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Reading Bach’s Ideas: the Prelude to BWV 998 1 Jonathan Leathwood ў - ‘B ach’s lute works’: so we are accustomed to call the three suites and other pieces catalogued as – plus the Suite a. It is a convenient but con- troversial grouping. Only the Suite and the Prelude, Fugue and Allegro survive in Bach’s hand specifically designated for the lute ( is for ‘lute or keyboard’). Ѕe remaining pieces could well have been written for the lauten- werck (a gut-strung harpsichord) or one of the more conventional keyboard instruments. And while ‘integral’ recordings by lutenists accumulate in the catalogue, the notion also persists that Bach’s writing for the lute poses special problems an assumption which, thanks to the perceived kinship among fretted instruments, has been duly passed on to guitarists. Ѕere are indeed passages in the lute works of Bach which cannot be realised literally on the lute. But nowhere is the problem of the lute’s idiom so characteristic yet so little discussed as in Bach’s notation of the contrapuntal texture, and in particular of bass-note rests. Short bass notes proliferate in such pieces as the très viste (‘very quick’) movement in the prelude to the Suite , in the same suite’s first gavotte, and in the prelude to the Prelude, Fugue and Allegro . It may well be that as far as lutenists were concerned, Bach could have saved himself a good deal of ink. For one thing, such care- ful notational distinctions within a multi-voiced texture would be largely lost when the music came to be intabulated for lute. Moreover, many would claim that the lute tech- nique of Bach’s day was ill-adapted to the constant stopping of the bass strings, given a hand position and fingering style in which the thumb was just as occupied with the treble voice. Something of this discomfort over notation has been inherited by modern guitarists, to the extent that in the bad old days, editors were wont to suppress the rests. Much has changed since then. Not only is the so-called Urtext of the lute works more available in numerous editions, it is also more approachable. Techniques for varying articulation are being studied ever more systematically by guitar students, and few would argue that it is actually impossible for a guitarist to realise Bach’s notation literally. Nonetheless, ‘family values’ persist: Guitarists opt frequently and explicitly to ignore the rests in the bass, fol- lowing the imagined model of an ancestral lutenist.
Transcript
Page 1: Reading Bach’s Ideas: the Prelude to BWV 998 · 2003. 10. 21. · Sharon Isbin’s comments here, and the performance editions of Bach’s lute works pre-pared by her mentor Rosalyn

Reading Bach’s Ideas:the Prelude to BWV 9981

Jonathan Leathwood

-

‘Bach’s lute works’: so we are accustomed to call the three suites and other pieces catalogued as – plus the Suite a. It is a convenient but con-troversial grouping. Only the Suite and the Prelude, Fugue and Allegro

survive in Bach’s hand specifically designated for the lute ( is for ‘lute or keyboard’). e remaining pieces could well have been written for the lauten-werck (a gut-strung harpsichord) or one of the more conventional keyboard instruments. And while ‘integral’ recordings by lutenists accumulate in the catalogue, the notion also persists that Bach’s writing for the lute poses special problems an assumption which, thanks to the perceived kinship among fretted instruments, has been duly passed on to guitarists.

ere are indeed passages in the lute works of Bach which cannot be realised literally on the lute. But nowhere is the problem of the lute’s idiom so characteristic yet so little discussed as in Bach’s notation of the contrapuntal texture, and in particular of bass-note rests. Short bass notes proliferate in such pieces as the très viste (‘very quick’) movement in the prelude to the Suite , in the same suite’s first gavotte, and in the prelude to the Prelude, Fugue and Allegro . It may well be that as far as lutenists were concerned, Bach could have saved himself a good deal of ink. For one thing, such care-ful notational distinctions within a multi-voiced texture would be largely lost when the music came to be intabulated for lute. Moreover, many would claim that the lute tech-nique of Bach’s day was ill-adapted to the constant stopping of the bass strings, given a hand position and fingering style in which the thumb was just as occupied with the treble voice.

Something of this discomfort over notation has been inherited by modern guitarists, to the extent that in the bad old days, editors were wont to suppress the rests. Much has changed since then. Not only is the so-called Urtext of the lute works more available in numerous editions, it is also more approachable. Techniques for varying articulation are being studied ever more systematically by guitar students, and few would argue that it is actually impossible for a guitarist to realise Bach’s notation literally. Nonetheless, ‘family values’ persist: Guitarists opt frequently and explicitly to ignore the rests in the bass, fol-lowing the imagined model of an ancestral lutenist.

