|The Zither and Polyphonic Baroque Music|
|Keyboards available to Bach|
|Rebutting a criticism|
••••• And at the same time I was criticized by various "specialists", who denied me the right to play Bach on the zither, maintaining that it was heresy to play works written in polyphonic style for the noblest stringed instrument (the violin) on a fretted instrument like the zither, with its rapidly-fading tone. The real question here is not whether such works may be played on the zither, but whether they can be played on the zither with technical and acoustic perfection. This question has been brilliantly answered in the positive by Grünwald and Jellinghaus performances of a Bach chaconne, and by Lili Grünwald's performance of my B-flat-major fugue.
As for the objection that no work for a particular instrument should ever be played on another instrument, this does not apply to polyphonic Baroque music and is belied by history. For Bach himself transcribed several of his solo violin works for other instruments, such as lute, organ, and harpsichord, even arranging some for orchestra; in doing so he usually transposed them into other keys corresponding to the nature and playing technique of the respective instruments. He also did this with works of other composers, not hesitating, for example, to transcribe 16 Vivaldi violin concertos for the harpsichord, some of them even for several harpsichords. [TN: The author describes the predominance of vocal music up to the beginning of the 17th century, with instruments used only for accompaniment and only gradually becoming independent.]
••••• But these first independent instrumental works show their descent from the vocal form. Nor were there any exact specifications for their instrumentation, let alone a conscious exploitation of the sound qualities of the various instruments ••••• And in Bach's time it was still customary to have a work, written for one or more particular instruments, performed by other instruments as allowed by their technical capabilities. Even in many solo works, the individual color of the instrument has only secondary importance for Bach. We can also see this in the fact that he rarely indicated register in his organ works, thus leaving it to the organist to perform a fugue now with this, now with another register. Since the music of Bach, like polyphonic Baroque music in general, is for the most part intellectually structured and architectural, the choice of instrument for its rendition is not important. And this is precisely why it is worthwhile to transcribe such works for the zither, since their proper performance is not bound to a particular instrument. So long as this is technically possible, the works lose nothing, but on the contrary gain much, as can easily be confirmed by my arrangements. Only with the rise of the harmonic-melodic (monodic) principle of concentrating the musical content in a single leading voice ••••• did a conscious and necessary individualizing of the various instruments -- and the exploitation of their timbres (tone colors) -- take place ••••• [TN: There follows a discussion of transposition and transcription and related matters, with specific examples.]