Recordings/Discussions
Background Information
Performer Bios

Poet/Composer Bios

Additional Information

Bach Composing
Part 1

Bach composing at the keyoard?

Dick Wursten wrote (January 29, 2003):
Thomas Braatz writes about Bachs way of composing complex musical constructions (i.c. bwv 3, mvt 1)
>> This manner of conceiving with apparent ease an idea and working it out with such depth and attention to detail is the mark of a great genius. It is related by one of his students (I could not find this source, but I remember reading about this), that Bach would play some of his own works on the harpsichord for this student. Sometimes, to the amazement of the student, Bach would take a chorale to play an then proceed to perform what seemed to be a chorale mvt. such as this with all the parts, vocal and instrumental. This would seem to indicate the same method of composing that has also been described elsewhere: working out certain things on the keyboard first, but then, when many of the key musical figures were in place, begin to set things down on paper without having to refer back to the keyboard. He did this type of thing with the keyboard partitas where he would stay up late to make certain that they were playable before committing himself to a final version. [Again, I do not have the source available on this, but I believe I read this in the Bach-Dokumente.]<<
The only references I can think of with my limited knowlegde are:
1. The way Bach improvised on the Royal Theme in Potsdam, resulting afterwards in 'The Musical Gift'. This is entirely in line with the laudatios you read everywhere about his organ-improvisations [in outline prepared ?].
2. The testimony of pupils: Carl Philipp Emanuel relates that Bach did not give theoretical lessons but practical exercises. making copies of chorals, giving them adding S and B, they having to add A and T etc... Heinrich Nicolaus Gerber studied with Bach for two years. He relates the story of Bach making him play his Inventions, then some suites, then Das Wohltemperierte Klavier. The last one was first played several times by Bach. Learning by being shown and doing it yourself.

About Bach playing his own compositions on any keyboard to check the playability, I never heard of before and Bach really composing at his keyboard is also new to me...

Till now I always imagined him at his desktop with a piece of paper in front of him, picking up a pen, looking to the opposite wall or through the window and then starting to write down his invention, the structure of the composition in mind [or on another paper] and so forth till the whole score in outline was clear to him. Composing and checking inventions at the keyboard sounds more like Beethoven IMHO. So curious for the sources, and always eager to learn...

Thomas Braatz wrote (January 29, 2003):
Dick Wursten commented:
>>About Bach playing his own compositions on any keyboard to check the playability, I never heard of before and Bach really composing at his keyboard is also new to me... Till now I always imagined him at his desktop with a piece of paper in front of him, picking up a pen, looking to the opposite wall or through the window and then starting to write down his invention, the structure of the composition in mind [or on another paper] and so forth till the whole score in outline was clear to him. Composing and checking inventions at the keyboard sounds more like Beethoven IMHO. So curious for the sources, and always eager to learn...<<
Considering Bach a "Klavierritter" ["a knight of the keyboard" - a pejorative term for those composers who sat at the keyboard, tried out each next chord or musical figure before committing it to paper which was on the music stand above the keyboard"] is certainly going much too far with the comments I had inserted. The compositional process in Bach's case was more likely one of an improvisation to which he might return a few times on different occasions until it began to take a shape that he could live with. Then in his attempt to put these ideas on paper (his first copy or writing down on paper) without recourse to any keyboard instrument, other possibilities that he may have been hearing in his head (the instrumentation, the detailed connections between the text and music, etc.) would present themselves. Even in his truly original compositions ('truly original' here means that he is not copying from another work by him which he is adapting and revising, for instance, a secular to sacred cantata) where his handwriting indicates that he is working very fast (all the dots and tittles are not lined up accurately as they usually would be in a 'clean' copy which is, in essence, of an already existing composition,) Bach only infrequently finds it necessary to correct 'false starts' or to 'try out a new form of the melody line in some vacant margin. This implies that he basically had the composition fairy well in mind before committing it to paper.

The situation related about the partitas is rather unique in that he was trying to make certain that certain passages were truly playable. He would 'practice' such passages and possibly make some slight revisions in the already existing score. He did not, in any case, compose the partitas primarily from playing them or short portions of them, and then writing down only in bits and pieces whatever he just played on the keyboard.

I will try to find these quotes that I referred to earlier. I had already spent an hour looking for them the other day and could not find them. Now it seems it may be worth another try. If and when I find them, I will immediately share them with the list.

I believe that another type of compositional process may also have taken place: the unfolding of a germinal idea or concept (the antithesis kernel, for instance) may have presented itself directly to his mind with no need for any keyboard at any point along the way. This might appear as only 1, 2, or 3 measures of choir and orchestral parts condensed into only a few staffs. If I were to choose a 'likely suspect' in the 1st mvt. of BWV 3, it would be the final 'overlapping' where the choir ends and the ritornello has already begun. Since such a kernel would, unlike a single melodic line that Bach might occasionally place in a margin or an unused part of the music paper that he had prepared, take up more space and would be written on a piece of scratch paper that would be destined for destruction or use elsewhere; hence we have no evidence of this, but I think the possibility might nevertheless exist. From such a kernel the rest of the mvt. would begin to unfold more easily because the kernel contains the ultimate confluence of all the materials needed in the mvt.: all the instruments and voices are involved simultaneously at the highpoint of the cantata mvt. The image that comes to my mind here is that this is the point 'where the snake bites its own tail' - it is the ending but also the beginning at the same time.

Hugo Saldias wrote (January 29, 2003):
[To Thomas Braatz] I agreee with all you wrote above. However there is something you did not mention: IMPROVISATION.

Some compositions like the Fantasie and Fugue in g min are improvistary style and he improvised more than he wrote. Improvisation is what links us to him: He did it during his time. Some musicians do it during our time.

Ludwig wrote (January 30, 2003):
[To Dick Wursten] Who can really say that Bach composed in this manner--using a keyboard.

I for one given Bach's genius believe (as Dick seems sto have initially done) that he did not have to rely on any instrument but could hear in his mind's ear the notes that he wanted to write and the relationships that each not had to each other and then wrote it down on paper. In the years when Bach was learning to compose; he may have done as Dick states because Bach may not have been so sure footed then.

Lesser talents would have taken the long drawn out amateurish method of playing a passage then writing it down instead of the more fluid flowing method of writing as one would write a letter to a friend. This method offers the freedom of not being a slave to some instrument so that one can compose any. Aaron Copland once told me that he had freed himself many years ago in Paris of instrumental slavery and he advised anyone serious about composition should do so. If one knows the relationships of notes to one another one can write as one's mind's ear dictates and then check for any errors such as a misjudged sharp, flate or natural. This method is part of the usual training for singers known as sight singing. TRY IT while trying to free yourself of being a slave to an instrument.

Now as someone rather experienced at this – accidents do happen when playing something and another idea comes to fore and in the heat of the moment one takes off on this new idea or variation of the work being played. It happens to me all the time and sometimes I see a passage I wrote and think that was dumb and change things so that newer passage is better or seems so.

