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This page accompanies a post at AllAboutJazz.com.

Suspected Manuscript Error in the 1938 Edition of the
Fugue of Alec Templeton’s  “Bach Goes to Town”

Bjarne Pagh Byrnak

Get corrected fugue  (PDF)

1. Introduction

Some bars appear to have been left out many years ago when the piano version of Alec Templeton’s  Bach Goes to Town,  with the subtitle  Prelude and Fugue in Swing,  was printed back in 1938.1  There are signs that two or three bars are missing in an interlude not far from the end of the fugue.
Mixing jazz into Bach is bad practice.
Bach enthusiasts do not need to tell me, for I know it already, I agree with it, I am a Bach enthus­iast myself, and it is the reason why I did not play the piece until more than thirty years after having heard part of the fugue played on TV.

That said, it is worth noting that the entire piece was composed by Temple­ton.  No part was copied from Bach.

An editorial glitch must have happened during the fugue’s journey from the com­poser’s mind to the publishing company’s press – either while the manuscript was copied by hand, or when the fugue was written down for the first time.

There are also signs that the damaged part of the fugue was changed afterwards, in an attempt of a last-minute fix.  This was done with just enough success that only experi­enced Bach listeners will notice the omisson.

The missing bars can be reconstructed.  An attempt will be presented here.

But first:

2. Some facts.

The title and the subtitle indicate that Templeton intended a style in which elements from jazz appear side by side with allusions to Johann Sebastian Bach.

With that in mind, take a look at this interlude.  It appears near the beginning of the fugue.

Music example: Bars 15-19 of Fugue from Bach Goes To Town
Example 1.  First interlude, in the beginning of the fugue. Play
The melody in bars 15–16 is repeated in bars 17–18 at a lower pitch and in slightly modi­fied form.  That makes a total of four bars of melody.  They are followed by a sequence of quaver figurations.

A second interlude appears not far from the end of the fugue.  It looks this way, in the old printed piano score:

Music example: Bars 47-50 of Fugue from Bach Goes To Town
Example 2.  Second interlude, near the end of the fugue.  Old bar numbering. Play
The melody in bars 47–48 is similar to the melody in bars 15–16 in Example 1, at a different pitch and with minor modifications.

But the melody in Example 2 is not repeated.  Bar 48 is not followed by a counterpart to bars 17–18 in Example 1.  Instead, quaver figurations enter after just two bars of melody.2

3. What’s wrong with that?

Both interludes obviously allude to Bach.

In Bach’s music, it is perfectly normal for an interlude to appear again later, usually at a different pitch and/or in modified, intensified, or even expanded form.

But if it appears again, then it must do so in its full length.3  To cut it in half, the way it is done in the old printed edition of Templeton’s fugue, violates the intended style.4

In other words, the melody in bars 47–48 in Example 2 must be repeated at a lower pitch (and possibly in modified form) in the same way as in Example 1.  I believe this must have been Templeton’s intention, because Templeton knew that Bach would have done so.

4. But wasn’t Templeton allowed to do as he wanted?

Not so fast.  It gets worse.  Let us see what happens after bar 50 in the old printed edition.
Music example: Bars 50-52 of Fugue from Bach Goes To Town
Example 3.  Parallels of a kind that composers avoided for centuries. 
Such parallels were considered inappropriate for counterpoint,
or even ill-sounding.  (Old bar numbering.)   Play
Ever played the fugue and felt puzzled about bar 51?  Already the initial D major chord produces a poorly motivated bump in an otherwise smooth flow.  A moment later, the bass moves from d to e at the same time as the quavers go from a to b.  Parallel twelfths, also known as parallel duodecims.

Such parallels  (equivalent to parallel fifths)  were practically5 never used at Bach’s time.  At Templeton’s time, it was still considered an error if students used them in counter­point exer­cises, and I would consider it impossible that Templeton could have intended them in a Bach imitation.

In short:

I believe bar 51 and the two preceding bars were never composed by Temple­ton. 

The passage looks most of all as if some helpful but not too insightful person noticed a manuscript error that had gone undetected during proofreading, and tried to fix it without consulting the composer.

(I forgot to tell about a missing rest in the empty bass of bar 44 in the old printed edition of the fugue.  Clear sign that proofreading did not have priority.  There are other small in­accuracies else­where6 in the old piano score, including the prelude.)

5. What, then, are we supposed to do?

Analyze.  Try to understand what happened and why.  Reconstruct if possible.

