How to calligraphy music like Bach

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BWV 1001 Practising

2023 - BWV 1001 Fugue copy by Joost Witte

A snapshot of a daily exercise. When I look at this I am overwhelmed by the sheer amount of details that still need to be improved. Managing mindfulness can be quite a task in this phase of the learning process. Trusting the step-by-step procedure, not being too ambitious, enjoying every progress, being patient - your insights can sometimes be at odds with your motor skills. Work slowly with attention and you will become better quickly does the phrase.

While making this copy, my concentration was almost entirely absorbed by the individual notes within a bar, full of admiration for Bach's ability to be so guileless clear, and also occasionally glancing at the copy that Anna Magdalena made, how did she solve all the graphical issues? At the same time I gained experience with the hemp paper. The speed of writing was slow, the paper turned out to be damp where my right hand rested on the paper: the vertical lines therefore spread out wider, I have to put a protective strip between the paper and my hand.

In addition, I was forced to adjust the pressure. I consider charcoal to be the medium in which I feel most at home, which I use with great force. I tempered that force for ink and feather, yet the nib turned out to collect fibers like a bird does for its nest. Focusing on copying the shape of the individual notes while reducing pressure on the nib split my mind. I understood that exercising muscle memory in terms of pressure was important in order to eventually be able to write loosely, freely and quickly.

An overview of the layout also came up now and then, will it fit exactly on two folios, one note by Bach is invisible because he has placed a beam of another note group over it, that has to be different, no doubt, is it possible to strategically adjust the space between the music bars in such a way that collisions or evasive adjustments can be avoided, or is it better to change the distances between the notes here and there, I didn't see a c, have I completed his forgotten accidentals, I want to work at a tidy desk, but I also want to be able to view the edition of the Bach-Gesellschaft at the same time, so the table top is full, are the note heads the same size, his, mine?

My attention also occasionally wanders to completely different things, heaving just read that Anna Thorvaldsdottir's score notation "sounds like RenÚ Redzepi's recipe for reindeer", what does that mean, how does that look like, which recipe sounds like Bach's score, what recipe am I cooking, will it be edible? Just looked it up, in Ren
Ú's recipe for salad, the reindeer penis is cooked under pressure, so stress again. The calligraphy of his cookbook is clear, beautiful, neat, the recipes though are complex. Redzepi's recipe for goose explains how the bird should be prepared days in advance, hung to dry and eventually stuffed with all sorts of goodness to make it delicious and juicy on the big day, which does sound as a recipe for calligraphy. “Some of the recipes aren’t even a recipe — it’s just two or three ingredients, and you just mix it and wait,” says Redzepi. Ink, quill, paper - stuff it with goodness and be patience. His restaurant Noma is well-known for how they respect nature and locality, the food should be sourced nearby and seasonal, the idea was a high-end restaurant without pigeons.

If you are starting to play the piano, the Beethoven Hammerklavier Sonata is not the best choice to start with, so this fugue by Bach may well be too ambitious a choice. But I'm not a beginner, I've done similar projects before for other composers, less thorough when it comes to exact calligraphy, but I've made flying hours. Music writing is different from writing letters, but not so different that the experiences we have gained at school don't matter, it is mainly about becoming aware of the different technical actions and applying them properly. So I will try again tomorrow, a new day with new opportunities.

BWV 1001 Fugue subject

2023 - BWV 1001 copy Joost Witte

It took me four months to get satisfactory results. When I started I thought "I can do this", but actually I couldn't, I didn't know how and when I saw a score I could only say that it was beautiful.

So I took lessons to learn the technique, every two weeks we pored over the scores for two and a half hours trying to figure out how it could be done his way. At home I would go through all available digital pages, taking notes. I didn't dwell long on each folio, it was a fleeting glance, but attentive, alert to what caught my eye. Superficial rapid perceptions have their own value when it comes to pattern recognition. If I saw something special, I made a screen print. I went for walks thinking about what I had seen. I wrote my observations and thoughts down in my growing manual and we talked about it in calligraphy class.

There is an enormous mountain of literature about Bach, including his calligraphy, I have read part of it, but could not find exactly what I would like to know. What I found about it raised a lot of questions, which was a bit uncomfortable because the scientific content is often high, but practical insight when it comes to writing seems to lack experience.

