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Thread: Technical query - Bach note check

  1. #1
    Commodore con Forza Soubasse's Avatar
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    Technical query - Bach note check

    Hi all,

    I would have put this in the Passacaglia thread that I started, but it's gone off the page and it's a mildly different question even though it's the same piece (if that makes sense!).

    I'm hoping someone who is savvy with advanced Baroque harmonic practices can enlighten me here. I was practicing the Bach Passacaglia earlier today and for the first time in a long time, had a solid look at Variation 8. I'm playing off an old Novello edition (not by choice, it's a hand-me-down and I've never been able to afford a more authoritative edition!) so I'm open to the fact that there may be a misprint.

    In both the 2nd and 3rd bars of Variation 8, the appearance of d-flat is immediately contradicted by a d-natural in another part a semiquaver later. If this is - as far as anyone knows - actually correct, can someone actually explain the harmonic grounding here? It has me a little mystified. I was also wondering if JSB's use of it here is in any way related to the dramatic pause on the Neapolitan 6th near the end of the fugue.

    Speaking of the fugue, at the very start, this edition slurs the first two quavers of each group. Does anyone else have this and if so, is it possibly JSB?

    Any help would be much appreciated.

    Matt
    Music is made to transform the states of the soul, for an hour or an instant (J. Alain)

  2. #2
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    Hi Matt

    Not a clue mate.

    But, I have a friend over here (he's from sort of down your way originally) and he specialises in Bach.

    He only plays piano tho, so I don't know if it makes a difference, but I can easily ask him.

    Let me know if you'd like me to.

    Neil

  3. #3
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    That d-flat is also in my version. It is most likely original and its purpose is to tonicize the key of F minor (d-flat being the 6th degree in F minor and very usual in descending motion). There is by no means a "neapolitan 6th" chord occurring there (the chord occuring is F minor which temporarily becomes the tonal center). The d-natural which occurs right after on the 2nd half of the beat is appropriate of the ascending melodic motion occurring in this voice, in F minor (notice the E natural leading up to the upcoming F of the 2nd beat).
    Just a simple tonicization (short, temporary modulation) of the current chord using degrees from its scale.
    Bear in mind that despite Bach's time period and contrapuntal style his harmonic language was for the most part very rooted in tonal harmony, as opposed to the previous generation (Froberger for example) and even some contemporaries whose harmony was more modal-flavored (a lot of use of the minor 7th degree in chords in the minor mode for example), very baroque.

    The first 2 quavers in this repating motive in the fugue exposition are also slurred in my downloaded version. It is possibly also original although I have rarely seen slurs in scans of Bach's original keyboard scores. (I've seen them in violin scores where they would indicate the bowing to be executed). I'd say they're original in this case.
    Last edited by PraeludiumUndFuge; Apr-20-2007 at 10:27.

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    Commodore con Forza Soubasse's Avatar
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    Okay, that makes sense - thanks PUF (may I call you that? ). Missing the e-natural (ie, leading note of f minor) makes me feel rather stupid, especially since the d and e-natural together give the melodic minor feel.

    No, I'd certainly never thought of it as another Neapolitan, I was just wondering if it could be seen as a kind of 'anticipation' since the IV minor and the flat IIb chords share two of the same notes (in this case, the f and the a-flat ... we need music symbol fonts for these conversations!). Anyway, I'm glad to have a little more light shone there - thanks again.

    Yes, slurring in JSB always seems to be a curly one. (I still hear people arguing about the whether the slurring at the start of the 'Dorian' is authentic). My feeling about the start of the fugue here is that it makes musical sense, even from a Baroque/Bach point of view. My other feeling is that the main theme could be played more legato, offsetting the more articulate quaver figure.
    Music is made to transform the states of the soul, for an hour or an instant (J. Alain)

  5. #5
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    No problem Soubasse. In Bach's music I think every note can be accounted for from a harmonic standpoint. In that one case it would most likely indicate an F minor tonicization even if there were no e-natural to reinforce this sense.

    As far as my version of the dorian there are no slurs. The passacaglia is the one rare case I have seen of a slurring in all the Bach organ literature I have which surprised me. I don't think slurs are authentic in the case of the dorian fugue but of course the interpretation is up to the performer. I tend to dryly articulate the notes in that fugue theme with no slurring. I think i've heard slurring in a recording of it somewhere. For the most part I'd say there are no notated slurs in Bach keyboard music but since the Passacaglia was written to be played in special circumstances I'm not so sure about the slur indicated there.

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