Kickstarting free, open recordings of Bach's "Well-Tempered Clavier, Book 1"


Repeat previous comments: While I would love to see copyright back where it was so top-quality recordings became available without restrictions, I honestly don’t see significant value to unrestricted mediocre performances.

When you want something in the worst way, that’s generally the way you’re gonna get it.

We already have open-source copies of all of these. They’re called “sheet music”. Playback units are widely available.


Hi technogeekagain. I very much agree with you that there is not much value in mediocre performances. That’s why we’ve taken great pains to make sure this recording will be of the highest quality. 6 full days in the Teldex Studio - one of the finest in the world. A hand-picked Bösendorfer. A brilliant record producer (Anne-Marie Sylvestre). And, of course, the pianist. I won’t say much about Kimiko Ishizaka since I am far from objective on the matter, but reviewers of the Open Goldberg Variations, our last effort had this to say:

“Ishizaka’s interpretation is characterised by straightforward
musicianship, immaculate technical aplomb, and a warm, beautifully
modulated sonority. Counterpoint passes back and forth between the
hands in a conversational and judiciously balanced manner, while a
strong lyrical impulse informs the cross-handed variations’ rapid,
bravura passages.” – Jed Distler, Gramophone Magazine

“She has the fleet fingers to speed through the virtuoso variations
with compelling clarity and the sensitivity to probe the dramatic
potential of the slower, more profound numbers, pleasurably aided by
her consistently lovely tone. “ - Robert Schulslaper, Fanfare Magazine

This is not going to be a mediocre effort.

Furthermore, to your “sheet music” comment, I believe you didn’t watch the video on the Kickstarter page that enumerates on the technical advantages of digital scores in the MuseScore format:

You see, we are making that is so much more than sheet music.


Robert Douglass
Director, Open Goldberg


Agreed, and there is a nice site called IMSLP that is neck-deep in PD sheet music. In this particular case, look here: WTC Book 1 and here: WTC Book II. Highly recommended.


No. Watch the video. We’re missing a fairly large aspect of the project, and can’t really have an informed conversation, if you don’t at least acknowledge that a scan of a very old piece of paper is not the same as a digital edition.

We love IMSLP - and hope that our contribution to the very pages you linked to will be as popular as our contributions to the Golberg Variations pages:,BWV_988(Bach,_Johann_Sebastian)

Dammit Cory, just take my pay-cheque to distribute to Kickstarter projects! :smile:


Ha! That’s what I’ve been doing for the past 6 months preparing for this project :wink:

Based on her track record (f’r’instance: winning the German Music Competition in '98, the Open Goldberg Variations recordings), I expect this project to be anything but mediocre. Sylvestre is a very good producer, the studio is excellent, the instrument will be grand (heh-heh), and it’s great to see names like Parma and Naxos involved. IOW, your previous complaint that, “[f]ree and open is fine, but good performances and recordings is arguably is more important” seems to be answered here.

(Plus the intangibles – plucky husband-and-wife team composed of a Drupal code warrior and a prize-winning petite powerlifting pianist.)

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We agree that a scan – or a re-typesetting or other straight transcription – of a printed score is not the same as an audio recording.

We disagree on whether an annotated combined score/recording/metadata (which appears to be what the MuseScore format and tooling is reinventing) is a big deal for the average consumer. Worthwhile as a pedagogical tool, sure. But I don’t think the fact that it is “free, open recordings” is really the point worth selling, and that’s the point which has been pushed most strongly here on BoingBoing. That may be a matter of BoingBoing’s biases, of course.

Got it. For me, I look forward to an internet that actually knows how to read music. I look forward to a time when a text-based language, such as music notation, is not treated as an esoteric 3rd-class citizen on the internet. Our browsers can render 3D models of objects, represent whole universes for MMORPGs, draw SVG, run spreadsheets, do video chat, and so much more, but they can’t print a Middle C (natively). They can’t play an F#. And a universal language that is so central to our experience as humans - music - something that has been written consistently for centuries, can’t be copied and pasted between programs. I see MuseScore editions of public domain works as a first step in building a critical mass of actual digital scores, and I expect that eventually, hopefully, the capabilities of the internet will finally evolve to utilize these libraries.