I tried out materials and tools, made a daily copy of an autograph. There was steady and pleasant progress in the technical side of things. Some things I learned remarkably slowly, such as
finding the right paper, making a good point on the feather and getting the right position. That was not discouraging, I also saw Bach's students struggle with it, it apparently takes a while before it gets going a bit.

Bach himself also seemed to be somewhat clumsy with his tools and materials at times. That felt rather blasphemous to note. You're going to come up with reasons why it wasn't his fault, time pressure, backlash. Formulating exactly what is going on seemed important, critical considerations may weaken my argument, positioning myself in an arrogant corner, pretentious, dumb and smug. However, finding words also had a upside: being able to name what's so great about it when things did go well.

I started with looking at BWV 1 until the last which was updated in those months from BWV 1168 til BWV 1177. That is not a chronological order, which makes studying change and development in writing chaotic. I had understood from literature that his handwriting deteriorated towards the end of his life. We have not been able to observe that, a bit annoying: I am not out to take a different critical point of view, I prefer to join general insights.

All this time I was in a satisfied mood, this is going well, this is going to work. My teacher always came up with lots of clues on how to improve my efforts, without compliments, factual and to the point. Until the validations turned around. The exercises started to look like Bach's hand, but my happy mood was gone, from one moment to the other I was deeply sad. Sharp vision reveals an enormous amount of details to process, master and apply. It took a while to regain balance. Now I'm able to look at any folio, talk about it for hours, weigh each graphical choice against other solutions in the same visual language. I don't know everything, but I know enough to say something about it and to be able to reproduce part of it. A good basis to start working on the Wohltemperierte.

When I thought “I can do this” four months ago, it would have been more realistic to think “Maybe I can learn this at some level”. But I really thought I could do it, I believed in it. Unfounded self-confidence is functional, it is constructive. It is smart to be that stupid, let emotions rule over reason, it is practical and gets things going. There are paradoxes in the learning process, I see Bach's phenomenal mastery, now I can apply his technique a little, but above all I believe that I am learning with every new attempt.

Now that material and tools are in order, as well as manual dexterity, and what matters is observed, it comes down to gaining experience. This is a  more lonely phase, with no need for support, yet this is not a solitary activity: the scores speak more than ever.

Jan van den Velde lijn soorten

1605 - Figures by Jan van den Velde

Figure it out.

The cardboard box you probably have at home makes a great canvas.

You can cut out a strip of cardboard, dip it in ink and you have a great tool for trying out verticals, horizontals and diagonals. Top to bottom, left to right, bottom to top, right to left. Is it necessary to adjust the width of the strip? Describe the box all around, start with simple lines and then make musical figures, practice cursivo and straight realm, clefs and beams, accidentals and stems, noteheads and trills, slurs and the Bachian ABC. Play is the easy language to understand and connect.

Experience the difference in line expression between letters and notes because the position of the hand, and therefore of the cardboard strip, differs. Can you manage going over the edge?

Experience the three-dimensionality of two-dimensionality, enjoy in a cubistic sense the pleasure Greek vase painters had.

Johann Sebastian Bach: "There's nothing remarkable about it. All one has to do is hit the right keys at the right time and the instrument plays itself."

Glenn Gould: "Given half an hour of your time and your spirit and a quiet room, I could teach any of you how to play the piano - everything there is to know about playing the piano can be taught in half an hour, I'm convinced of it."

In hindsight after learning a skill things are easy, when you are at the beginning you experience the opposite. You can take a solid sheet of well-glued paper with a somewhat rough surface, staves are drawn with a special pen, pick up a feather somewhere and cut a point on it, dip it in a random colored fluid, handle the quill at an angle of ninety degrees, so vertical lines become thin and horizontals thick, obliques shift from thin to thick and vice versa. That's about it. But there is much more to say about it, and you have to, before you can leave it all behind.

Hearing that something is easy doesn't help. If you hear someone say that, fill in your mind: "for you because you put time, effort and thought into it". Don't let it spill over into your self-esteem: "I can't even do something easy". Accept that learning comes with struggle, struggling is positive and essential, it takes longer than half an hour, but make it fun by approching it playful.

