The colourful evolution of Johann Sebastian Bach’s Chromatic Fantasia (BWV 903): a study of recent trends in the interpretation (Abstract)

Research output: Chapter in book/report/conference proceedingConference proceeding


Johann Sebastian Bach’s Chromatic Fantasia (BWV 903) has, since its traceable origins 300 years ago (from ca. 1720), been considered a unica. It made lasting impression on the composer’s circles and was cited by historians such as Johann Nikolaus Forkel as a key representation of Bach’s “Originalgenie”. From the compositional standpoint, the two-part structure—a prelude followed by a recitative—has no precedents, and has been considered both as the descendant of the seventeenth-century stylus phantasticus (Stauffer, 1989) and a precursor of the Sturm und Drang of the 1770s (Schleuning, 1992). Nowadays, BWV 903 is an ideal work to explore how historically aware performers, including both pianists and harpsichordists, can maintain the essence of improvisation in a work that was composed, for three main reasons. First, the autograph source has not survived, and there exists no definite text that can be unarguably ascribed to Bach’s original work, since the most authoritative source of this music derives from Forkel’s version (ca. 1770) of Wilhelm Friedemann’s copy (ca. 1730). Secondly, the ‘incomplete’ notation, especially in the arpeggio passages, invites each performer to develop a highly individualized solution. Thirdly, the scope for the performer’s discretion in matters such as flexible timing and melodic embellishments is vast, especially in the “Recitativo” section. In all, the toccata-like opening, the virtuosic passages and improvisatory materials challenge every performer to carve out his/her own interpretation based on an understanding of sources, styles and performance practice issues—a genuine collaboration between the composer and performer. In this paper, I would like to substantiate how an awareness of the structure and a study of stylistic issues could illuminate both technical and musical considerations leading to performances that are creative and spontaneous, yet scrupulous to the notational detail. This paper will explore the multitude of interpretative possibilities in recordings of pianists and harpsichordists in recent years in order to identify the criteria for interpreting semi-improvised pieces.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publication多彩的鍵盤音樂大師齊聚雙鋼琴音樂會 : 從歷史風格與樂器演進之觀點探討創作特色 = Colorful Keyboard Music : discussing the different compositional styles of keyboard instruments, from historical perspective and Instrumental evolution points of view
Place of Publication高雄
Number of pages1
Publication statusPublished - 10 Dec 2022
Event國立中山大學音樂學系2022國際鋼琴學術研討會, 2022: 多彩的鍵盤音樂:從歷史風格與樂器演進之觀點探討創作特色 - Kaohsiung City, Taiwan, Province of China
Duration: 10 Dec 202210 Dec 2022


Conference國立中山大學音樂學系2022國際鋼琴學術研討會, 2022
Country/TerritoryTaiwan, Province of China
CityKaohsiung City

Scopus Subject Areas

  • Music


Dive into the research topics of 'The colourful evolution of Johann Sebastian Bach’s Chromatic Fantasia (BWV 903): a study of recent trends in the interpretation (Abstract)'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this