source as one would normally expect, but rather another missing source needs to be posited (Y). Thus there is the following general sequence of sources: (X) the Frühfassung, the earliest, but only assumed, non-existent source, then (B) the Clavier-Büchlein [W.F. Bach] for which two thirds of the Inventions and Sinfonias were copied from (X), followed by another non-existent source (Y) on which ultimately Bach’s autograph (A) is also based.


Provenance and Description of Sources:

[Abbreviations used: SBB = Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin, Preußischer Kulturbesitz; BAL = Bach-Archiv Leipzig; LSB = Leipziger Städtische Bibliotheken]

A = SBB Mus. ms. Bach P 610
B = Library of the School of Music, Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut, USA, no call number
C = SBB Mus. ms. Bach P 219
D = SBB Mus. ms. Bach P 804
E = SBB Mus. ms. Bach P 222
F = Yale University (see above) Lowell Mason Collection, LM 4983
G = Nederlands Muziek Instituut, Den Haag, NMI Kluis F (Bachdoos n)
H = LSB Ms. R 11
I1 = SBB Am. B. 478
I2 = SBB Mus. ms. Bach P 220
I3 = SBB Mus. ms. Bach P 542
I4 = Königliche Bibliothek Kopenhagen Rungs Musikarchiv Nr. 1598
I5 = BAL Kat. II, 93
K1 = SBB Am. B. 56
K2 = SBB Am. B. 71
K3 = SBB Mus. ms. Bach P 416
K4 = SBB Mus. ms. Bach P 544
K5 = BAL Kat. II, 93
K6 = LSB Ms. R 11b
K7 = New York Public Library, Music Division, Rare Book and Manuscript Collection (no call number)
K8 =Österreichische Nationalbibliothek Wien, Musikabteilung Cod. 19.234
L1 = SBB Mus. ms. Bach P 1067
L2 = SBB Mus. ms. Bach P 1068
L3 = LSB Sammlung Becker III.8.12
L4 = LSB Ms. 8
L5 = Stadtbibliothek Lübeck Mus. N 165
M1 = SBB Mus. ms. Bach P 221
M2 = SBB Mus. ms. Bach P 303
M3 = SBB Mus. ms. Bach P 531
M4 = SBB Mus. ms. Bach P 839
M5 = Musikwissenschaftliches Seminar der Universität Bonn Ec 284.1
M6 = BAL Go. S. 13
M7 = Stadtbibliothek Lübeck Mus. N 2017
M8 = Univer, Oslo VI, B 12 in
M9 = Archiv des Domchores Salzburg, MN 105
M10 = Bibliothèque Nationale et Universitaire, Straßburg Ms 2959
N1 = SBB Mus. ms. Bach P 227
N2 = SBB Mus. ms. Bach P 289 adn. 11
N3 = SBB Mus. ms. Bach P 511
N4 = SBB Mus. ms. Bach P 567
N5 = Sächsische Landesbibliothek, Staats- und Universitätsbibliothek, Dresden 2405-T-33
N6 = Johann-Sebastian-Bach-Institut Göttingen Ms. Scholz 5.3.1-5.3.6 and photocopy w/o call number
N7 = BAL Go. S. 7
N8 = LSB Ms. R. 11a
N9 = LSB Ms. R. 11c
N10 = Stiftung Weimarer Klassik, Weimar, Goethe Notensammlung GSA 32/431a
N11 = ditto GSA 32/431d
O1 = SBB Mus. ms. 38141
O2 = SBB Mus. ms. Bach P 604
O3 = LSB Ms. 1
O4 = Österreichische Nationalbibliothek Wien, Musikabteilung Cod. 19.319
P1 = Private Ownership: The Rudorff Collection, Lauenstein, no call number
Q1 = Königliche Bibliothek Kopenhagen, Weyses Samling no call number
Q2 = BAL Go. S. 315
Q3 = Zentralbibliothek Zürich Ms. Car. XV 241, N1, 18:VI, Nr. 24, 29
R1 to R22 = missing sources that have been documented as having existed at some earlier point in time
X,Y,Z and ? = posited, non-existing sources which appear to have existed at one time

A. This is the calligraphic, generally ‘clean’ copy autograph of all existing Inventions and Sinfonias dating from the first half of 1723. It is the key source upon which the NBA bases its critical edition of the music.