Errors in manuscripts were not uncommon back in the old days when music sheets were copied by hand.  One of my teachers, who had identified and corrected several such errors himself, was aware that there might be more  –  and some of us who were his students still know what to do if we encounter one.

Could an error have sneaked into Templeton’s fugue after it was composed and before it was printed back in 1938?

Easily.  I shall now argue, as a working hypothesis, that two similar-looking bars were confused while the fugue was written down or hand-copied.

In order to understand how such a thing might happen, let’s look at the first interlude again.  Here it is  (Example 4 below),  this time with green marks under two similar-looking bars.

Music example. Bars 16 and 18 marked with green.
Example 4.  First interlude again.  The two bars with green marks were not confused this time.
If they had, then bars 17 and 18 might have been forgotten during hand-copying.  It didn’t
happen here – but I think the second interlude was intended by the composer to look
very much the same way, and that two bars were forgotten in the second interlude
for a similar reason.  That may explain why the second interlude  (Example 2)
is shorter than an experienced Bach player would expect it to be. Play
In bar 16, the bass ends with three quavers, propagating stepwise up towards the first bass note of the following bar.  These bass quavers are likely to be the last notes a copyist would write down for that bar.

Compare with bar 18.  Here again, the bass ends with three quavers, propagating stepwise up towards the first bass note of the following bar.  The two bars resemble one another in other respects as well.

Now, imagine you are preparing a hand-written copy of the fugue, possibly under time pressure.7  You finish bar 16, then pause for a sip of tea.

By mistake, you resume copying as if you had finished bar 18, and begin to write down bar 19.  Result:  Two bars left out.

Fortunately, no such thing happened in the first interlude.

But what about the second interlude?  I think it was intended to be of the same length as the first interlude, and to have a similar structure – including two similar-looking bars that might be confused.

In fact,  I think the second interlude actually lost two bars in that way.  That’s the reason why the melody in the old bars 47–48  (Example 2)  is not repeated at a lower pitch.

It also looks as if some bars were changed afterwards, not necessarily by the same person who wrote the fugue down in the first place;  this is how the odd-looking bar 51 came into existence, in a well-meant attempt to make the passage playable.  A third bar may have disappeared in that process.

Next question:  Can the second interlude be restored to its original form?

Yes, it can.  The fugue is structured in such a way, and contains enough hints about Templeton’s intentions, that the damaged episode can be rebuilt.8

6. Second interlude:  Proposed reconstruction

Here is my best estimate of how the second interlude was originally meant to look.  (Some of the surrounding bars are shown along with it.)
Music example: Bars 47-57, reconstructed, of Fugue from Bach Goes To Town
Example 5.   Second interlude:  Attempted reconstruction.  Bars  48–54 replace the old
bars  48–51 in Examples  2–3,  making the fugue three bars longer.   Performers later
than Benny Goodman often play the upper voice an octave higher than written from
e flat  to  f sharp  in Example 2.  Here, the upper voice may, if desired, be played
an octave higher from the the a flat  in the new bar 50 to the d in the new bar 53
as indicated by an optional 8va.  The 8va is performed in the audio demo of
the fugue linked to below.  It is not performed in the present Example
Is the solution perfect?
It is playable and I think it fits well into the context.  The melody in bars 47–48 is repeated in the new bars 49–50 in modified form and at a lower pitch, as Bach would have done.  On the weak side, a little more chromatics in the new bar 52 would have been good.9  It helps to perform the 8va as explained in the figure legend;  that also removes some monotonicity.

And now, a moment of truth.  The new bars 48 and 50  (Example 5)  look so similar that green marks would have been well-deserved.  What happens if our copyist confuses them?

The reader is invited to check:  Write down the new bars 48 and 51 next to one another on the back of an envelope.  As for the two bars in between, leave them out, and pretend not to know that they ever existed.  Be sure to write the numbers 48 and 51 on the two bars you have written down;  they will be referred to in the instructions below.

Pretend to suddenly discover that the transition between the two bars is not playable.  Give yourself thirty minutes to change whatever is needed to make the passage playable.  (That’s the kind of task some employee at the publishing company may have been faced with, in my favorite but hypothetical scenario.7)

Alec Templeton portrait. Source: Los Angeles Times.
By courtesy of  Los Angeles Times
Too busy for proofreading?
Alec Templeton (1909–1963),
Welch –American composer.