As talented and gifted as Bach was; to my ears he could have used come help in learning to orchestrate (Rimsky-Korsakov once said that orchestration could not be taught but I do not agree especially in this age of computers). Handel and Lully were masters at this compared to Bach but then they also had regular,dependalble (usually) players at hand to experment with.

Yes, there are some marvelous passages and figures such as last part of the St. Matthew Passion (BWV 244) which many people heard for their first time in THE TALENTED MR. RIPLEY but there are many passages that could use a less thick monochromatic.

Musical Pedagogy of the fundamental methodology sort has changed little since the days of Bach. Today if you walk into a classroom at Julliard or the Paris Conservatory or the New England Conservatory; one will find a student who has struggled to learn the material for the lesson that day playing with teacher noting rather severely in some cases the errors of the student and then illustrating to the student how it should be played better and in some cases playing it with the teacher then playing it to the teachers satisfaction. At Julliard, the teaching method is relentless and one either does it or gets kick out of the program. I do not know if this is really bad or is a badge of courage as some who have flunked out of Julliard have gone on to great thing --- perhaps they are like Einstein who flunked out of University because he spent too much time on wine women and song.

David Zale wrote (January 31, 2003):
[To Ludwig] The legend of the Musical Offering states that Bach first improvised at the keyboard a fugue based on a chromatic theme presented to him during his visit to Frederick II's court in 1747. He later proceded to write it down and elaborate on it in many ways to give us this enduring treasure. There is no doubt that he did not NEED to use a keyboard in order to compose. Interestingly enough Beethoven was also a legendary improviser in his time, yet his composition style is equally legendary in the extreme opposite sense. He seems to have used every trick in the book to work out his compositions. I for one can find no higher position for either composer in terms of mastery of expression of the soul. Interesting to think about...

 

Bach's methods of composition

Jack Botelho wrote (February 10, 2004):
The following may be of some interest to some on this list:

"Bach's vast knowledge of the musical repertory was a decisive factor behind his art. He had an intimate knowledge of the types and styles of composition of his time and in particular of the work of his most important contemporaries; moreover, he had a sound idea of the music of the past, extending back as far as Frescobaldi and Palestrina. The study of works by other masters went hand in hand with experimentation in his own. It is thus characteristic that his acquaintance with the works of Buxtehude and Bohm, with Vivaldi's concertos, with the Passions of Keiser and Handel and with the masses of Lotti and Palestrina should have left an immediate imprint on his compositions in the same genres. It was less a matter of imitation of a model than of an awareness of the possibilities, an expansion of his own manner of writing and a stimulation of his musical ideas. This is confirmed in a contemporary report by T.L. Pitschel on his manner of improvisation, according to which, before beginning his own fantasia, Bach as a rule played from music a work by another master (or perhaps one of his own) which would ignite his imagination. Further, C.P.E. Bach wrote that, in accompanying a trio, his father liked to extemporize a fourth part. This tendency to take compositions by others as a starting-point is paralleled in his late adaptations: in his arrangement of Pergolesi's 'Stabat mater' an obbligato viola part is added, replacing the one following the continuo in the original; and his version of the 'Suscepit Israel' from Caldara's 'Magnificat' in C expands it from a five-part into a seven-part piece. An important aspect of Bach's procedure of composition is its systematic and encyclopedic nature. He habitually wrote works of one particular type within a relatively limited period: for example the 'Orgel-Buchlein', the '48', the solo violin sonatas and partitas, the canons, the chorale cantatas etc. He was concerned to try out, to develop and to exhaust specific principles of composition. There are practically no completely isolated compositions. Relationships, correspondences and connections with other works can constantly be found. This approach to the procedure of composition is at once deep and yet of great natural simplicity; and it never results in mere repetition. Certainly there is repetition, of a kind, in the case of parodies or transcriptions of existing works. Yet even here it is inappropriate to speak of repetition, since in the process of parodying and transcribing, Bach always modified so that the end-product represents a fresh stage in the development of the original composition."

Wolff, Christoph: "Bach, Johann Sebastian" in
The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians
2001 edition.

 

The idea or sketch of a composition

Anne Smith wrote (February 13, 2004):
Bradley Lehman said:
< Why can't a composer simply write down an idea as a sketch, and then leave it to the performers to work out some way to make plausible sounds to represent it? >
Because during the late 19th century audiences began to expect performers to play exactly what was written in the score. People scream when a performer changes any notes which Bach wrote. The reaction to Glenn Gould is a good example of this.

< That's what they did. >
For sure, but you can't get away with it today. Have you ever gone to a concert and seen someone following along with a score in his lap just waiting for a "wrong note"?

< The solution here is to stop expecting the music to be read as literally as it appears. >
Yes.

< The "skill of the musician" is to do something intelligent that sounds musically convincing. >
Agreed. Musically convincing to me does not mean playing exactly as the composer would have played it. Musically convincing to many people means trying to copy how the composer played it. If course this will only work with composers who were born after recording equipment was invented.

Donald Satz wrote (February 13, 2004):
[To Anne Smith] I think that performing artists need to follow their own routes in order to best present the music they are playing. That there are listeners who follow with score in hand to find a wayward artist should be of no concern to the artist. By the way, when I'm at concerts the number of score holders in the audience is negligible.

Artists create - listeners listen and pass judgement one way or another. I can't think of anything more screwed up than allowing the listener to influence the artistic process. Also, I feel that most audience members want to enjoy performances rather than picking them apart. Anyways, most couldn't reasonably pick apart a performance if their lives depended on it.

DGlenn Lebut Jr. wrote (February 14, 2004):
[To Donald Satz] I, however, find the opposite to be true. I find that the score should be let to speak for itself with as little (with some exceptions) interference from the performer. The exceptions would be in Baroque (especially in French and Italian Baroque) Keyboard music and in pre-Bachian German (especially North German) Organ music.

To the extent possible, I think that there should be unity in performance of music (especially in such cases as, for example, Bach's Vocal works). I think, especially in Orchestral and Choral music recordings of Bach works, the Conductor should, when performing, keep in mind the role that such a position held in Bach's day. I think that if a work calls for 2 Orchestras, then there should be 2 Orchestras rather than 1 Orschestra split in half. I think that there should be 15-20 musicians in the Orchestra performing (as keeping with the practice of the time). Whilst I do not object to large ensembles performing Orchestral music, I think that there should be an effort made on the part of Conductors and Orchestras towards contemporary performance practices (contemporary for the work performed, that is). I think that the same should go for Choral ensembles. I think that the practice should be reinstated where the soloist in a Choral work actually came from the Choir performing the work rather than as an entity totally separate from the Choir.

In summary, I think that each piece should be performed according to the practice of the time when the work was written. I think that the conductor should be put back in his/her proper place rather than as the one who dictates how the music is to be performed. Personal interpretation on the part of the performer does have its proper place-in the Opera hall, in Concerto performances (in which the soloist makes up his/her own cadenzas), and in pre-Bachian Italian, French, and North German Keyboard and/or Organ music.

