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'Hand distribution' is one possible term for that element in the linotation of keyboard music by which a composer (or his copyist) signifies what notes are to be played by which hand, particularly how any free or virtuoso passages are to be distributed between the hands and passed from one to the other. We could also speak of dividing the lines' or 'separating the passagework, although these might not apply to all situations. Passagework separated or alternated between left and right will often take the form of something like that shown in ex.i.
Systematically dividing the inner parts of contrapuntal music between the hands is something that certain earlier 18th-century repertories seem deliberately to require (the Inventions, Das wohltemperierte Clavier, book 1) and is a subsidiary issue in this discussion, since the technique need not imply anything about articulation and is required for the player to preserve the contrapuntal part-writing, i.e. to play the notes at all. More relevant to present considerations is the dividing of lines between the hands as a deliberate effect, as when it is demanded by Scarlatti for passages that could be played more easily in some other way (ex.2, illus.1). Of particular consideration for the keyboard music of J. S. Bach is the first of these notational gestures (ex.1), although a rounded view of keyboard thinking in the earlier 18th century would obviously find much for contemplation in ex.2. Surely changing the hands in ex.2 gives a different articulation and is not meant to be an identical, wooden repetition? For the player, the second certainly feels different from the first.
The examples of careful hand-distribution offered by authoritative copies of Handel's harpsichord preludes deserve separate consideration.(1) It is only to be expected that in using this notational detail Handel would be joined by other composers of keyboard music published between 1710 and 174o, such as Mattheson and J. S. Bach, Couperin and Rameau, Scarlatti and della Ciaja (see illus-2,3). However, this is not always the case, and it is particularly striking, considering their place of publication (London) and their composer's circle of acquaintance (Handel in Hamburg), that Johann Mattheson's Pieces de clavecin en deux volumes of 1714 do not show passagework distributed between the hands in this way. The first movements of Mattheson's first two suites begin with preludes in which one might expect a composer to suggest some such distribution. Perhaps he did suggest it and the engraver simplified or regularized the notation, misunderstanding the position of the note-tails (up for right, down for left) and believing that they should be up or down depending only on where the notes come in the staff. He would not be the only publisher whose 'house rules' have blotted out an author's intentions.
It is also possible, however, that the Hanseatic organists had no very subtle idea of passagework, for Mattheson's edition of Niedt's Musicalische Handleitung (1721) recommends improvised preludes in which hands take over only when the phrases (each one bar long, thus with no implied subtlety of phraseology) pass to their part of the keyboard (thus with no implied subtlety of articulation.(2) In any case, it is not at all certain where, when or why the notation for showing hand-division first appeared. Musicalische Handleitung is one of the few theory books that even obliquely refers to the practice. There is no hint, as far as I can see, in an earlier major German treatise that (though unpublished) seems to have influenced it-j. G. Walther's Praecepta of 1708,(3) drafted in Weimar just as J. S. Bach joined the musical establishment there. Walther's later reference in his Lexicon of 1732 to the use in keyboard scores (Tabulatur-Sachen - either …