Best Sheet Music Editions
Best Bach Editions of Sheet Music for Piano
The best Bach sheet music editions for piano are Henle G. Verlag and Barenreiter Urtext. They are accurate (Barenreiter has the edge in this regard) and easy to find. Shop around, as their prices vary a lot. To discover free and most expensive best editions of Bach’s piano music, continue reading below.
Modern look, accurate text, often twice cheaper as Henle G. Verlag.
Ensure you get the ‘New Edition’ with fingerings (yellow sticker).
Close Second Place
Henle G. Verlag
The classic look is accurate and well-established, but it can be expensive.
Barenreiter has a slight edge in terms of accuracy, but I prefer Henle’s layout and font.
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To select the best music edition of Bach’s keyboard pieces, you must first understand the following:
- how much time will you be willing to spend (or you have already spent) researching and studying Baroque music style,
- how skilled are you with writing your own fingering,
- how much do you care about the original intentions of the composer as opposed to your own feel for the music,
- are you willing to trust the editor of your score with some of the interpretative decisions?
Bach rarely indicates articulation and dynamics in the score, so the edition’s choice is even more important here than in the case of other composers.
Please see my post comparing Performance and Urtext editions for more information on how urtext editions strive to give exact original musical text. Performance editions incorporate additional dynamic, articulation, and fingering markings.
Level 1 – the easiest and least time-consuming approach
(often free or low-cost)
Suppose you want to get right into reading and playing Bach’s piano music, and you do not have a serious performance education background. In that case, several editions available for free from www.IMSLP.org are a good place to start (please obey the copyright laws in the country of your residence).
Carl Czerny – Best Bach Edition for Level 1
Nearly all of Bach’s piano/keyboard pieces are available in the Carl Czerny edition at www.IMSLP.org. Yes, it is the same as Czerny, the author of the often-played Etudes op. 299, 599 and 740, student of L. van Beethoven himself and teacher of the great Franz Liszt (and many others)!
His dynamic and articulation suggestions are examples of how Bach’s music was performed in the classical era and are a good start to your explorations. Fingerings are unsurprisingly excellent as they come from a proficient pianist and excellent pedagogue. On the other hand, you will not know from the score which suggestions come from Bach himself and which ones were added by Czerny.
If you prefer a printed copy, this edition of Bach is still published by Peters and can be found through an affiliate link below:
Level 1 – other editions
Busoni, Casella, and Mugellini
In the similar category of Level 1 of Best Bach Editions for piano music, fall editions by Ferruccio Busoni (famous pianist and composer) (add bach Busoni chaconne or toccata and fugue), Alfredo Casella, and Bruno Mugellini.
The three editions above are similar to the Czerny one in the way that they all include fingering, dynamic, and articulation suggestions. Each of them is a representation of how Bach performed at different times throughout the last two and a half-century.
Please note: if you decide to use any of the editions above, I suggest at least comparing fingerings (each pianist has a different hand, so suggestions sometimes differ greatly), dynamics and articulation. This will give you an overview of interpretative possibilities. On top of that, if you listen to some of the more modern renditions of Bach’s music on YouTube, you can make better choices for yourself.
Level 2 – urtext editions
For those with a performance background and/or sufficient time for self-study.
In this category, I have included four score editions that I consider similar in terms of quality and purpose. They all are backed by solid academic research to present mostly or exclusively the original text of the composer.
Richard Jones – ABRSM Edition
One of the most popular editions created by Richard Jones and published by ABRSM (Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music) is based on original source materials and prepared by top scholars in this style. It is clearly laid out, contains fingering suggestions and explains the possible execution of ornaments. It also has some performance notes. However, suppose you are looking for interpretative suggestions such as dynamics and articulation. In that case, those are not included as they alter the original text (Bach very rarely includes those markings in his manuscripts)(1).
The Wiener Urtext Edition offers extensive textual content in German, English, and, to a lesser extent, French. The musical text is created after thoroughly investigating all sources by respected musicologists. Famous musicians and educators offer fingerings to the text. Each book includes critical notes, a discussion of the history of the music and notes on interpretation. Fingering is included.
I personally always liked this edition. There is something about the layout, fonts and even the overall design of the score, which always made me feel comfortable and trustful towards this edition. This is – I acknowledge – very subjective.
