Even though there are indications that the Ricercar in c minor BWV 1079 from the “Musical Offering” was intended for performance on a harpsichord, for those who have ever heard this piece played on an organ the subtle harmonies and interlaced dissonances call for this instrument with its stationary sound. This apparently was the case also in the past, for – as Christoph Wolff was able to verify – there are three organ transcriptions alone from the second half of the 18th century, all coming from Bach’s immediate circle.
Of particular interest is the organ arrangement of the “Ricercata a 6 Voci” by the Bach student Johann Friedrich Agricola (1720–1774). Whereas Johann Christian Kittel (1732–1809) – another Bach-student –and an unidentified scribe confined themselves to reducing the printed score so the music would fit onto two or three keyboard or organ staves, Agricola – while generally following the original print very closely – wrote the bass part on a separate pedal stave, to which he added in some places a simplified alternative reading.
For performances on the organ this arrangement is even preferable to the original version: It is more suitable for the instrument since extended strings of eighth notes are less clearly audible on a pedal using 16-foot or even 32-foot stops than a walking bass is on the harpsichord with its distinctive plucked sound. Also, in measure 67 he avoids the Contra B-flat (first eighth note on beat 1) – which can be played on the harpsichords of the time but is missing on German organs – by extending the second eighth note (B-flat) to a quarter note.
In this edition the Ricercar can be played using one registration throughout either with Principal 8’ stops in the manual or with independent or coupled pedal with Subbass 16’ (and octave bass 8’) or even with the grand plenum with 32’ stops with coupled manuals and free pedal – to mention the two extremes.
By the preface by Rüdiger Wilhelm (translation Stephanie Wollny)