BWV 47 Oboe pencil and ink

1726 - BWV 47 Hobo 1 copy in ink by Johann Heinrich Bach, pencil by Johann Sebastian Bach

If you want to learn how to write Chinese characters, there are practice books in which the examples are printed in light gray, which you can trace with ink. You can apply this method to Bach's scores. Print the score you want to copy at its actual size, with a lower grayscale, on paper that won't smear your ink.

BWV 864 Prelude 1 Busoni

1894 - BWV 864 copy by Ferrucio B. Busoni

The many scores of Das Wohltemperierte Klavier on IMSLP have been edited with different points of view. It is instructive to put a page in Bach's hand next to some printed editions and to make an inventory of the similarities and differences.

BWV 5 Basso continuo organ

1724 - BWV 5 Basso continuo organ copyist Christian Gottlob Mei▀ner; Johann Sebastian Bach: figuration

Before writing notes staff lines must be added to the paper.

ere are exercises with which you can learn to draw a straight line, instead of using the rastrum right away, you can start with a pencil:

Wrist, elbow and shoulder must work together.

If you only use the wrist joint, your lines tend to take on a spherical shape.

If you keep your wrist stable and draw a line from the elbow, the arc shape you tend to draw tends to be a lot bigger.

If you draw from the shoulder, with the elbow not resting but slightly lifted and keeping the wrist stable, then you have the correct body position to make things a lot easier and straight.

Draw the line at an angle of about 45 degrees from your body, from bottom left to top right.

Position the paper at that angle, that makes it as easy as possible to make that move
, that your lines become horizontally positioned on the sheet. So adjust the position of the paper, in stead of your body forcing it to make a more difficult direction.

Put two points about ten centimeters away and try to connect them with your pencil.

The next step is to space the points further apart.

Then practice without putting down points first.

When you start to get satisfied with the results, turn the sheet 180 degrees and draw new lines between the old ones.

They will probably not run parallel, but will make a systematic divergence clearly visible.

Hold on and don't be disappointed by poor initial result - that happens to anyone, it's not your thing, its our thing that can be solved.

Start again on a different sheet and try to account for and correct any previous discrepancy.

When you see improvements and have achieved acceptable results, exchange the pencil for the rastrum.

This small practice schedule will not have been followed by Bach and his copyists.

They will have arrived at more or less sufficient results by drawing a lot more or less straigth staff lines.

Going through these exercises gives you a head start, it provides insight into how deviations arise, what can be seen, and how you can relatively quickly master it yourself.

BWV 35 Flyleaves stafflines

1726 - BWV 35 Flyleaves

First, an undipped rastrum was pressed hard on the paper, possibly to align the nibs evenly. The paper was then rotated a quarter turn to serve as a base for applying staff lines. The staff lines are drawn at an angle of 40 degrees.

BWV 63 violono and Organo

1729 - BWV 63 Violono and Organo by Anonymus L 63

Every new staff line has ended up on this page more and more obliquely. This will not happen to you if you keep an eye on the entire page layout.

A ruler for a rastrum

You might wonder why they didn't use a ruler or triangle.

There are problems if you want to use it anyway: the pen has to diverge a bit to allow the ink to flow, which is difficult to combine with guidance and pressure from one side. If you try it anyway and you raise the ruler, there is a good chance that you will smear ink with a swipe.

Modern triangles sometimes have little dots that lift the tool a bit, they are there to solve these problems. An inverted ruler, flattened on one side, can also serve as a guide. Still, the risks and inconvenience are too great.

It is not very difficult to make a tool that does the job. In the photo you can see a ruler that is screwed to a slat of 1.5 centimeters thick. A layer of felt is glued under the slat, for holding the paper in a friendly grip to a irregular table surface.

The point of contact of rastrum with the ruler is about three centimeters from the writing points. It is the pen holder in stead of the pentip that touches the guide.

It slides beautifully, it moves quickly, your staves are straight, you can plan well and precisely, and you don't have to worry about correcting previous staves that are very different.

This is a personally made tool, not historically used or invented. You can make a simplified version by putting rubber bands and erasers at the ends of your ruler.

Another way to take advantage of the guidance that a ruler can provide is to use it not as a guide but as a visual reference. An empty page gives no clue as to where you are. You can place the ruler at a short distance from the position where the rastrum will be used. Your hand-eye coordination will be more stable. Some rulers have a slight indentation at the top that you can slide the outside of your right little finger over as you draw the lines.

Bach may have used the color difference between paper and tabletop, using it as a reference to draw the top staff line horizontally.