Donald Satz wrote (February 14, 2004):
[To David Glenn Lebut Jr.] Given all your "shoulds", aren't you often disappointed with what you hear?

David Glenn Lebut Jr. wrote (February 16, 2004):
[To Dionald Satz] In the case of the Vokalwerke, yes (with the exceptions of Richter and the Thomanerchor Leipzig recordings). However, not so with the Orgelwerke and Klavierwerke. Here, I think that the principle is played out well enough. I espceially like the following artists: Hurford, Rübsam, Stockmeier, Marcon, Vogel, Ramin, Richter, Leonhardt, von Asperen, Koopman, and the like. They bring out the improvisatory elements in Bach's works for Keytboard instruments. I also favor Vogel, van Dijk, Marcon, and teh like in non-Bach Keybaord works.

I think that what often is required is selective listening. If, for example, one was listening to the Praeludium und Fuge c-Moll BWV 549 or its earlier version (the Praeludium [Phantasie] und Fuge d-Moll BWV 549a) or, say, the Tokkate d-Moll BuxWV 155, one should expect a lot of improvisatory stylings in the recordings (since both works were improvisatory). On the other hand, if one was looking for a recording of the Praeludium und Fuge e-Moll BWV 549, one should look for more concreteand "solid" performance (since this was written later in Bach's life, when his Keyboard music was more structured and the form was more concrete). In the case of the former, I favor Marcon and Vogel, in the latter Leonhardt and (especially) Hurford and Richter.

As to the Kammermusik and Orchesterwerke, it depends on the recording. I favor here the Philips recordings of the Kammermusic, Leonhardt's recordings of the Klavierkonzerte, and the "Bach: Made in Germany" recordings of the ORchesterwerke, as well as Goebel's recordings of the Orchesterouvertueren (including BWV 1070) and the Bach Edition Leipzig recordings of the earlier versions of the Konzerte BWV 1046-1051 and 1045 and 1040.

 

Fascinating article: What Bach could have taught Spinoza about Judaism

Peter Bright wrote (February 25, 2004):
I found this article really interesting about Bach's adherence to the traditional rules of composition. Not sure I agree with the general line (with respect to religious law) that the author is taking, but he raises some good insights about why Bach might be, for example, a greater musical genius than Beethoven:

I have pasted just a section below. The full article is available at: http://www.jewishworldreview.com/0204/cardozo_bach_spinoza.php3

CREATIVITY FROM ADHERING TO TRADITION
What we discover is that the self-imposed restrictions of Bach to keep to the traditional rules of composition forced him to become the author of such outstandingly innovative music that nobody after him was ever able to follow in his footsteps. It was within the "confinement of the law" that Bach burst out with unprecedented creativity. This proves, against all expectations, that the "finiteness" of the law leads to infinite riches. What Bach proved as nobody else was that it is not in novelty that one reaches the deepest of all human creative experiences, but in the capacity to descend to the depths of what is already given. Bach's works were entirely free of any innovation, but utterly new in originality.

This type of conventional creativity we do not find in Beethoven. Beethoven (in his later years) broke with all the accepted rules of composition. He was one of the founders of a whole new world of musical options. But it was his rejection of the conventional musical laws that made him less of a musical genius. To work within constraints and then to be utterly novel is the ultimate sign of unprecedented greatness. This is what Johann Wolfgang Goethe (1749-1832) the great German poet and philosopher meant when he said:

In der Beschraenkung zeigt sich erst der Meister, Und das Gesetz nur kann uns Freiheit geben. (Sonnet: "Was wir bringen")

(In limitation does the master really prove himself. And it is (only) the law that can provide us with freedom)

Bradley Lehman wrote (February 25, 2004):
http://www.jewishworldreview.com/0204/cardozo_bach_spinoza.php3

I enjoyed reading the article, thanks, and I think the author's overall point is a good one. Depth of creativity, instead of innovation ever for its own sake. Yes, that describes Bach well.

But I think he's overlooked a few things:
>>"Those who carefully study the music of Johann Sebastian Bach will be surprised to discover that the great musician dealt with music as the rabbis dealt with the law. Bach was totally traditional in his approach to music. He adhered strictly to the rules of composing music as understood in his days. Nowhere in all his compositions do we find deviation from these rules. But what is most surprising is that Bach's musical output is not only unprecedented but, above all, astonishingly creative." (...) "Bach's works were entirely free of any innovation, but utterly new in originality."<<

That wishful thinking misses Bach's innovation in the area of orchestration: especially in the cantatas, where he came up with such a variety of deployments of the instruments available to him. That's also reminiscent of his legendary skill at organ registration, pulling combinations that his hearers thought would be silly, until hearing that they work beautifully the way he played.

And, Bach's invention of the harpsichord concerto. (Brandenburg 5 and then the other concertos later.)

And in the St Matthew Passion, the aria "Sehet, Jesus hat die Hand" near the end of the drama. The text refers to the disciples as "verlassnen Küchlein" and Bach uses two oboes da caccia, a raw sound when they're given the trills and leaps to short notes: cackling chickens. Isn't that an innovation of orchestration?

Johan van Veen wrote (February 25, 2004):
[To Bradley Lehman] And weren't his sonatas for harpsichord and violin an innovation too, in regard to the role of the keyboard?

From textract I read in Peter's posting I gather that the author talks about Bach's approach to composing. And I don't think the examples you give are evidence of Bach breaking any contemporary rules. I guess they are underlining what the author wants to say: Bach's creativity didn't need to cross any borders.

Peter Bright wrote (February 25, 2004):
[To Johan van Veen] Yes, I immediately thought of his keyboard concertos too - a form that (I understand) was created by Bach. But I agree with Johan that the style of composition is what is really being discussed. Presumably, new and innovative orchestrations are part and parcel of the composing 'process' - to some extent, the written notation will be guided by the choice of instrumentation (and/or vice versa). But the actual notation appears to nearly always adhere to the strict rules of composition already in place during Bach's time. Perhaps exceptions might be the B minor fugue from book 1 of the WTK (or, perhaps, the 'black pearl' movement 25 from the Goldbergs) - both these compositions seem to be shockingly original from a harmonic perspective (for the time in which
they were written). I remember reading in some liner notes that Arnold Schoenberg once declared (to Tureck) that the former represented the first 12-tone composition (!) Not sure that they quite justify such a statement (my music knowledge is inadequate to know), but you can see where Arnie is coming from (and he should know...)...

Farhad Saheli wrote (February 25, 2004):
Peter Bright wrote:
< I found this article really interesting about Bach's adherence to the traditional rules of composition. >
I think adhering to rules should be the emphasis here, not whether these rules are the traditional ones or not. At least I think that is what I find so exciting in Bach and Webern.

BTW, there were a group of French writers, OULIPO, that believed adherence to strict made-up rules can have a huge influence on a writer's creativity. The greatest of them all, George Perec, has a novel that does not use the letter 'e', IMHO one of the greatest literary achievments of the 20th century. Italo Calvino was a member too.