You will need to make some harsh decisions.  To begin with, you observe that the e flat in the upper voice of bar 48 has no continuation in the new bar 51. To provide it with one is easy:  Move the quavers in the new bar 51 a fifth up.  But now, the three quavers in the middle voice of the new bar 48 end up in mid-air.  You delete them.  You move the three bass quavers in the new bar 48 down one tone, because f g a is a more natural pitch level for them when the new bar 51 follows immediately after.  In order to provide them with a continuation, you also move the crotchets in the bass of the new bar 51 down one fourth.

What you get is the old bar 49 in Example 2 – but with the bass shifted an octave down.10

Not bad for a first-guess working hypothesis.  You still need to connect to the end of the fugue with some quaver figurations;  you replace bars 52–54 in Example 5 with a brief passage written for the purpose.  I guess this is roughly how the sequence in Examples 2 and 3 came into existence.  (To formulate all details in words is not practical, and the best way to understand the pro­cess is to try it out on the piano.)

Maybe the experiment adds support to the view that the unexpectedly short dura­tion of the second interlude can be explained as the unintentional omission of two bars, fol­lowed by an attempt to repair the damage.  I do not know if that repairment was done in Temple­ton’s home or at the publishing company’s office;  and we do not need to know, since the pro­posed reconstruction does not depend on it.

  When I arrived at his hotel suite,
Alec greeted me with complete natural­ness and led me over to a window.
“I want you to sit in the sunshine,”  he said,  “and listen to a riotous record that Benny Goodman made of my  “Bach Goes To Town.”  It’s absolutely price­less!”
  He took the record from the center of a rack, put it on the turntable and with deft fingers adjusted the needle and flipped the switch.  He sat cross-legged on the divan, grinning with delight as the familiar strains grew more torrid. As Benny “slipped into the groove” and “gave,”  Alec cheered, tapping out the off-beat with his foot.
  As the last long notes of the music faded, Alec removed the record and said,  “You know, I believe old Bach would have loved it, don’t you?”  With­out waiting for my answer he went right on,  “He loved life so, and ex­pressed its varying moods so success­fully.  I feel quite sure that if he were living now he would have written some swing.”
  (Excerpt from an article in The Mil­wau­kee Journal, This Week Magazine, Feb 26, 1939, p.39.  The journalist’s name cannot be discerned in the scanned-in version. As of January 2017, the article is no longer ac­cess­ible online.)
Who did the copying?  Is it possible that Templeton himself forgot two bars while he dictated the piece to an assistant?  Templeton is known to have heard the piece performed  (box at right).  Did he ever object against the old bar 51 in the fugue?  I do not know;  it is up to the biographers to find out.

And – at least for now – while the reconstruc­tion proposed in Example 5 may not be exactly identical to what Alec Templeton intended to publish, I think it is accurate enough for per­for­mance purpose.

7. How do the various performers continue after bar 48 of the fugue?

Bach Goes to Town can be listened to on the Internet, sometimes played on solo instruments, more often performed by clarinet or other ensembles.  I listened to those performances I could find.  They all played the shortened second interlude.

That raises a number of questions.

Exactly how serious is the problem?
Well – the broken Bach imitation gives people a distorted impression of Templeton’s ability as a composer, and is likely to damage his reputation, especially among Bach enthusiasts.  Some jazz players might find the piece useful as an intro­duction to classical music, but the Bach style they see is not quite correct.

How did Templeton himself play the piece on the piano?  Did he play a correct Bach imita­tion that could be used in place of the one proposed above?  I wish I could tell.  But it seems that Templeton’s own recording is not easily accessible on the Internet.11

8. Conclusion

Now that  “Bach Goes to Town”  has become the composition Templeton is best known for, I should like to suggest that time is ripe for a new, revised edition of the score sheet.



Alec Templeton’s  “Bach Goes to Town”  is copyrighted.  The year of expiration is 2033, which is 70 years after the composer’s death.

The emendations proposed in this document are intended by the author to be available free of charge to any interested part for any legal purpose  (“Public Domain”).

The photograph of Alec Templeton is proprietary.  (Los Angeles Times Terms of Service)

All sound examples on this page were made with the built-in microphone of
a computer placed next to an upright piano.  They are best disregarded.

Demo of prelude (played informally by the author): MP3
Demo of corrected fugue (played informally by the author): MP3
Score of Alec Templeton’s fugue with the proposed corrections: PDF


[1]  The edition of the piano score sheet referred to in this document is the one in which the text  “Copyright 1938 by Sprague-Coleman;  International Copy­right Secured;  Printed in U.S.A.“  appears at the bottom of the second page.