The dance of freehand stave lines has its own charm, but is also tricky and sometimes problematic if your lines are very far apart or close together.

Precisely measured and placed staff lines can have a boring effect, but are useful as practice paper.

In the 19th century draughtsmen tried to adopt the style of Renaissance artists whom they greatly admired. Technically, they succeeded unparalleled, with well-dosed proportions and gray values approaching a photographic effect.

With all that perfection, spontaneity and simplicity were also lost. Let's not fall into that trap. Embrace imperfections. There is no short cut, practice freehand.

In the twentieth century drawing artists found a way to achieve next level photo realism. One of the means they use is the blow up to get stunning results. Photo realistic drawers are married to their ruler. It comes with a prize, it is very labor intensive, and the act of being creative is surpressed by it's mechanical approach. We want to be smooth and creative, enjoying the ride without tricks.

Contemporary photo realistic artists impress with an effect, the reaction is often: I don't understand how anyone can do this. Yet the underlying technique is simpler than the complex act of drawing lines with free hand. Deconstructing an image into pixels, manageable chunks, skipping the sketch, releases the maker from becoming proficient in summarizing and connecting outlines. Artists who devote themselves to this photorealistic effect using a grit technique initially make rapid progress.

They are also victim and a prisoner, because they see in a more limited way, mostly focused on small parts during the act of creating. It takes a lot more effort and craftmanship to work the other way around, start with the whole and ending with details, but that does pay off.

Sheet with staff lines by Bach

1723 - BWV 77 folio 7 verso 35,5 x 21,5 centimeter by Bach 1723

Sheets like this are called undescribed at the Bach Digital website (and on rare occasions rastriert by an observant describer). If you look closely you can detect 105 long written lines, grouped in staff lines. You can also detect them from quite a distance. As a calligrapher you can be proud when you can compile a sheet like this.

There is plenty to find, pages described only with staff lines, done by Bach and by his copyiists. There is a lot to find in the cantata scores in particular. It is said of OrgelbŘchlein BWV 599-644 that most pages (15.5 x 19 cm) of the autograph are blank, but they do contain staff lines (and titles) drawn by Bach.

You can print them at actual size and use them as score paper.

Note the differences & ask: do the lines run from edge to edge, is the rastrum always the same size, what about the pressure on the writing utensil, can you recognize a writer by the stave lines, is the number and positioning of stave lines planned with music in mind or is it formatted music paper, is the space between the staff lines regular, or can you detect part groupings, can you estimate the speed at which the pen has moved across the paper, was that applied reguarly?

That pages with only staff lines are called undescribed or blank says something about our awareness, in our consciousness they are not on the same page. So insignificant that they can be completely overlooked, adorned with qualifications that deny their existence. Yet it takes a lot of effort to achieve them with any presentable result.

You can see how these lines are drawn from various characteristics. The slight arc up, the straight start and slightly slanted end. They arise when you work at an angle of 45 degrees.

If you also work in this way, you will notice that the last part is a stressful act. You anticipate the time and place at which you want to stop, meanwhile you notice that your motor skills are under strain because it is difficult to maintain the same angle for so long, and you regret forgetting to hold the paper close to your body.

Avoiding this kind of stress by simple giving up and ignore adding right and left margins means messing up your table top or a underlying draft or not respecting for example a neat title page or back side cover, as can been seen having been done many times.

These problems can be solved with a different approach: working from top to bottom, with the paper at an angle of 180 degrees. You will experience that you can control very precisely straight beginning and straight end. In addition, it is easy to apply a lot of pressure evenly. Rather, it comes down to not using too much pressure because otherwise your lines will become unwanted thicker. Staff paper set up in this way has a different appearance and feel. This technique is not what we can see in the historical scores.

BWV 71 Fuga folio 4 recto

1700 - 1719 BWV 71 Fuga folio 4 recto fragment

Isolating and enlarging can be helpful in getting a grip.

You can print any folio at actual size. Choose a measure that catches your eye. Cut a feather tip as wide as possible. Select one broad beam on the print and draw a short line with your broad feather tip next to it.

Measure how many times one line fits into another, this number is your magnification. Technically: how many times fits Bach's x-width of his quill into yours.

You can use the outcome to print the selected measure with the same enlargement.