Provenance: This autograph was inherited by Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach in 1750. From the latter’s estate, it then passed “soon after 1800” either through CPE Bach’s daughter, Anna Carolina Philippina Bach, or another unknown owner before coming into the possession of Christian Friedrich Gottlieb Schwen(c)ke (1767-1822) whose son, Johann Friedrich Schwencke (1792-1852) in turn gave it as a present to the famous composer and violinist Louis Spohr (1784-1859). In 1860 it was purchased by Friedrich August Grasnick (1798-1877) from Louis Spohr’s estate. After Grasnick’s death it was inherited by Mrs. Vatke, who was probably the wife of a theology professor, Wilhelm Vatke (1806-1882). In 1879, the latter turned it over to SBB where it still is located today.

This autograph manuscript has undergone a number of treatments and restorations:

1. At some point in time, probably in the 19th century, the manuscript pages were bound and glued into a book with a hard cover causing some initial problems.

2. In 1940 it became important to restore many pages which had suffered decidedly from ink eating its way through the page. These pages were removed from their hard binding and covered with Japanese silk.

3. In 1968 another restoration was undertaken and a new half-leather cover was supplied for the pages, some of which were still glued together at the edges.

4. In 2003 the chiffon was removed from the manuscript pages and they were restored once again, but they were not rebound as a book again. The original book covers are now stored separately along with all the chiffon that had been removed and placed into a separate folder.

Aside from the famous dedication page (See: Auffrichtige Anleitung [PDF]), which has been included in practically every printed edition of the music, Bach included the titles of these pieces as Inventio 1…15 after which he wrote: Sequunter adhuc 15 Sinfoniae tribus vocibus obligatis. Likewise Bach entitled each of the following pieces as Sinfonia 1…15 . After Sinfonia 15, Bach wrote Finis.

The dedication page in Bach’s handwriting contains the word: cantable (cantabile), the meaning of which has only recently been disputed. See: Cantabile [PDF]

BWV 772a, a disputed version of Inventio 1

Bach experts have been unable to find agreement or provide definitive evidence that this triplet-version, BWV 772a, originated with J. S. Bach who might have added the triplet figure years after he had copied down this Invention in 1723. It is quite clear that the triplet figures were not part of Bach’s original conception (see: Praeambulum 1 from the Clavier-Büchlein vor Wilhelm Friedemann Bach) as it had already been assumed by numerous Bach experts in the past. As far back as 1803, Christian Friedrich Gottlieb Schwenke, in a letter dated May 23, 1803, maintained that the additions (the ornamentation including the triplet figures and the arpeggio on the final chord) had been ‘squeezed in’ by someone other than J. S. Bach: “von einer anderen Hand zwischengeschrieben” and that CPE Bach had undertaken these changes (the J. S. Bach autograph had been in CPE Bach’s possession for 40 years). Thus far, no handwriting expert has been able to identify these changes definitely as being by J. S. Bach; rather, experts have detected certain similarities that do point to CPE Bach as the possible modifier of the J. S. Bach original document. The additional notes for the triplets are much smaller as they were written with a very sharp quill and are often almost invisible as they merge with other notes on either side. The fact that there are a number of copies of this invention by a number of Bach’s students, particularly from 1725 and as late as 1727, where this triplet figure does not appear, simply proves that J. S. Bach certainly did not make this change for at least a few years after he had copied the 1723 version. Although no definite claim can be made as yet to substantiate that CPE Bach was the author of these later modifications, the evidence seems to point in his direction. Nevertheless, it still remains open to speculation whether J. S. Bach may have made these revisions sometime after 1727 until his death in 1750 or that he directed one of his music students to add these notes as part of a student exercise; or that someone else like CPE Bach, who had this manuscript for forty years, made these changes.

B. This is the Clavier-Büchlein vor Wilhelm Friedemann Bach, a blank-page booklet which was begun in 1720 and which contains some of the Urschriften, the original, ‘composing’ stage of the Inventions and Sinfonias, here with their original titles, Praeambulum and Fantasia. The majority of the Fantasiae were original ‘composing’ copies of the later Sinfoniae. The Praeambula and Fantasiae were entered into the booklet between the summer of 1722 and the spring of 1723. The sequence of keys, the order according to which the pieces are entered, is not the same as the arrangement that Bach used in the primary source A listed immediately above, the autograph source which was completed almost simultaneously, perhaps only a little later than the Clavier-Büchlein. The following list gives a complete overview of the connections between the autograph A and its immediate predecessor B: Inventions Frühfassung [PDF]


Early Printings of the Inventions and Sinfonias

The earliest printing of the Inventions appeared in 1801 as inserted fascicles that were intended to be part of the collection that claimed to be a complete edition of Bach’s works. The printing firm was Hoffmeister and Kühnel of Leipzig with its music store at Fleischergasse 292 in Leipzig and another store outlet in Vienna where the printed music was also offered.