[2]  As a Bach player for decades who had never played Templeton’s piece before,  I had to stop playing after bar 48 of the fugue  (Example 2)  because the stylistically required continuation was not in the old piano score sheet.  The case for a manuscript error was clear immediately.

[3]  Bach’s famous Italian Concert has an interlude in bars 77–84 of its last movement.  A modified and intensified counterpart to it appears later in the same movement  (bars 155–166).  That counterpart is not abbreviated;  it is actually four bars longer.

And here is an example from Bach’s fugue in c minor (BWV 847)  from the Well-Tempered Clavier,  Book 1:  A passage in bars 9–10 of that fugue re-appears in modified form, but in full length, in bars 22–23.  Readers may object that the passage does not resemble Templeton’s interlude very much.  That is because Bach’s fugue is strict counterpoint, whereas Templeton designed a style of his own in which counterpoint is combined with other aspects of Bach’s music.  The analogy holds nevertheless.

Perhaps the best example is found in Templeton’s own accompanying prelude:  The brilliant Bach imitation in bars 9–10 is repeated in modified form and at a lower pitch in the next two bars.  The whole four-bar-long passage appears again in modified form in bars 29–32;  it does so in full length.  (Also, the quaver figurations in bars 17–18 of the prelude have a counterpart in bars 37–42;  once again, that counterpart is longer. – Sorry, there are no score examples for this note.  The old piano score sheet for  “Bach Goes To Town” can be purchased for a modest amount at several commercial sites.)

[4]  Exceptions to the rule are possible, at least in theory:  Collapsing an expected two lines of lyrics into a single line might be used to intensify some dramatic point, such as a cry for help, in a cantata.  However, the quaver figurations that follow the melody in the interludes of Templeton’s fugue tell that all is normal.

[5]  Just to prevent misunderstandings:  Parallels, also known as consecutives, can be found between the soprano and the tenor in four of the cadences in the chorale Freuet Euch, ihr Christen  in Bach’s cantata No. 40, according to Peter Charles Arthur Wishart in his article on Harmony  in the 1973 edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica.  Modern analysis has revealed more examples.  Bach used these parallels judiciously, in such a way that the ear hears nothing wrong;  the eye may have difficulties discerning them in the scores, as demonstrated at wilktone.  However, it is important to understand that a few cases of advanced usage in Bach’s music do not imply that Templeton might have intended paral­lels in his Bach imita­tion.  Those in Example 3 are a novice error of a kind that textbooks warn against.  (They also sound wrong, at least on the author’s piano.)  Templeton was not a novice in 1938;  the person who wrote bar 51 in Example 3 may well have been.

[6]  The prelude has a few small and trivial typos in the old piano score sheet.  I do not know if they appear in other editions.
Bar 26 upper voice:  Second last quaver is b, should be b flat.
Bar 30 bass:  Last quaver is e, should be e flat.
Bar 42 middle voice:  Third note e  is a crotchet, should be a half.
In bars 18 and 42, the middle and upper voices form an octave that may sound hard on some pianos.  I play the middle voice a major third lower than written on the third beat, with no impact on musical content, then return to nominal pitch on the fourth beat. 

Bars 30-31, parallel fifths must be unintentional
Example 6.  Fugue, bars 30-31:  The parallels
must be unintentional – but placed across
a page shift, they may have escaped
attention during proofreading.

The fugue has parallel fifths in the old piano score sheet.  They appear in the transition from bar 30 to bar 31 (Example 6), and are probably best explained as a glitch in the process of writing the piece down for the first time.  To make them sound even worse, all three voices move in the same direction.  I split the crotchet on e  in the middle voice  into a quaver on e  and a quaver on g,  replace the bass quaver on g  with a crotchet, and omit the bass quaver on a, in order to get a decent sound on the piano.  The change, which is small and without effect on musical content, is included in the PDF version of the corrected fugue linked to above.

[7]  Hypothetical scenario:  A publishing company contacted Templeton and asked to have a manuscript mailed promptly.  They got it.  Just before print deadline, they discovered an unplayable passage and did a quick fix.  Other scenarios are, of course, possible.

[8]  My teacher spent much of his lifetime correcting old manuscript errors in Buxtehude’s organ music.  (I later found two that he had over­looked.)  Part of my teacher’s methodology was used here.