You can cut a separate quill for the grid of bar and measure lines.

Lightly sketch the proportions of the grid on your paper with a pencil, you can use a ruler.

Trace those lines in ink using your specially adapted quill.

While the lines are drying, study the shapes you will be drawing. Name for yourself what stands out to you.

Copy what is happening in the measure with your broad quill.

You can't do the same antics with a wide quill as with a narrower one. The proportions between tilted and full are different. Accept that, it is not a problem.

Compare, what could be better, repeat.

You get to know the bar well and come across a lot of new things.

You are the first to give this written measure so much attention.

That is special, you have a relationship with this bar.

BWV 41 Violoncello piccolo autograph

1725 - BWV 41 Aria 4 Part violoncello piccolo autograph

Bifolio 2 x 35.3 x 21.3 centimeters
Flax paper
2 x 13 staff lines keeping register at eye sight
Broad margins
No ink corrosion, black: soot
X -width quill: 1.5 milliliters

If you make a copy you could reduce the wide margins between bars. Note that there are few places where that will lead to collisions. If that does happen, you can come up with a solution in Bach's style, observe how he does that in his scores with tight margins.

When training grip on layout, it is instructive to take some distance. You can turn the peprint preview and homemade copy upside down and view it from a few feet away. Your gaze is then less focused on the details and you will notice other things. A mirror can be similarly instructive.

Bach's surefire lines are also a record of the speed with which he wrote. Don't strive for speed, it will come naturally when you master the writing. Studying calmly and slowly accelerates progress.

BWV 1001 Fugue sketch

2023 - BWV 1001 Fugue copy by Joost Witte

A transfer to the digital score program Musescore, it's free, updated regularly, and the design team is devout and smart. For a script that mainly consists of dashes and dots, there appear to be quite a few actions to apply.

This digital version has been created to take advantage of the benefits of the sketch: proportions to be adjusted, and improvements to be applied. The visual language does not entirely correspond to Bach's. Where there is space for independence and self-reliance in Bach's score by creating distance between lines, many coincide here. That should be solved in the new manual copy that combines the best of both examples, autograph and sketch. Breaking the mold of regularity, escaping the rabbit hole of regularity and standing in line, and honoring the efficiency, individuality and beauty of Bach's hand. A certain bandwidth for the vertical alignment is one of the options available in manual writing. Multiple notes and their stems and flags can be next to each other, but coincide in time, a multiverse with great graphical possibilities.

I have adapted the standard paper size to Bach's autograph, his folios have later been shortened on two sides, I have therefore made them slightly larger, the score of Anna Magdalena has not been cropped, a reference and comparison for the possible original dimensions.

Bach's score is like a slalom between protruding notes between two staves. Collisions are to be avoided at all costs. The direction of the stems is motivated, among other things, like paying respect for the polyphonic tissue, by the available space and the strategy to avoid crossing lines.

Lines that touch or cross each other make it difficult to read, but there is an exception to that rule: horizontal lines that can coincide, such as beams and stave lines, actually promote clarity. What is also good for cohesion is to have beams of groups of sixteenths more or less connect to each other in interrupted long lines.

Regular distance between the stems is a guideline. Bach broke bars at quarter-note level when it was convenient, which has been taken over in the digital sketch if it was advantageous.

Regularity between the stems is balanced against a completely different quantity: the visual demarcation of episodes,
areas wiareas of similar gray value due to the similar contrapuntal effects. That is to say, if it is possible to take account of block formation within the parameters at a detailed level, this has been worked towards. Visual delineation of episodes assists the reader. Bach's score shows slight variance in bar length, even when counting the amount of notes and accidentals. There are several reasons why he did this, such as making optimal use of the available space on the page, but also because he is not a machine but a human being. A sketch like this allows you to choose within the limits of Bach's variety of bar length in such a way that different parts are clearly grouped together. areas with a similar grey value

Dividing a score into several units actually helps to get a grip on the whole. It is therefore helpful in learning to play a piece, making long lines by dosing and balancing tension and relief. Harmonic analyses, modulations to other keys, they become visible at a glance, the structure becomes a visual experience. Two folios are useful for overview, just like the pages in Wilhelm Friedemann's notebook, but now with a larger composition, without pages to turn.