The title of the undated collection was:

OEUVRES COMPLETTES | DE | JEAN SEBASTIEN BACH. | -- | Cahier I. | contenant: Toccata per Clavicembalo No. 1. | XV Inventions p. 1. Clav. | Le Clavecin bien tempéré. I. Parthie. Page | -- | à Vienne, | chez Hoffmeister et Comp. | à Leipsic, au Bureau de Musique.

The fascicles for the Inventions (BWV 772-786) were inserted loosely into the above collection as tbecame available from April 18 to April 30, 1801. The source used was L1, not the Bach autograph.

A separate cover page was then printed. It looked like this:

XV | INVENTIONS | Pour le Clavecin | composées par Mʳ | J. S. BACH. | -- | à Vienne, chez Hoffmeister & Comp. | à Leipsic, au Bureau de Musique | Prix 16 Ggr. PN: 51 Pag.: 2-15

The title of the continued, undated collection was:

OEUVRES COMPLETTES | DE | JEAN SEBASTIEN BACH. | -- | Cahier II. | contenant: | XV Simphonies p. 1. Clav. | Le Clavecin bien tempéré. I. Parthie. Page 5-16 | -- | à Vienne, | chez Hoffmeister et Comp. | à Leipsic, | au Bureau de Musique.

Inserted loosely into the above were the pages containing the Sinfonias (BWV 787-801) preceded by the following title page:

XV | SIMPHONIES | Pour le Clavecin | composées par | J. S. BACH. | -- | à Vienne, chez Hoffmeister & Comp. | à Leipsic, au Bureau de Musique | Prix 20 Ggr. PN: 56 Pag.: 2-20

The above fascicles became available in June 1801. The editor was Johann Nikolaus Forkel.

In October 1803 Forkel presented a revised edition of the Inventions (excluding BWV 772a which was included in the first printing) based on the source I2 as a separate insert to be included in the continuing series of Oeuvres complettes by Bach (Cahier XIV):

XV | INVENTIONS | pour le Clavecin | composées par Mʳ | J. S. BACH. | -- | à Leipsic, | au Bureau de Musique de Hoffmeister et Kühnel. | à Vienne, | chez Hoffmeister et Comp. | Prix 16 ggr.| Nouvelle Edition. PN: 51 Pag.: 2-15

At the same time when the complete edition appeared or shortly thereafter, the Inventions and Sinfonias were made available separately with 100 copies of the Inventions and 50 of the Sinfonias having been printed.

Reprintings using the same plates were issued in 1805 and after 1812 with the following slight changes in the title pages: | à Leipsic, | au Bureau de Musique. | de C. F. Peters. For BWV 772-801 Nouvelle Edition was added.

In 1838 a method for playing the organ included BWV 772, BWV 776, BWV 777, BWV 779, BWV 780, BWV 784, BWV 785. A later third edition in 1855 excluded BWV 777 and BWV 780. Here is the title for this collection:

PRACTISCHE | ORGELSCHULE. | Enthaltend: | Uebungen für Manual, Pedal, Choräle mit Zwischenspielen, Präludien, Postludien, figurirte Choräle | und Choralvorspiele, Fugen und canonische Tonstücke von verschiedenen Meistern. | Nach pädagogischen Grundsätzen geordnet | und in dem | HANDBUCH ZUR PRACTISCHEN ORGELSCHULE | mit | unterrichtlichen Bemerkungen, Zergliederungen und Erläuterungen | begleitet. | … | Herausgegeben | von | FRIEDRICH WILHELM SCHÜTZE, | … | -- | DRESDEN UND LEIPZIG, | in der Arnoldischen Buch- und Musikalien-Handlung. | … [1838].

Circa 1840 a reprinting of Forkel’s revised edition of the Inventions appeared as:

WERCKE | VON | Joh. Seb. Bach, | für das | Piano-Forte. | No. 1. – (XV Inventionen.) – Pr. 1fl. 12 kr. | Frankfurt a/m. bei G. H. Hedler PN: 348 Pag.: 1-35

In 1840 Carl Czerny and Moritz Hauptmann, using sources: A, R13 and Forkel’s edition published the Inventions and Sinfonias (without BWV 772a) as:

COMPOSITIONS | pour le | Piano-Forte | sans et avec a accompagnement | PAR | [a sketch of Bach] JEAN SEBASTIEN BACH. | Edition nouvelle, … | par | CHARLES CZERNY. | … | LEIPZIG, | au Bureau de Musique de C. F. Peters. | Oeuvres complets Liv. 7. PN: 2748

In 1844 a selection from the complete set of Invention and Sinfonias was presented in:

Auswahl | aus | SEBASTIAN BACH’S COMPOSITIONEN, | zur | ersten Bekanntschaft mit dem Meister | am | Pianoforte, | veranstaltet von | ADOPH BERNHARD MARX. … Berlin bei C. A. Challier & Co. | Preis 1 1/3 Thlr. PN: C. e G. 565.


