Polymeter in Bach

From WTC I, how can we do the polymeter here?

Since they are commensurate, I thought one could put in a staff specific time signature with Alt-Return, but I suppose I am imagining it.

  1. You need to make the sixteenths hidden triplets.
  2. On the top staff, you need to make the time signature of the first measure 24/16, 16 to make the pickup measure the equivalent of a 4/4
  3. You need to put a hidden 4/4 time signature in the top voice second measure.


@Derrek Ah that’s it! I recall now an article on Scoring Notes on how to do this. Thanks for jogging my memory!

Good old Bach, eh?


I was waiting for this one to come along … :slightly_smiling_face:

Now if only one could center the C or 4/4 under the 24/16 … I don’t see a way.

Here I would use MisGlyphs for the top meter, and hide the real one.

Now that typo might be taken as an insult if you were not the creator of the font! :laughing:

Ah – And @Andro if you hide the independent meter and use triplets, the meter could even still be C! So you wouldn’t have to mess with the pickup-and-remeter trick.


You could replace the C-Meter with the corresponding Music Text glyph:

In the Henle Verlag the c is left aligned to the 24/16, as Dorico also does. Not something that bothers me.

The same in the New Bach Edition (Bärenreiter) which consequently indicates both meters on both systems, since the sixteenth notes also occur on the left.

I wonder what Bach himself wrote on the original score–if that is even available any more.

Complete autograph facsimile is available, at IMSLP for free, and in hardback from Barenreiter for 320 euros (gasp).


[Note soprano clef, which was nornal, and what I am doing in my edition (later).]


There’s no autograph of Book II by the way.


Interesting also the beaming of the left hand

At positions beyond the preamble (ie not directly at the start of the flow or a system), you can do this – just in case you weren’t aware.


Interesting. It looks like Bach chose the C to fit with the beginning of the LH part and then didn’t go back to change it later!

True. Within a few decades the practice had changed to just writing triplets, perhaps indicating the first bar’s worth of 3s. By 20th century some stopped writing even the first tuplet numbers and let the pianist figure it out. Nowadays I think as an editor I would prefer to see the first ‘3’ in each hand, and that would be enough because of the beaming.

Even as a kid I found the opening 24/16 and C to be strange, when the hands exchange rhythms so soon after – and later, multiple times within a bar. Busoni’s edition more accurately writes “C 24/16” on both staves (which I note is doable in Dorico without a workaround!)

Bach’s very long bars are fascinating (Brandenburg 3-III and 4-I come to mind, as well as the opening movement of Cantata 1). It really shows something different in phrasing than shorter bars would – though sometimes in those other pieces a phrase begins and ends mid-bar.

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But the time signature in the right hand would then have to be C and not 24/16, where the sixteenth notes are not considered to be tuplets.

Yes, that’s what I meant. It’s the more modern style. Not that we should ever forget the originals.

@Alberto_Maria that’s a different MS copy by the way. Just right now I can’t recall the copyist.

Yes, but really astonishing the precision! (Except for the title!)
Das wohltemperierte Klavier I, BWV 846-869 (Bach, Johann Sebastian) - IMSLP: Free Sheet Music PDF Download (for copyist’s names)

Thank you for satisfying my curiosity.

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