So…tell me you’ve got a plugin on the drawing board ;-)

gosh, I wish :frowning:

Most browsers can happily play a middle C or F# by referencing a MIDI file, or an audio file, or loading a simple ABC player (which is about as “text” a music representation as one could hope for, and which is limited thereby) or other app.

There are lots of existing solutions to music markup. Many are PD and/or opensource, and are already in use. The fact that you’re reinventing that basic layer, without justifying what your solution does that the others (with or without expansion and/or plugins and/or whatever) can’t, is not reassuring.

What you’re describing as desirable is tooling, not a new notation or new content.

My Score Exchange profile and at least one other place where I have combined score and audio online, (Prelude on “Es ist ein Ros’ entsprungen”), so I’m neither entirely ignorant of the differences nor entirely indifferent to them. If nothing else, it’s less painful to create a digital score than one with pen and paper.

Nonetheless, those old scores have primacy - if you are basing something on them for extension by the public, you had better add real value. I found the playing on the Goldberg project less than enthralling (and, yeah, I did look in on that one a while ago). De gustibus non est disputandum, I suppose, but the truth is, if I were to do a “mix culture” arrangement of Bach (and I don’t lack appreciation for that either), I’d want to start from my own audio. (It would make for less work because the working materials would diverge less from how I hear things, hence the primacy of the freely available old score.).

What MuseScore is doing isn’t really anything new - Finale, Igor and Sibelius were doing the same thing years ago, albeit with proprietary formats. MuseScore, if anything, suffers a bit from the fact that it isn’t quite there yet for professional work, although I don’t doubt we’ll see improvement. (I do use it for simpler works.) None of these companies saw the idea take off the way they thought it would. Sibelius scores, for one, weren’t limited to the SibeliusMusic site; you could embed them pretty nearly anywhere, and read them back by loading a freely available browser plug-in (state of the art back then). It may be significant that SibMus’ successor site, Score Exchange, has started showing embedded PDFs, rather than embedded SIB files, as default.

Heck, I recall a Web-based programme that allowed for collaborating on scores - it hasn’t gone very far either. There isn’t going to be a silver bullet for music literacy that way. MuseScore may or may not have a better run than the big commercial programmes in this regard, but I don’t expect to see the leap in magnitude you’d need for native browser support for, say, MusicXML. The biggest growth, in both numbers and audience, I’ve seen so far is in score-based videos similar to my own example.

As long as you’re watching this thread, 3 questions: (I’d ask on the KS page, but it’s Facebook-only for login…)

I’d like to send a few bucks your way for this; is Kickstarter the only route? (As in, I’d rather send a check so that you guys get all the money; plus, don’t want/need any premiums.)

I’d like to go to the Ann Arbor performance (fingers crossed for the visa), but can’t tell from the Google+ page how to get tickets. How do I get tickets?

And, out of curiosity, why is there no 16-bit/44.1K lossless file on offer? For folks who burn files to CD, or stream using old-fart solutions like AirPlay or Sonos, the 24-bit downloads seem like unnecessary bandwidth.

We’re not reinventing anything. I described to you a vision of the internet that I hope will come true. The Kickstarter project is specifically about creating the score and the recording. Hopefully the score will contribute to a library of such scores that beckon developers to utilize them in interesting ways. I wouldn’t be so presumptuous as to go and ask for money to create a replacement technology for something that already exists unless I had a clearly superior technical reason to do so. I’ve been in open source software long enough to know better =)

The fact remains - the state of standardization and implementation of music notation software on the internet is dismal. I’m very happy that with MuseScore I can at least have some of the functionality I dream of.

Is there no real value in having a cleanly typeset edition that is also digital? And public domain? Most of the public domain scans are of horrible editions, or composer manuscripts that are good for academics but impossible to read in performance.

That cuts pretty much to the core of the matter. All the people who invested their life’s work into Sibelius files, only to learn that the product is (or is close to) end of life, with no recourse to continue; that’s the beauty of open source and standardized formats. That’s the message we’re promoting.