There have been several stages in the composition of this sketch. First, all voices were adapted as much as possible in detail to Bach's handwriting. Subsequently, it was examined whether visual demarcation of episodes was possible without disturbing the regularity and size. After that, the space between the music staves has been reconsidered. Regularity is not a requirement there, but small deviations are the tool to create space for all notes. We don't need to take register into account, so there is opportunity to play and optimize. The upper and lower music bars do register, this brings order.

Some missing accidentals have been filled in, the rests have all been taken over, though there are quite a few that can be safely omitted, connecting bows have been faithfully taken over. The two bars with a lowered treble clef are raised, a personal choice, I prefer what I can easily read myself. In the right margin of Bach's score, the first notes of the next music bar are already indicated small. Graphically interesting and challenging, but I'm not convinced of their support function. If you are able to play a composition like this directly from the sheet, then your technical playing skills and reading skills are so extraordinarily high that you already have the next line in sight. If you are a less advanced player, you can play passages several times, with muscle memory and imprinting already doing the job for you. In old books you sometimes see the first word of the next page printed at the end of the right page, when I turn it over I always think: and what is the next word, it shifts the problem instead of dissolves.

In short, the digital sketch has been used to make all kinds of adjustments to Bach's score. The intention is therefore not to make a mechanical copy, but one that reproduces the music in the spirit of Bach, exploring the possibilities of small changes, optimising spaces, with respect and love for his handwriting, to learn about and reproduce his brilliant graphic solutions, small concessions to personal preferences, and analysis of his music.

Stave distances BWV 1001

2023 - BWV 1001 Staves distances

The distance between the top stave line and the bottom line on this proof strip is the same as on Bach's autograph of the first solo fugue for violin. With Bach, the distance between the staves is random to a certain height, a result of the method of manually maintaining equal distances.

Taking into account the notes that protrude above and below the staves, the layout of the test strip has been strategically chosen to vary to the nearest millimeter of stave spacing, without exceeding the maximum and minimum found in Bach.

After doing some exercises with this layout, I noticed that versions with a slightly less optimal spacing for all notes did more justice to the overall impression. It got too neat.

I have to find a new balance between copying Bach's stylistic features, selecting graphical solutions from his vast output, making minor corrections and optimizing. It's harder to be a little loose than to put everything in a tight line.

BWV 244 El Greco St. Matthew Eagle quill

1610 - BWV 244 San Mateo by El Greco

A quill of the Spanish imperial eagle in the hand of the apostle Saint Matthew passionately painted by Domḗnikos Theotokˇpoulos, know as El Greco.

The brush marks look spontaneous, put down at full speed. But they are anything but. El Greco built up his paintings very carefully, from sketches and different layers. There are eyewitness accounts that he moved his hand very slowly while painting.

What can we learn from this? The shape characteristics created by speed are also approachable and reproducible at a slow tempo.

When making a copy of a Bach score, we can lightly pencil the length of the bars and touch the note heads with small dashes. We then use the benefits provided by this sketch. Some of the considerations we make when we write have already been made, there is more room to focus on the level of detail.

Prioritize quantity over quality


Be productive. Prioritize quantity over quality. Perfection comes from doing it over and over again. Focusing on quality slows down progress, it is efficiency that drives perfection.

You might think that critical reflection is the only key to getting better, but ambitious planning and execution to make a lot are equally important. Our brain thrives on many quick decisions, internalizing something to do the right thing. We are faced with a paradox in the learning process: take things slowly and do a lot at the same time. To be comfortable with that, requires acknowledging that seemingly contradiction. Time is on your side when you take action.

It also helps not to be too unhappy with mistakes, dwelling on it for too long is counterproductive, hence the halt in development, just start over and change what you did before, go for reason instead of emotion. Shift looking forward to a better case scenario instead of looking back at the less succeeding in the past, and you actually will feel better.

BWV 1011 Sarabande Sketch

2023 BWV 1011 Sarabande sketch in the middle by Joost Witte

At the top the version in the hand of Anna Magdalena from 1727, an autograph is missing, at the bottom the version from the Neue Bach-Ausgabe from 1988.

Above and below show quite a wide variety of density. The sketch in the middle was made using Paint, a very simple image editing program, to serve as an example for a new calligraphy version. Anna Magdalena's writing was the source for this, but the bars have been adjusted: made wider or shortened, and distributed differently over the horizontal lines.