[9]  Other possibilities were considered in various stages of the analysis.
For instance:  While bar 15 in Example 1 has quavers in the bass, its counter­part, bar 47 in Example 2, is without quavers.  Should the two new bars to be inserted, in order to repeat the melody at a lower pitch, be with or without such quavers?  The last three notes in the bass of bar 48 in Example 2 suggest a continuation with quavers, but those three notes might, in principle, not be authentic.  I have looked for solu­tions with no quavers in the bass of the new bar 49.  No credible solution of that kind was found.  I tend, therefore, to consider the three bass quavers at the end of bar 48 as authentic, although they may have been moved a septime up in the old piano score sheet.  The three bass quavers must be continued in a logical manner.  The new bars 48 – 50 in Example 5 accomplish this by simply imitating bars 16–18 in Example 1.

There is a rest in the bass of each of the new bars 48 and 50 in Example 5.  Bars 16 and 18 in Example 1 have no such rest;  instead, the preceding crotchet is dotted.  I decided to adopt the rest in analogy with the old bar 48  (Example 2),  despite doubts as to the authenticity of part of that bar.

Bar 20 has two accidentals in the bass, as can be seen in the PDF document.  The new bar 52 in Example 5 ought to have equally much chromatics, or even more. However, attempts to add some did not lead to an acceptable solution.

The figurations in bars 51–55 in Example 5 propagate upwards faster than their counterparts in bars 19 and the following bars.  They have to, as they start at a lower pitch and must, in a reasonable amount of time, reach the level where they connect to the main theme  (at old bar 53 in Example 3;  at new bar 56 in Exam­ple 5).  They accomplish the task well enough that the old bar 52 in Example 3 fits in unchanged as a new bar 55 in Example 5. 

To let the middle voice of the new bar 55 start with a quaver at d  instead of g  would have been good harmonically but less so melodically.

The new figurations are one bar longer than their counterpart.  Justification for this can be found in Bach’s music and in Templeton‘s prelude as observed in Note [3].  (It is possible to argue that they ought to be even longer, in analogy with bars 37–42 of the prelude;  but the evidence, based primarily on layout unevenness in the old printed piano score, is weak.)  The new figura­tions are not similar to those in bar 19 and the following bars.  Attempts to make them similar disappointed  (failure of pitch levels to match;  lack of harmonic sub­stance;  too much  “more-of-the-same”  effect).  Instead, the quavers in the new bar 52 in Example 5 were chosen to imitate those of the old bar 51 in Example 3, in an attempt to re-use part of that bar despite doubts about authenticity, and in order to preserve a well-placed allusion to the first five tones of the melody that begins the very first bar of the prelude.

[10]  The small discrepancy would have disappeared if the bass in the old bar 48  (Example 2) had gone an octave down on the second beat in the same way as the bass in bar 16 does;  the downward septime in the old bar 51 could have been avoided, too.  Instead – for reasons that are not well understood – the two lower voices do nothing during the first half of the old bar 48.  I guess the old bar 48 was composed by Templeton, but content was later removed from the two lower voices by some­one else.  Given that it is part of the build-up to­wards the end of the fugue, bar 48 must be at least as content-rich as bar 16 in order to qualify as a counter­part to it.  That can be accomplished by letting the new bar 48 imitate bar 16, as is done in Example 5.

[11]  A CD titled  “Bach Goes To Town – The genius of Alec Templeton”  is offered for sale at a few commercial Internet vendor sites.  Issued in 1995, it contains a number of Templeton pieces, played by the composer personally on the piano (or so it seems).

I tried to purchase that CD.  Two-and-a-half month later, news arrived that the vendor’s supplier had informed them the CD could not be delivered.

I will continue to try and obtain the CD.  That may take time.

If someday I get to listen to Templeton’s own recording, what kind of conclusion could I arrive at?  There are essentially two possibilities.

(A)  If  Templeton played a correct Bach imitation, in which the melody in bars 47–48 of the fugue is repeated at a lower pitch in the way Templeton knew Bach would have done:  In that case, performers should, of course, play the passage in the way Templeton did.

(B)  If  Templeton played a broken Bach imitation  (would be no surprise):
There can be no doubt that Templeton composed a correct Bach imitation.  But he may later have observed that everybody else played differently, and then decided to follow suit and play the published version, because he thought the piece was not im­portant enough to justify telling them that the version they played was wrong and needed to be changed.  Today’s performers should play a valid Bach imita­tion, either a brand new one, or the one proposed in Example 5.

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