 

Late-night keyboard, and Bach composing at the keyboard

Bradley Lehman wrote (June 23, 2004):
< It appears that it was and that Bach was either at the clavichord or harpsichord late at night trying out his newest, most- difficult-to-play compositions (perhaps some partita mvts.?)
Heinrich Nicolaus Gerber (1702-1775) reports [Bach-Dokumente # 948: >
A report written 40 years after Bach's death, for what that's worth...but it looks mostly reasonable in contents except for the part quoted. Bach-Dokumente III dates that #948 as "Leipzig, 1790"; and it's by Ernst Ludwig Gerber, not Heinrich Nicolaus who was dead at the time. I have no doubt that Bach got up sometimes in the middle of the night to practice, as some of his keyboard music is physically very tricky; but he also composed at the keyboard sometimes (see below).

< "denn oft, sagte er [J.S.Bach,]habe er sich genöthiget gesehen, die Nacht zu Hülfe zu nehmen,um dasjenige herausbringen zu können, was er den Tag über geschrieben hätte. Es ist dies um desto eher zu glauben, da er nie gewohnt war beym Komponiren sein Klavier um Rath zu fragen." ["for he often stated that he found it necessary to find time at night to 'work out' {try to find practical keyboard/fingering solutions so that he could actually play these pieces and make them playable by others as well} whatever he had composed during the day. This is all the more believable since he, while actually composing, never had the habit 'of asking his keyboard instrument for advice' {of using a keyboard while composing just to check or try out quickly whatever he had written 'to see and hear' what it would sound like.} >
Harpsichords are much too loud for middle-of-the-night practicing, even with the lid completely closed, if anybody's trying to sleep. Ditto for Lautenwerck. An alternative on either of those instruments is to disengage all the registers and practice silently on the keyboard; a very good practice technique, incidentally, training both the mind and the fingers simultaneously. (It works nicely on organ, too, during the sermon or whenever; as an organist I used to compose and improvise double-pedal pieces silently almost every week.) On a clavichord it is possible to practice aloud without waking anybody nearby; the disparity of volume between clavichord and harpsichord is that wide.

Incidentally, the English Suites and WTC 2 and Art of Fugue are quite a bit more difficult to play than the Partitas are. They also require larger and more flexible hands. There's a spot in the D minor English Suite that requires the left hand to play a note, then the right hand to reach down and hold that note with the thumb (while the left hand goes on to play something else), such that the right hand holds four notes that span an 11th. And that spot is not as difficult as the simultaneous trills and other notes in the same hand in the Gigue. In short, I we can't glibly assume that Bach wrote all his keyboard music without trying out at least some of these spots first. The Gerber legend cited above is just an oversimplification, an understandable one as his aim for the whole passage is to condense Bach's whole career into just a few pages of hurrahs, writing about a hero long after the hero's demise.

And, in WTC 1, Bach absolutely consulted the actual sound of his keyboards at least in fashioning his subjects, because so many of them explicitly display his knowledge of the way the intervals contrast with one another. That is, the notes he chose to put into those melodic subjects are derived directly from interesting subsets of the notes available in his own tuning. (Besides, Wolff in the New Bach Reader, in presenting some excerpts from that Gerber document, points out directly that some of Gerber's assertions about it are mistaken. Wolff is right about that.) The C minor prelude is obviously from a keyboard session; so are bars 111-112 of the C# minor fugue. The B major prelude and the G# minor prelude and fugue were obviously written specifically at clavichord (not harpsichord or at a desk!) as they have physical puns in them on the way fretted clavichords handle multiple notes on a single string! The way to know this is to play them on fretted clavichord and see what Bach forces the fingers and the instrument to do: hold a tied note while playing another different note on the same string, which only works in exactly the configuration Bach lays out in the music. Bach has carefully worked around this physical situation, showing how it is negotiable.

Ditto, the F# minor toccata many years earlier has a passage that is directly from improvisatory noodling-about to explore the sound of the tuning (Mark Lindley published this observation in 1985). [Glenn Gould overruled Bach by omitting part of that passage from his recording!] The C# major and Bb major preludes of WTC 2, and the Fantasia BWV 906 (so Scarlattiesque!), and the Chromatic Fantasy and Fugue all were written quite obviously at the keyboard, at least in part. There's nobody dead or alive who can convince me that Bach didn't work directly at the keyboard when composing Goldberg variations 5, 20, 23, 26, 28, 29 (at least), and the Musical Offering's ricercars, and quite a bit of the Art of Fugue. Ditto, the part of the SMP that I analyzed and presented this morning, where Bach's dramatic effects derive in part from the sound of the instruments in the expected tuning. The proof of all this is in the music and the way it interacts with human hands and ears, not in hagiography or polemics. Evidence is where Bach himself put it: in the music.

Thomas Braatz wrote (June 23, 2004):
Bradley Lehman wrote:
>>A report written 40 years after Bach's death, for what that's worth...but it looks mostly reasonable in contents except for the part quoted. Bach-Dokumente III dates that #948 as "Leipzig, 1790"; and it's byErnst Ludwig Gerber, not Heinrich Nicolaus who was dead at the time.<<
While it may be true that Ernst Ludwig Gerber had this information printed in Leipzig, 1790, the footnotes in the Bach-Dokumente III indicate that most of the information, in particular this section which includes the material about Bach composing parts of the WTC in prison without a keyboard at hand, does derive from Heinrich Nicolaus Gerber. Reading death dates and making logical conclusions therefrom is not a replacement for detailed scholarship.

>>Harpsichords are much too loud for middle-of-the-night practicing, even with the lid completely closed, if anybody's trying to sleep. Ditto for Lautenwerck.<<
Well, this should put to rest forever Forkel's account of Bach composing the Goldberg Variations for Johann Gottlieb Goldberg, who then played them for his master Count Keyserlingk, a notorious insomniac.

>>The Gerber legend cited above is just an oversimplification, an understandable one as his aim for the whole passage is to condense Bach's whole career into just a few pages of hurrahs, writing about a hero long after the hero's demise....(Besides, Wolff in the New Bach Reader, in presenting some excerpts from that Gerber document, points out directly that some of Gerber's assertions about it are mistaken. Wolff is right about that.)<<
Isn't this a rather condescending way to speak about the Gerber reference, while, I must assume, you do not even know whether the particular assertions by Gerber which Wolff criticizes pertain to the quotation which I had given. This seems to be a form of conflation needed in order to undermine the reliability of the quotation in order to emphasize one's own ability as a musician to know better just how Bach went about composing.

