Document Type


Date of Degree

Spring 2013

Degree Name

DMA (Doctor of Musical Arts)

Degree In


First Advisor

Lecuona, Rene

First Committee Member

Tsachor, Uriel

Second Committee Member

Conklin, Scott

Third Committee Member

Jones, Susan Sondrol

Fourth Committee Member

Skiff, Frederick N.


Wilhelm Kempff was one of the greatest pianists of the twentieth century, and his interpretation of Germanic piano literature has been honored in Europe, Africa, Asia, and America by many distinguished musicians and music-lovers. But perhaps because he was already sixty-nine years old at the time of his American debut in New York in 1964, his reputation as a pianist tends to be disregarded in English speaking nations. Even Alfred Brendel acknowledges in his book Me of All People: "I return again and again to Kempff, because he is a pianist who seems frequently underestimated today." Furthermore, Kempff's activities as a transcriber, organist, and composer are even less well known. Thus this paper will introduce Wilhelm Kempff's life and music, and present a study of his solo piano transcriptions of J. S. Bach's chorale preludes for organ.

In Kempff's autobiographical novel, Unter Dem Zimbelstern: Das Werden eines Musikers ("Under the Cymbal Star: The Development of a Musician"), a Bildungsroman ("education novel") published in 1951 when he was fifty-six years old, he describes the environment in which he grew up: an environment steeped in music and Protestantism. Within a strong family tradition of church music organists, he heard Bach's organ repertoire, as well as conversations about Lutheran faith. His father and paternal grandfather were both Lutheran church organists, and Kempff too was an excellent organist. J. S. Bach's organ repertoire, especially his chorale for organ, were deeply ingrained in Kempff's childhood. It is generally very difficult to find sacred music repertoire for the piano; however, Kempff's transcriptions of the chorale preludes represent a small--though important--contribution of sacred literature to the piano repertoire.

In The Pianist's Guide to Transcriptions, Arrangements, and Paraphrases, Maurice Hinson characterizes Kempff's transcriptions as follows: "Kempff makes clear distinctions between the various parts and uses ingenious fingering to create beautiful legato (without relying totally on the pedal). He also seems to enjoy the interplay of tone colors, finding the right register, and establishing the particular timbre of each part in polyphonic writing." This paper will examine: 1) basic transcription techniques; 2) coloration/timbre; 3) fingering to create beautiful legato; 4) pedaling; and 5) pedagogical suggestions.

Kempff transcribed eight of Bach Chorales for solo piano, two of which will be discussed in this paper: 1) Ich ruf zu dir, Herr Jesu Christ ("I call to you, Lord Jesus Christ" BWV639,); 2) Nun Komm der Heiden Heiland ("The Saviour of the Heathen now comes," BWV659a). This paper also will present a brief history of piano transcriptions, followed by a detailed analysis of the two chorales, examining Kempff's methods through comparison with the original works for organ, and demonstrating how Kempff's musicianship as a pianist and organist is reflected in his Bach transcriptions.


Bach, BWV 639, BWV 659, Kempff, Organ Choral Prelude, Piano Transcription


viii, 89 pages


Includes bibliographical references (pages 85-89).


Copyright 2013 Jung-Ok Lee

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