First editions of JS Bach's music published during his lifetime are of the greatest rarity at auction. Only about twenty works were published by Bach and most of these are unobtainable. This is the only major source for the "Goldberg" Variations: no autograph manuscript exists.
The "Goldberg" Variations BWV 988 represents the apogee of the Baroque variation form and is among Bach's most important keyboard works. The edition is beautifully engraved and is one of the finest and rarest music editions of the eighteenth century. It is the primary source for the "Goldberg" Variations: with the exception of a transcription of the opening aria by Anna Magdalena Bach in her "Klavierbüchlein", all the other surviving manuscripts of the work are apparently based directly or indirectly on this first edition.
The present copy is unrecorded. Eighteen surviving copies are located in the critical report to the modern scholarly complete edition (1981); all of these are now in institutional libraries. There is no copy in the Bach-Archiv in Leipzig, nor the Bach-Haus in Eisenach. Copies have been sold in these rooms in 1925, 1959 (now at Princeton), and finally in 1992 (still in private hands). A few others offered by Liepmannssohn of Berlin between 1893 and 1926 are untraced or lost.
The snake watermark in this copy, which is discernible on only a few leaves, would appear to be the same as that on Bach's own Handexemplar, which is now in the Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris. However, there seems to have been only one issue of the first edition of the "Goldberg Variations" and so the four observable paper-types in the known copies do not indicate a chronological sequence.
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