Johan van Veen wrote (June 23, 2004):
Bradley Lehman wrote:
< Harpsichords are much too loud for middle-of-the-night practicing, even with the lid completely closed, if anybody's trying to sleep. Ditto for Lautenwerck. An alternative on either of those instruments is to disengage all the registers and practice silently on the keyboard; a very good practice technique, incidentally, training both the mind and the fingers simultaneously. (It works nicely on organ, too, during the sermon or whenever; >
Aren't you supposed to listen to the sermon? ;)

Bradley Lehman wrote (June 24, 2004):
Bradley Lehman wrote:
>>A report written 40 years after Bach's death, for what that's worth...but it looks mostly reasonable in contents except for the part quoted. Bach-Dokumente III dates that #948 as "Leipzig, 1790"; and it's by Ernst Ludwig Gerber, not Heinrich Nicolaus who was dead at the time.<<
Thomas Braatz wrote:
< While it may be true that Ernst Ludwig Gerber had this information printed in Leipzig, 1790, the footnotes in the Bach-Dokumente III indicate that most of the information, in particular this section which includes the material about Bach composing parts of the WTC in prison without a keyboard at hand, does derive from Heinrich Nicolaus Gerber. Reading death dates and making logical conclusions therefrom is not a replacement for detailed scholarship. >
Hmm. I got "Ernst Ludwig Gerber" directly from Christoph Wolff's titles of this entry in the New Bach Reader #370-371, after I'd first looked it up in Bach-Dokumente III at #948 and had seen that it only says "Gerber" there in the header, and both Ernst and Heinrich in the footnotes. To resolve this, I went with Wolff's decision; especially since Ernst is the one who had it printed and therefore had final responsibility for its accuracy.

Spare me the patronizing comments about "Reading death dates..." etc etc, please. Christoph Wolff is a good and detailed scholar. Neither Christoph Wolff nor I need to be chided here about doing anything that is "a replacement for detailed scholarship."

>>Harpsichords are much too loud for middle-of-the-night practicing, even with the lid completely closed, if anybody's trying to sleep. Ditto for Lautenwerck.<<
< Well, this should put to rest forever Forkel's account of Bach composing the Goldberg Variations for
Johann Gottlieb Goldberg, who then played them for his master Count Keyserlingk, a notorious insomniac. >
To amuse him while he couldn't sleep; not to play quietly so as NOT to wake him up!

>>The Gerber legend cited above is just an oversimplification, an understandable one as his aim for the whole passage is to condense Bach's whole career into just a few pages of hurrahs, writing about a hero long after the hero's demise....(Besides, Wolff in the New Bach Reader, in presenting some excerpts from that Gerber document, points out directly that some of Gerber's assertions about it are mistaken. Wolff is right about that.)<<
< Isn't this a rather condescending way to speak about the Gerber reference, while, I must assume, you do not even know whether the particular assertions by Gerber which Wolff criticizes pertain to the quotation which I had given. This seems to be a form of conflation needed in order to undermine the reliability of the quotation in order to emphasize one's own ability as a musician to know better just how Bach went about composing. >
Again, please, spare us the patronizing and editorializing comments about what I (Lehman) presumably "do not even know", and about conflation that I allegedly used here, and about my supposedly condescending way to refer to Gerber. All of that looks (to me) like simply an attempt to make me personally look stupid here: more about making me look bad through gratuitous implications, than about the truth of Bach and his music.

Christoph Wolff's comments to #370 (page 372 in the NBR) are SPECIFICALLY about Gerber's remarks that Bach allegedly composed WTC book 1 without a keyboard; Wolff points out directly why Gerber was wrong about this, with the evidence that some of its pieces are several years older than that. That's specifically the passage that you quoted here from Bach-Dokumente, allegedly as proof that Bach worked exclusively away from the keyboard. (And why even bring up such a point at all, except to pique my casual observations earlier about playing clavichord at night, where I responded humorously in dialogue with Cara Thornton?...again, it appears, simply trying to make me look ignorant in having remarked about night-time clavichords at all, and make it look as if I don't understand Bach's keyboard music, which as you know is directly my area of specialty. Your bringing-up of the Gerber material AT ALL out of nowhere simply looks to me like an anti-Lehman vendetta, in that regard.)

To stay focused here on the Bach material at hand: Christoph Wolff's assessment of that Gerber quote, therefore, disagrees with yours. So does mine; Wolff and I both agree on this that Gerber's account is not completely trustworthy. That's why I responded at all, to that presentation of Gerber's document: because your use of the quote was misleading (both as to its authorship, and to the whole issue about Bach allegedly never composing at the keyboard)--whether that was your intention to mislead or not (probably not), your citation of it had problems of fact and of credibility.

Gerber's not to be trusted as the only account that could possibly matter, here (and therefore not to be brought up as contrary evidence out of its context just to make a musician look stupid, either); the evidence of the music itself is much stronger than a document that was published 40 years after Bach's death. Bach did compose at the keyboard, obviously, in the dozens of examples (at least) that I presented directly from his keyboard literature. Not that this discussion of such an arcane point even needed to happen at all!

Anyway, those pieces of music are the extant facts that show Gerber was mistaken, along with Wolff's remarks about the chronology...indeed, those footnotes of D #948 (like Wolff's comment) themselves point out that Gerber was wrong, for that same reason that some of the pieces date from 1717. This is about Bach's working practice here.

Bradley Lehman wrote (June 24, 2004):
[To Johan van Veen] Of course. But, it's called multi-tasking. :) One part of the brain receiving theological and social input, and another receiving musical input, at the same time. It's good for the concentration, and fun too. I think about all sorts of everyday things while playing music, especially when simply playing it for my own enjoyment.

Johan van Veen wrote (June 24, 2004):
Bradley Lehman wrote:
>>Harpsichords are much too loud for middle-of-the-night practicing, even with the lid completely closed, if anybody's trying to sleep. Ditto for Lautenwerck.<<
Thomas Braatz < Well, this should put to rest forever Forkel's account of Bach composing the Goldberg Variations for
Johann Gottlieb Goldberg, who then played them for his master Count Keyserlingk, a notorious insomniac.>
Do you really believe the Goldberg-Variations were used as a kind of sleeping pills? You can't be serious! (To quote a tennis player of the past, who just today - Wednesday - was invited by the BBC to fill the rain delays with his drivelling).

Assuming Forkel's story is true Goldberg played the variations to entertain Count Keyserlingh when he couldn't sleep, not to put him to sleep.

>>The Gerber legend cited above is just an oversimplification, an understandable one as his aim for the whole passage is to condense Bach's whole career into just a few pages of hurrahs, writing about a hero long after the hero's demise....(Besides, Wolff in the New Bach Reader, in presenting some excerpts from that Gerber document, points out directly that some of Gerber's assertions about it are mistaken. Wolff is right about that.)<<
< Isn't this a rather condescending way to speak about the Gerber reference, while, I must assume, you do not even know whether the particular assertions by Gerber which Wolff criticizes pertain to the quotation which I had given. This seems to be a form of conflation needed in order to undermine the reliability of the quotation in order to emphasize one's own ability as a musician to know better just how Bach went about composing. >
Maybe a taste of your own medicine? A look in the mirror, perhaps?