Established in 1948, Henle has most of Bach in their catalogue, which is the edition I grew up with. I still remember saving up to buy the Beethoven Sonatas in cloth hardcover, once for life! It feels very natural for me to recommend it. Sometimes, I have to ‘consult’ other editions, but this is a very good foundation for any pianist and pedagogue.
Urtext versions from G. Henle Publishers provide undistorted and authoritative musical text. They are aesthetically beautiful, functionally optimized, and incredibly durable. Over 1,250 items of classical music from the Baroque period are available in their catalogue.
The advantage for some will be the ability to access and purchase their music via a tablet app and in printed form.
This German publishing house was founded in 1923 and released a critical edition of all of Bach’s repertoire, including keyboard music.
The impressive project of publishing all of Bach’s pieces took over 56 years to complete, and the newest iteration (still in progress) is a revision of that project enriched by the most recent research and findings. The best part about buying this edition is that it is a reprint of the absolute best edition available on the market, their own Neue Bach Ausgabe (New Bach Edition), discussed below at Level 3 of Best Bach Editions for piano repertoire and at a fraction of the cost!
I personally do not like the layout. Even after many years of using their editions, I still find it difficult to get used to them. Still, it is most likely due to my past familiarity with Henle for many years before I started using Barenreiter. You might feel entirely differently. Regardless of my feelings about the print, it is undeniably one of the best editions with precise text.
Best Bach Edition Level 2 – free option
The www.IMSLP.org usually includes at least one urtext edition available for free. You can find it by searching for this entry for most keyboard music such as Inventions, Well-tempered Clavier or Partitas:
The editor’s name can vary. The entry above is for Inventions, and it was edited by Becker. The one below is for Well-tempered Klavier and was edited by Kroll:
The key is to look for the Publisher’s name: Breitkopf und Härtel
If you are strapped for cash, this might be just the solution you need. The text is clean and quite accurate. The problem for me is that this edition is not well-scanned it is not easy on the eyes, and it lacks any kind of fingering suggestions.
The good news is that occasionally you can now find the Barrenreiter urtext edition as well (!):
The edition above has its fingerings removed, but the text is as good as the printed version.
A perfect companion to the urtext edition
If you are looking at trying your luck with urtext editions, it means the dynamics and articulation will be decided through your explorations, research and listening.
For most inquisitive minds, I always suggest reading ‘Interpreting Bach at the Keyboard’ by Paul Badura Skoda. It is now one of the foundations of our knowledge and understanding of interpreting this music based on the urtext alone.
In addition to this book, I have also supported my knowledge with Ralph Kirkpatrick’s – Interpreting Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier: A Performer’s Discourse on Method. Despite the publication talking mostly about both books of Preludes and Fugues as interpreted on the harpsichord, there is still a lot of relevance between the two. Many ideas can be extrapolated and adjusted to keyboard execution.
This book can be quite difficult to find and is usually expensive. Check the current pricing at your preferred Amazon Store in the US, UK or Australia, or shipping internationally via SheetMusicPlus.com.
Level 3 – advanced (most expensive and accurate)
The best of the best edition of Bach’s piano/keyboard music has been published by Bärenreiter. It is rather expensive, but it is the most complete, detailed and accurate edition to date.
I love the looks of the linen edition:
Due to their price, I have not purchased them,, but whenever I am curious about something, I try to find a music library that carries it to do my research and compare versions of the same piece etc. If you want to purchase this edition, the keyboard pieces are contained in Series V: Keyboard and Lute Works in no less than 28 books (you can exclude some of the lesser-known pieces or works of doubtful authenticity). If my wallet allowed and I was a serious Bach specialist, I would not hesitate twice and purchase this particular edition. Please note that critical commentary is often published as a separate book and not included in the score edition (for example, Inventions and Sinfonias).
Best Bach Editions?
I think at the moment of writing this article, the New Bach Edition from Barrenreiter comes closest to winning this title. It is of excellent quality, accurate, complete and exhaustive in its commentary and score versions of each piece. In saying that, I doubt that this edition will be best for everyone. I tend to work with at least two editions at any given time. I never stop learning about the style and its characteristics to better create a new interpretation based on the score itself.
I have decided not to include some of the other available Bach editions, such as the popular Dover, simply because of my limited experience with it. On the other hand, I feel that the ones I have included will give you a good starting point in exploring this amazing music.