Critical Editions since 1850:

BG 3, pp 1-42 and supplement on p. 342 containing BWV 772a – editor Carl Ferdinand Becker, 1853.

Sources used: A, h.

A collection of keyboard compositions by J. S. Bach, editor: Friedrich Chrysander, vol. 1, book 4: 15 Inventions and Sinfonias, Wolfenbüttel, 1856 – In this edition the Inventions and Sinfonias are presented as pairs, not as separate series. Sources unknown:

Sammlung der Clavier-Compositionen von Johann Sebastian Bach, hrsg. von Friedrich Chrysander, 15 Inventionen Sinfonien

A critical edition of Bach’s keyboard works edited by Hans Bischoff and based on sources: A, C, G, I1 and I2:

Joh. Seb. Bach’s Clavierwerke, Kritische Ausgabe, hrsg. von Hans Bischoff, Bd. 1, Leipzig (Steingräber, 1880).

BG 45 (Ernst Naumann, 1895; Alfred Dörffel, 1897) Additional volume, pp. 213-230: list of contents of “Clavier-Büchlein für Wilhelm Friedemann Bach” contains Sinfonia 5 (on p. 230) and Sinfonia 8 (pp. 227-228)

The Landshoff Urtext edition was published by C. F. Peters, Leipzig, 1933:

Joh. Seb. Bach. Die 15 zweistimmigen Invention und die 15 dreistimmigen Sinfonien im Urtext. Herausgegeben von Ludwig Landshoff, Leipzig 1933.

The Landshoff edition includes two supplements: 1. Sinfonias 4, 5, 7, 9 and 11 with the additional embellishments and 2. Comments for the performance with explanatory examples. The sources Landshoff used were: A, B, C, D, E, G, H, I1, I2, I3, K1, K2, K3, K4, K6, L1, L4, M1, M2, M3, N1, N2, N3, N4, N8, N9, R3.

In 1949 Hermann Keller published an edition based on a new ‘reworking’ of the edition prepared by Eugen d’Albert that was published in 1907 by Cotta. The source was claimed to be A:

Johann Sebastian Bach. Zwei- und dreistimmige Inventionen. Herausgegeben von Hermann Keller, Stuttgart

The Henle edition of the Inventions and Sinfonias was edited and published by Rudolf Steglich (1970/1978). It was based on the sources: A, B, C, G.

Joh. Seb. Bach. Inventionen und Sinfonien. Nach den Quellen herausgegeben von Rudolf Steglich. Neuausgabe. G. Henle Verlag, München

The latest critical edition is:

NBA V/3 Inventionen und Sinfonien (editor: Georg von Dadelsen) Bärenreiter, 1970.


Facsimile Editions

J. S. Bach. Inventionen und Sinfonien. Faksimile nach de rim Besitz der Deutschen Staatsbibliothek in Berlin befindlichen Urschrift. Edition Peters, Leipzig (Postscript by Georg Schünemann, 1942)

This is the autograph copy A.

Johann Sebastian Bach. Two- and Three-Part Inventions. Facsimile of the Autograph Manuscript together with a Reprint of the Bach-Gesellschaft Edition. With an Introduction by Eric Simon, New York, 1968.


[Based upon the NBA KBs V/3 and V/5]
Contributed by Thomas Braatz (November 1-2, 2008)

Inventions & Sinfonias BWV 772-801: Details
Until 1950 | 1951-1960 | 1961-1970 | 1971-1980 | 1981-1990 | 1991-2000 | From 2001
Reviews of Individual Recordings:
I&S - B. van Asperen & E. Joyé | I&S - C. Jaccottet | I&S - E. Koroliov | I&S - G. Leonhardt
General Discussions:
Part 1 | Part 2

References: Main Page | Cantatas BWV 1-50 | Cantatas BWV 51-100 | Cantatas BWV 101-150 | Cantatas BWV 151-200 | Cantatas BWV 201-224 | Other Vocal BWV 225-249 | Chorales BWV 250-300 | Chorales BWV 301-350 | Chorales BWV 351-400 | Chorales BWV 401-438 | Geistliche Lieder BWV 439-507 | AMN BWV 508-524 | Vocal Works BWV Anh
BGA | NBA | BC: A | B | C | D | E | F | G | H | Sources
Discussions of BWV Numbering System: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3


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Last update: Thursday, June 01, 2017 11:42