Cara Emily Thornton wrote (June 24, 2004):
Bradley Lehman wrote:
>>Harpsichords are much too loud for middle-of-the-night practicing, even with the lid completely closed, if anybody's trying to sleep. Ditto for Lautenwerck.<<
So THAT'S why we have to finish by 10 PM if I take a basso continuo part to my harpsichordist friend to be checked over... And here I would have thought it was more like a guitar, which one can even get away with practicing in the kitchen in one's dorm, with the door open no less, at 2 AM!

Cara Emily Thornton wrote (June 24, 2004):
Bradley Lehman wrote:
< An alternative on either of those instruments is to disengage all the registers and practice silently on the keyboard; a very good practice technique, incidentally, training both the mind and the fingers simultaneously. (It works nicely on organ, too, during the sermon or whenever; as an organist I used to compose and improvise double-pedal pieces silently almost every week.) >
I'll have to tell Milosz (my organist) this - although he's more likely to actually listen to the sermon rather than use the time to practice :-)

< And, in WTC 1, Bach absolutely consulted the actual sound of his keyboards at least in fashioning his subjects, because so many of them explicitly display his knowledge of the way the intervals contrast with one another. That is, the notes he chose to put into those melodic subjects are derived directly from interesting subsets of the notes available in his own tuning. >
Or maybe the man had absolute pitch?

< The B major prelude and the G# minor prelude and fugue were obviously written specifically at clavichord (not harpsichord or at a desk!) as they have physical puns in them on the way fretted clavichords handle multiple notes on a single string! The way to know this is to play them on fretted clavichord and see what Bach forces the fingers and the instrument to do: hold a tied note while playing another different note on the same string, which only works in exactly the configuration Bach lays out in the music. >
Cool beans!!!

Thomas Braatz wrote (June 24, 2004):
Bradley Lehman wrote:
>>Hmm. I got "Ernst Ludwig Gerber" directly from Christoph Wolff's titles of this entry in the New Bach Reader #370-371, after I'd first looked it up in Bach-Dokumente III at #948 and had seen that it only says "Gerber" there in the header, and both Ernst and Heinrich in the footnotes. To resolve this, I went with Wolff's decision; especially since Ernst is the one who had it printed and therefore had final responsibility for its accuracy.<<
According to this line of thinking, Bach's transcriptions of Vivaldi, etc. are really Bach's music because he had the final responsibility for putting the other composers' music, which counts for very little here now, into this present form. The credit (or discredit) for the essential idea/conception must go to the final arranger?

>>Christoph Wolff is a good and detailed scholar.<<
Is this telling me something that I did not already know?

>>Neither Christoph Wolff nor I need to be chided here about doing anything that is "a replacement for detailed scholarship."<<
I think that Christoph Wolff should not have been included in this statement since the discussion was centered upon whether you actually read the footnotes concerning the anecdote that I had referred to here specifically. The answer seems to be 'no.'

>>The Gerber legend cited above is just an oversimplification, an understandable one as his aim for the whole passage is to condense Bach's whole career into just a few pages of hurrahs, writing about a hero long after the hero's demise....(Besides, Wolff in the New Bach Reader, in presenting some excerpts from that Gerber document, points out directly that some of Gerber's assertions about it are mistaken. Wolff is right about that.)<<
>>Christoph Wolff's comments to #370 (page 372 in the NBR) are SPECIFICALLY about Gerber's remarks that Bach allegedly composed WTC book 1 without a keyboard; Wolff points out directly why Gerber was wrong about this, with the evidence that some of its pieces are several years older than that. That's specifically the passage that you quoted here from Bach-Dokumente, allegedly as proof that Bach worked exclusively away from the keyboard. (And why even bring up such a point at all...<<
Why? Because you are still carelessly conflating the anecdotal evidence given and have not been able to distinguish carefully between the section that I referred to (about using the keyboard late at night in order to try out pieces that he had composed during the day) with the anecdote regarding the composition of the WTC in prison. Wolff only correctly disputes the latter. Any glance into the NBA KB V/6.1 and 6.2 will easily demonstrate that the situation is much more complicated than than that. It has been known since Philip Spitta's research toward the end of the 19th century, that even earlier compositions (those composed prior to Bach's imprisonment) were included in the WTC I. So there really is nothing new to report here in this regard. While this places into serious doubt Gerber's account from his father that all of the WTC was composed in prison, it does not necessarily mean that the same is true for the anecdote about composing during the day and trying out the fingerings at night. To be sure, the source is somewhat tainted by the proximity to the WTC story which may only be partially true (I had checked on this a while back and think I found that only a dozen or so Preludes & Fugues could possibly have been composed in prison. The conflation here is quite apparent and should not have occurred. It did not happen with Christoph Wolff because he is much more careful than that. His statement on p. 372 of the NBR is focused directlyupon the latter WTC problem and not on the former Day/Night composing cycle of Bach. There is here, however, a dishonesty involved in equating your efforts with those of Wolff. This is borne out by the careless manner in which the facts are treated by you.

>>To stay focused here on the Bach material at hand: Christoph Wolff's assessment of that Gerber quote, therefore, disagrees with yours.<<
No, it does not, as I have explained above.

>>Wolff and I both agree on this that Gerber's account is not completely trustworthy.<<
Wolff did not dismiss the entire account, only you did because you wanted to read something else into it and, as a result, begin to treat your sources carelessly.

What kind of argumentation is this, when it is ultimately based upon misreading the initial evidence? This reminds me a bit of 'vitium' and how a misreading of that poor word in this same forum was used to establish an entire line of argumentation.

>>Gerber's not to be trusted as the only account that could possibly matter, here (and therefore not to be brought up as contrary evidence out of its context just to make a musician look stupid, either)<<
I don't think that this evidence makes Bach look stupid at all. On the contrary, composing such great music in his head and on paper without using the keyboard as a crutch, is, for me, a true sign of greatness. To check out a few awkward, or sometimes unplayable passages in order to correct them seems rather reasonable, perhaps more reasonable than a 21st century composer sitting at the keyboard composing and musing that Bach must have done it in the same way (the Knights of the Keyboard syndrome.)

Cara Emily Thornton wrote (June 24, 2004):
<< Aren't you supposed to listen to the sermon? ;) >>
Bradley Lehman wrote: < Of course. But, it's called multi-tasking. :) One part of the brain receiving theological and social input, and another receiving musical input, at the same time. It's good for the concentration, and fun too. I think about all sorts of everyday things while playing music, especially when simply playing it for my own enjoyment. >
Oh, I'll definitely have to tell Milosz that :)

Ludwig wrote (June 24, 2004):
[To Cara Emily Thornton] It has long been supposed on very many lists related to Bach that he composed late into the wee hours of the morning. In all the works written about Bach; I have not been able to document that he did write in the wee hours of the night and none of his sons in their surviving writings about their father had said so.

