A phylogenetic analysis of two Preludes from J. S. Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier II.

Windram, H. F. and Charlston, T. and Tomita, Y. and Howe, C. J. (2022) A phylogenetic analysis of two Preludes from J. S. Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier II. Early Music. ISSN 0306-1078 (print) 1741-7260 (online) (In Press)

Abstract

J. S. Bach's Well-Tempered Clavier II is well known for its complex source situation, and its vast array of variant readings. In order to deepen our understanding of the complex relationships between the primary sources, we have turned to the field of phylogenetics, which developed in the biological sciences as the study of the evolutionary history and relationships among groups of related organisms. Computer algorithms such as NeighborNet, developed for phylogenetic analysis, can be applied to the study of sets of related cultural artefacts, including both literary and musical texts. NeighborNet analysis of the variant data for the Prelude in A major and the Prelude in C major from J. S. Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier II enabled the grouping of the sources for the two preludes in a way that suggested differences in revision practice between the two preludes. While Bach saw little need to revise the Prelude in A, the situation for the Prelude in C is quite different, and the results of the phylogenetic analysis are consistent with a process of continued revision. The analyses also highlighted the uncertain relationship of the DD70 manuscript with the other sources of the Prelude in C and its direct bearing on 18th-century performance choices.

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