So MuseScore already kicks their butts there … completely HTML5 based embedding with no browser plugin needed.

Because it is proprietary and not based on open standards that can leverage large libraries of public goods - the exactly libraries that we’re building =)

That’s because the underlying programs - the browsers - haven’t made music notation a native thing. And that is, in part, because there is no huge library of must-have scores for them to draw upon. Thus our motivation for making said libraries.

Cool! via PayPal works. It goes into the the Open Goldberg Project (EIN 27-3992022) bank account, and all of it will finance the creation of public domain goods.

It’s free! Just show up, and say “Hi!” after the gig =)

It’s easier to offer higher bitrate files and let people convert them down than the other way around. I actually had make such files for iTunes and Spotify, but never knew anyone would prefer them.

I’m still trying to understand what makes your proposal “clearly superior” technically. Something isn’t clear.

Not so. If you go through IMSLP, a surprising amount has been contributed in the form of digitally typeset files in Finale, Sibelius, Lilypond or MuseScore formats, usually with the typesetting files available alongside the PDFs, especially for popular composers like Bach. (That was standard for the Werner Icking archive, and IMSLP took over that archive whole.)

Now, if you were proposing to do it for underexposed composers, maybe something like the complete Strasbourg MS of J. J. Froberger or the collected piano works of Nikolai Roslavetz (who is PD here in Canada)…

Bach doesn’t need the advocacy, and focussing on composers who aren’t so exposed might actually make clear that there is something for everyone’s tastes, not restricted to include just the canonical Great Men. (In many cases, fame isn’t just about talent or genius anyway: it includes exposure, and a person like Roslavetz, as an example, being on the wrong side of Stalin, just wouldn’t get that exposure.)

Doesn’t much matter, really. I still use the programme (an older version, no less) - it does what I need it to do, and it does support a MusicXML plug-in if I need to exchange a score between programmes. If I need to display the output publicly, I create a PDF, which is as bog-standard a format as can be had (even though it is proprietary). When the available operating systems no longer support it, well, I have older hardware stashed away - it doesn’t “chug” on older systems.

In many regards, it doesn’t really matter whether the software is open or not, provided it supports standards (open or not) that really are standard. One of the points where these “playable scores” fall down, however, is not in presentation of the score, but in that the standard for playback, quite bluntly, sucks - General MIDI makes for a bad (and entirely too variable) representation of the audio. I suspect that is why Score Exchange has gone for PDF + MP3 - it isn’t that much work to flip the pages while listening, but the audio is likely to be more representative. (Edit: One of the reasons, I should say - the lack of support on Avid’s part for the Scorch plug-in was the main reason, true enough, but many of the user community had been pressing long before for something similar anyway.)

I have my sincerest doubts that following along with a score will ever be popular, whether you have a large library or not, easily presented in a browser or not (and achieving that goal requires rather more than exposing works that are extremely well-exposed to start with - see above). It would require cultivating a culture of literate music-making, the production of written music (whether as performer or composer, or both), in a society that is awash in music consumption. That sort of relationship to the score was lost when the parlour piano went out of style and these newfangled devices like radios and phonographs took over.

I’m actually agnostic about the relative merits of written music vs improvised music or that in an oral tradition. Good music can be had either way. I just happen to fall into the literate camp because that’s the kind I find in me to do. There will always be people like me writing music, and always at least some audience for us. However, it does take considerable effort to learn the ropes. In a parlour piano culture, that effort is just part of daily life (i.e., if you don’t entertain yourself, who will?), but in our society, not that many people (relatively speaking - still quite a large number in absolute terms) are willing to spend the time needed, and they have ample means to consume music without that effort. In popular culture, they have ample means to make music without that effort as well.


Ok, this is going to be somewhat, but not quite off topic. I’d just started watching “Demons”, a Mario Bava film. The start has a girl clutching sheet music while riding a subway. Since it was Bava, I figured the sheet music might be worth paying attention to. It was. The score was for Bartok’s ’ “Mikrokosmos” and now that I have looked it up, I would 1) love to hear it and 2) have the sheets for at least the earlier (easier) parts. One is not a problem…Two is.