I wish to offer an alternative view and that is while Bach may have composed at night----but he probally did not--candles were expensive to burn and he probally scheduled most of his composition activities during his teaching hours where he could find peace and quiet after his students left for the day. Most Educators follow this tradition today. Bach and most Educators even today are early risers---it is part of
the territory that goes with the job with the only exception usually being with adjunct staff who teach late morning and afternoon classes or even evening classes. It could be possible that Bach aroze early in the morning around 4 to 7 and wrote music which in winter would mean that he would have had to burn some candles if he did not use the fire from the fireplace as a source of light.

If he did practice and compose at night he did it on the clavichord between children--which then as now is just the right keyboard instrument for apartments where people live in close quarters. With as many children that Bach had; someone was up (or should have been) at all hours of the night tending to the enfants and changing what would be todays equivalent of diapers until he was almost 50.

There is also a great misunderstanding of the composition process by those who do not compose music. Yes as most amateurs do one can hunt and pick notes out and write them down--this is a rather tedious process.

The professional composer simply has a good idea in his head of relationships between notes and goes from there only occaisionally checking what she or he has written against actual sounds. Most modern composers after 1980 use computers, much as one uses a wordprocessor, to put their works on paper. This has a number of advantages---sloppy unclear writing is difficult to accomplish compared to 1820 when Beethoven was crossing out notes on his manuscripts; easy editing and one does not have to order specially printed score paper.

In Bach's day it was easy to find solitude for the purpose of creating--no phones or other distractions. By Beethoven's day; the Industrial Revolution had brought about a migration to the city and solitude became progressively more difficult to find until it is almost none existent in this day of hustle and bustle. I am my colleagues these days often have to take vacations to Maine or Guam to find places where phones and other distractions of modern life do not interfer with our work.

John Pike wrote (June 24, 2004):
[To Johan van Veen] I found Brad's e mail most learned and impressive…
< rest of the message was removed >

Cara Emily Thornton wrote (June 24, 2004):
< the message was removed >

Bradley Lehman wrote (June 24, 2004):
Good points here by Ludwig, about the process of composing. Some additional comments interwoven....

Ludwig wrote:
< It has long been supposed on very many lists related to Bach that he composed late into the wee hours of the morning. In all the works written about Bach; I have not been able to document that he did write in the wee hours of the night and none of his sons in their surviving writings about their father had said so. >
Agreed. More likely he did what I've noticed happening to me: wake up in the middle of the night (for the baby, or just waking up for no reason) with a new musical idea or new things to write in a writing project (or a computer program I've been working on), but NOT write them down yet. Just mull over them and try various possibilities, all inside the mind, to make them jell. Then, when getting up later for the day, write them down at first opportunity, at least as a sketch; and then work them out more fully when there is time for 100% concentration. This process yields some very good results, and it also forces one NOT to put first whims out there, but work them over several times first before ever writing them down. The end result is a more carefully thought-out piece of work.

< I wish to offer an alternative view and that is while Bach may have composed at night----but he probally did not--candles were expensive to burn and he probally scheduled most of his composition activities during his teaching hours where he could find peace and quiet after his students left for the day. Most Educators follow this tradition today. Bach and most Educators even today are early risers---it is part of the territory that goes with the job with the only exception usually being with adjunct staff who teach late morning and afternoon classes or even evening classes. It could be possible that Bach aroze early in the morning around 4 to 7 and wrote music which in winter would mean that he would have had to burn some candles if he did not use the fire from the fireplace as a source of light. >
Yes, this observation about expensive candles (and artificial light in general) is a very good one. Also, keep in mind: in the summer in Germany it's still light outdoors until at least 11:00 p.m.

< If he did practice and compose at night he did it on the clavichord between children--which then as now is just the right keyboard instrument for apartments where people live in close quarters. With as many children that Bach had; someone was up (or should have been) at all hours of the night tending to the enfants and changing what would be todays equivalent of diapers until he was almost 50. >
Exactly. As I remarked yesterday, I don't know when Bach and his wives could ever have got much sleep at all.

< There is also a great misunderstanding of the composition process by those who do not compose music. Yes as most amateurs do one can hunt and pick notes out and write them down--this is a rather tedious process.>
Agreed; and the "hunt and pick" method doesn't yield very coherent phrases or structures, either. It doesn't group the notes into their natural phrases and figures. Performers decoding the music (in preparation of a performance: analysis and rehearsal) recognize the composition process itself from the resulting shapes and groupings, melodically and harmonically; and it's our job to bring them back out clearly for the listeners' ears. This is quite different from delivering all the notes the same as one another; they're not the same. They all have grammatical function, and there are many levels of hierarchy going on at once.

< The professional composer simply has a good idea in his head of relationships between notes and goes from there only occaisionally checking what she or he has written against actual sounds. >
Exactly. And, good practice for both composers and performers is to go to unknown pieces of music (at a library or wherever) and simply read all the way through them, completely imagining the sound of it. That's also useful in working on pieces one does already know, or is composing: I remember writing a fairly good piece once while standing on a crowded bus, scribbling ideas onto paper; and practicing concert repertoire while sitting waiting for buses, with no instrument. There, and while sitting through especially boring parts of church services. I grew up writing harmonic analyses into my hymnal while bored; and, later, composing new ones instead. Always good to have music paper along, just in case.

< Most modern composers after 1980 use computers, much as one uses a wordprocessor, to put their works on paper. This has a number of advantages---sloppy unclear writing is difficult to accomplish compared to 1820 when Beethoven was crossing out notes on his manuscripts; easy editing and one does not have to order specially printed score paper. >
I use a laptop to typeset the results, sometimes, but I still find that I compose best while writing on paper with pencil.

As I mentioned sometime earlier (maybe it was on BachRecordings instead of here), I had custom music paper printed years ago and am still using those boxes of it. Just prepare a sheet of blank staves with appropriate spacing, print it out on laser printer, and take it to a commercial printing shop to get a whole box of it, very cheap.

< In Bach's day it was easy to find solitude for the purpose of creating--no phones or other distractions. >
...Except for the distraction of the children themselves, plus keeping all the instruments of the household in tune. Even at 15 minutes per keyboard, that takes a while if one has multiple instruments...especially against the noise of children. Personally, I don't get much music or tuning done until the days when my wife takes our daughter out to child care and is gone herself all day.

< By Beethoven's day; the Industrial Revolution had brought about a migration to the city and solitude became progressively more difficult to find until it is almost none existent in this day of hustle and bustle. I am my colleagues these days often have to take vacations to Maine or Guam to find places where phones and other distractions of modern life do not interfer with our work. >
Friends of mine just moved last week to a house that (literally!) is inside a national forest. It's three miles away from any paved road, and very quiet. The husband is a professional composer, really earning his living by composing and by typesetting his own and other people's music, and with several editing projects of books of music. The wife is a harpsichordist who teaches public-school music. They moved to the forest explicitly for that necessary isolation to have relaxing quiet and get the work done, away from other noise and distractions that had been eating up their lives. It gives their children space to romp, too.