The structure of the composition was leading in this, so that a melodic and harmonic analysis becomes visible at a glance, but still with a certain regularity in terms of note spacing. Imaginary vertical blocks distributed over the staves can not be seen but will be seen once seen, and even when unnoticed, they support phrasing.

What good is it if we make a copy after the example of the sketch compared to the scholarly edition? A new calligraphy copy does more justice to the balance, proportionality, similarity and beauty of the original. It is better in simplifying and supporting going back to the source file. It places responsibility for interpretation of arcs on the reader, preserving ambiguity over decisiveness means taking you serious as a reader. Irregularities between spacing of the stems and unnecessary voids have been diminished or avoided. There is grounded visual connection, and that attention to form leads more efficient to content.

BWV 1011 Sarabande

2023 BWV 1011 Sarabande copy by Joost Witte



You can cut a thin layer off the paper using a razor blade. The sheet lies on a round shape, the blade is bent in a U-shape. The cutting blade is moved sideways as well as forward. In this setup you can remove an ink line quite precisely.

The small indentation left behind can be polished to prevent new overwrites from bleeding more strongly due to loosening of fibers, or so that it collects more dirt over time, a process you can sometimes see on old manuscripts. The round metal handle of a knife can provide good services here.

Corrections wetting dabbing sanding polishing

Wetting, dabbing, sanding, polishing

Ink feels final, uncorrectable, but there are actions possible when mistakes are made. You shouldn't rub into a stain goes the saying, it will get bigger. With some experience you can still make it somewhat neat.

BWV 1001 Soda

BWV 1001 Fuga overwrite

You can remove ink stains from paper just as you can remove wine stains from clothing with baking soda.

Corrections scraping

Corrections overwriting

The score is bent over a glass bottle, a note has been scraped off with a knife, as well as an area that showed a small discoloration due to wetting and dabbing. The worked part is polished with the back of a pen and then overwritten.

Electric eraser

Electric eraser

Black bister ink on hemp paper does not penetrate deep into the fibers. For corrections you can choose to physically remove the thin layer of ink. This electric eraser is quite precise and the damage is not too bad. Taking advantage of using modern tools can be daunting, but you can also selectively choose not to have a problem with them.

Bach's colleague at St. Thomas School: Johann Heinrich Winckler was a prominent electrophysicist who invented several electrical machines. He wrote the text of the lost Bach cantata BWV Anhang 18 "Happy Days". So don't worry, be happy.

Bar exam
Bach Barexam Behind Bars Elaine Gould 2011

2011 Ground rules page 6 Behind Bars by Elaine Gould.

Bach rules, but one could wonder if Bach would pass the bar exam of Elaine Gould's Behind Bars.

Presented as The Definitive Guide to Music Notation, practical, well-arranged, well-written and beautifully published, this is the ultimate meticulously source for music notation rules.

It's grounded in the expertise of 20th century metal plate engravers who let go of their tools at the end of the eighties to take place behind a screen, where they applied all their knowledge in the notation program Score.There is no visible transition in publications to the use of software that was in its infancy.

Score was designed by Leland Smith (check out his wonderful history, told by himself). His notation program has no interface, commands must be entered in MS DOS code. It offers total control over all elements of the writing.

Being able to control positioning and the nice spacing rules (among other things the Fibonacci sequence) make this program superior to Finale, Sibelius, Dorico and MuseScore.

Score is not available, (Lilypond is a text based alternative). The four music notation programs mentioned above are. They come with a user interface, developpers have (sometimes) done their best to code according to the notation rules of metal plate engravers, resulting in a long list of default settings.

Adjusting default values, something that every user soon encounters, is problematic. For Sibelius and Dorico, see these videos by Martin Keary. Available digital music notation programs are therefore limited, intuitive actions that are characteristic of good calligraphy are hindered. Music publishers publish editions made by composers themselves, or by experienced users of the music notation programs, in which those limitations are visible.

Behind Bars describes how to be clear on paper, communication is the key, the basic goal of calligraphy.

The BB indentation rule for getting clefs aligned is regularly not applied by Bach. In many of those cases, the clef does what it is supposed to do very well, with positioning and spacing that can be valued as balanced, and with individual charm.

When we look at a digital score in Bach's handwriting, we tend to see with rules that are implied in modern notational methods. Free yourself from these bars, pass the rules.