Did Bach really mean that?
Deceptive notation in baroque keyboard music
by Colin Booth

Sample from the start of chapter 3: Problems with Triplets, Part One: Synchronisation from the 17th to the 19th century

In the last chapter we discovered that at its most basic level notation was a flexible and imprecise language during the Baroque period — and that notes presented on the page might be played either shorter or longer than they appear. The next stage is to consider the notation of pairs of notes. When contained within a pair, two notes could have their proportionate lengths altered by circumstances, so that one of two apparently equal notes might be played longer than the other. In addition, where dotted pairs, rather than equal pairs, are concerned, the literal values of the two notes could also be disregarded.

One common circumstance where this was likely to happen was where a succession of triplets occurs in the music. Triplets consist of three equal notes played in the time normally allowed for two. This chapter will examine the notational compromises which composers were happy to make in order to write material which, although consisting of notes grouped into pairs, was to be played in the same rhythm as triplets.

This convention is generally known as Synchronisation. Under it, music in one part is written in a form strictly incompatible with the material written for another, but the player is expected to ignore this incompatibility. When keyboard music is being considered, this effectively means that music for the right hand is rhythmically incompatible with that given for the left. This is a Baroque phenomenon, but one which lasted considerably longer than is generally recognised. The chapter will therefore conclude with a substantial, if cursory, exploration of the persistence of synchronisation within much more recent music.


See the sample from the next chapter, or buy the book.