Similarly, my own wife has a separate room at somebody else's house to go work explicitly on her dissertation: away from both our house and her university office, i.e. free of all possible distractions, and forced to get it done. It compels her to take only what she will need for the day, having thought ahead of time what is to be accomplished; and if she forgot something, there's always a different part of it that could use attention anyway.

=====

Back to composing and thinking things out ahead of time: here are the answers to the questions I put up last week, the scientific process of generating counterpoint to fill in the next notes. The first two were especially easy questions, that any adequately-trained 18th century "knight of the keyboard" (and people who don't play keyboard at all) would do automatically in practice without even thinking consciously, having learned the normal behavior of music. The third question takes more scientifically-reasoned thought but is still easily do-able without a keyboard, again just from knowing the normal behavior of harmonic counterpoint.

As I said, these are the entrance type of questions that would be allotted maybe five minutes on an written exam, or a keyboard-harmony exam: basic compositional process, Bach's way. It might be surprising to non-composers how much the music sets up its own natural continuations, in this type of craftsmanship.
http://launch.groups.yahoo.com/group/BachCantatas/message/9189

>>1. Over a bass note C a soprano melody goes C-D-E-(leap up)-Bb. On the next downbeat, what are the most likely bass and soprano notes, and why?<<
F in the bass, A in the treble.

Here's why: all five notes are in the scale of F major, and this is obviously a dominant-tonic cadence (with 7th) into F. The flat 7th degree over the C bass, Bb, must resolve down by step: both because that's what flattened 7ths do and because it's following a leap up. Therefore, in contrary motion against that downward resolution, the bass leaps up from C to F.

>>2. Over a bass note C the soprano melody goes D-Eb-D-F#. Now what are the next notes in bass and soprano, most likely, and why?<<
Bb in the bass, G in the treble.

Here's why: the neighboring motion D-Eb-D establishes that we are in a cadence into G minor; so does the leap to the F# leading-tone which must resolve upward to G. The resulting tritone F#-C must resolve outward by steps...the bass moving either to B natural or B-flat. As the Eb established that it's minor instead of major, B-flat is the most obvious choice. Also, if we write figured bass symbols below both our bass notes here, it's "#4-2" with the C (the notes spelled out explicitly by the treble melody, especially with the D's in metrically accented position), and "6" with the Bb. "4-2" chords, and especially "#4-2" chords, almost always resolve to a "6" with the bass moving down by a step...as seen here. This is automatic for improvisers of figured bass.

If the leap up to F# and continuing up to G looks like an exception to the earlier rule about resolving in contrary motion after leaps: it's indeed a standard exception. The rule that leading tones resolve upward takes precedence here! So does the one about the bass, as the seventh degree of a "4-2" chord, resolving downward and therefore implying that the treble should resolve up as contrary motion to it. Tonal music has a whole field of these sometimes conflicting rules, as to normal motion: one must know through experience and training how to resolve the discrepancies correctly...not simply looking up in some book an isolated rule about the contrary motion, and assuming that that's all that could possibly be relevant. All this stuff is part of rudimentary craftsmanship in writing and improvising tonal music. An excellent way to learn it is to study the Bach chorales very closely....

>>3. Over a bass note C the soprano goes A-G#-A-(leap up)-D; what two bass notes most likely come on the next two beats, with what soprano notes against them on those two beats...and why?<<
A-D in the bass and C-F# in the treble.

Here's why: The A-G#-A neighboring tone motion over C tonicizes A minor (first inversion). That establishes our basic harmony at the beginning of thi. The soprano D in a metrically unaccented part of the beat is a non-harmonic tone forming a 9th against the bass, and therefore has to resolve downward by step to C after its leap. This implies that the bass goes to a different chord tone (i.e. the closest one, A) still within A minor; on the "big beat" scale of time this is simply exchange of A/C and C/A on those two beats, normal contrary motion. To put that another way: our C in the treble is automatic due to the way 9-8 motion works, and therefore the next bass note must be something that makes consonant sense against C. Picking A here in the bass, it lets the treble's preceding D be an expressive and decorative sound, intensifying our A minor by embellishing it melodically...very nice.

Then, that soprano D also implied that we're headed into D major or minor (probably enroute to G major)...the C natural resolving our 9-8 solves that question in favor of minor, therefore really being in the scale of G major. Therefore, the bass leaps from A up to D (normal circle-of-fifths motion of the harmony, modulating toward G major, and normal contrary motion from the previous leap). The treble, to clarify this modulation toward G major, needs to hit an F# somewhere and the most natural place is directly against the bass D. Since our bass is leaping up from A to D, our treble moves in contrary motion to it (again, normal). So: the whole passage ends up something very close to the following, as a natural continuation:

A-G#-A-D, C-B-A-G, F#.... (the fast-moving treble, moving steadily) over the bass of C, A, and D on the beats. The first four notes in the treble, and one in the bass, have generated seven new notes automatically! (Alternately, the second group of treble notes might be C-A-B-C instead of C-B-A-G...but still landing on that same F# next, in contrary motion with the bass. Either way, the answer to the question remains the same, about the main beats: A-D in the bass and C-F# in the treble.)

John Reese wrote (June 25, 2004):
[To Bradley Lehman] One of the little-known occupational hazards of being a composer: After the clock-radio wakes me up in the morning, and I turn it off and groggily begin preparing for the day, my brain goes on automatic and attempts to extrapolate the rest of the song that woke me up. It doesn't matter how insipid the song is. I've just been conditioned over the years to "complete that musical thought", so that's what happens, whether I like it or not.

Ever have a really stupid tune get stuck in your head, playing itself over and over? This is like that, only much worse.

Joost wrote (June 25, 2004):
John Reese wrote:
< Ever have a really stupid tune get stuck in your head, playing itself over This is like that, only much worse. >
Such a tune is called a "Ohrwurm" in German, which translates as "earwig" (or "oorwurm" in Dutch).

Cara Emily Thornton wrote (June 25, 2004):
[To Joost] LOL!!!

Cara Emily Thornton wrote (June 26, 2004):
Glenn S. Burke wrote:
< An occupational hazard for some, at least in the US, is that standard practice for food service workers is that they should scrub their hands while washing them for at least 30 seconds, and thinking/singing "happy birthday to you ..." in its entirety will provide the timing. >
My, my, how times have changed! Nearly 20 years ago, when I was a waitress, I didn't have to put up with that - only with 'mall muzak'. I too dealt with it by playing more suitable materials in my head :)

 

Continue on Part 2

Bach Composing: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7

Introduction | Cantatas | Other Vocal | Instrumental | Performers | General Topics | Articles | Books | Movies | New
Biographies | Texts & Translations | Scores | References | Commentaries | Music | Concerts | Festivals | Tour | Art & Memorabilia
Chorale Texts | Chorale Melodies | Lutheran Church Year | Readings | Poets & Composers | Arrangements & Transcriptions
Search Website | Search Works/Movements | Terms & Abbreviations | Copyright | How to contribute | Sitemap | Links



 

Back to the Top


Last update: ýJanuary 30, 2011 ý13:26:28