Page 2: Reading Bach’s Ideas: the Prelude to BWV 998 · 2003. 10. 21. · Sharon Isbin’s comments here, and the performance editions of Bach’s lute works pre-pared by her mentor Rosalyn

Is this ‘Baroque practice’ or merely bad practice? Should authenticity reside with the lute or with the notation? In fact modern lutenists tend to give the lie to the assumed tech-nical restrictions: for example, Lutz Kirchhof ’s recent recording of the prelude to respects the bass-note rests of Bach’s manuscript exactly. As for the guitar, many play-ers are questioning the extent to which the modern instrument should fall into any par-ticular tradition. Recent approaches to technique effectively locate the instrument within a gamut of influences, drawing above all on keyboard and bowed-strings which were, even more than the lute, paramount in Baroque music. For many players, though, some articulations and textures will always remain more natural, more native to the guitar than others. Here is Sharon Isbin, writing in her Acoustic Guitar Answerbook:

Because the guitar has a faster decay and a smaller sound than the piano or harpsichord, there are many times when it is desirable to allow a bass note on the guitar to ring through a rest. In the opening measures of J.S. Bach’s “Prelude pour la Luth o Cembal” from the Prelude, Fugue, and Allegro ( ), for instance, the keyboard notation indicates bass-note rests that do not sound convincing when played on the guitar [see example ].

Because the tonality remains constant throughout the measure, a guitarist can let the bass note decay naturally rather than stopping it abruptly on the third quaver.

is gracefully diminishing bass note reinforces the harmonic richness of both the instrument and the phrase. Without it, the upper voices float without a foundation. If one carries out this approach for the remainder of the piece, a sinuous beauty emerges that would be lacking if each rest were followed literally.

is, from the pen of one of our most substantial and informed interpreters of Bach, deserves some discussion. It seems, though, that there are two inconsistencies, the first having to do with Isbin’s notion of ‘foundation’, and the second with her comments about the relative sustaining powers of guitar and keyboard.

First, we should ask the Answerbook, what is meant by ‘foundation’ here? Surely not harmonic foundation. A er all, few would argue that just because a bass note is to be cut short, it thereby ceases to be understood heard as harmonic support for the upper line. On the contrary, it persists owing to what Kirkpatrick referred to as our ‘internal damper [sustaining] pedal’. In other words, the rests cannot undermine the contrapuntal framework, because the bass notes ring on in our imagination. Clearly Isbin is here think-ing of the resonance of the instrument, rather than the grammar of the counterpoint.

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Page 3: Reading Bach’s Ideas: the Prelude to BWV 998 · 2003. 10. 21. · Sharon Isbin’s comments here, and the performance editions of Bach’s lute works pre-pared by her mentor Rosalyn

Second, Isbin’s comment that the rests sound ‘abrupt’ and unconvincing on the guitar they do indeed articulate the bass line very sharply does not tally with her remarks about the unequal sustaining qualities of guitar and harpsichord. If the rests rep-resent an effect native to the harpsichord, which has a greater sustaining power than the lute, then they will sound more abrupt on the harpsichord, not less.

Isbin’s last argument is surely the best that when the bass notes are allowed to reso-nate on the guitar, then a texture is created that the harpsichord can hardly emulate, a texture which Bach might well have enjoyed. is joins with Isbin’s notion of ‘foundation’ in the service of a richness of sonority. Nevertheless, we should beware: if this richness is only pleasing, not necessary in any grammatical sense, we must ask whether it is rel-evant to this piece, or whether the notation is not pointing to some other sonority which we, the interpreters, must find. A er all, the work is designated for lute first, harpsichord second: perhaps so too is Bach’s meticulous text, rests and all. As we shall see in part below, harmonic richness in this prelude is as much a matter of the inner ear’s capacity to sustain harmony notes to create an imaginary acoustic as it is of notes sustained visually in a notated texture, or aurally by a resonating instrument.

Sharon Isbin’s comments here, and the performance editions of Bach’s lute works pre-pared by her mentor Rosalyn Tureck, are thought-provoking because they highlight and expand a truism: that no notation is a completely transparent window to the intentions of the composer. Now that the Urtext of these works is so widely available, how can we be sure we have learnt to read it? e tradition of notated art music, transmitted as much through written ciphers as through direct lines of performance practice, is as literary as it is oral. We are all player-readers, and the more awe-inspiring and widely known a masterpiece becomes, the more we are inclined to speak of this or that performance as a reading most conspicuously when it goes against the instructions of the score. e words which Heinrich Schenker chose to begin his treatise on performing might seem self-defeating, given the subject of the book (it was never finished), but they define a nec-essary condition of the performer’s task:

Basically, a composition does not require a performance in order to exist. Just as an imagined sound appears real in the mind, the reading of a score is sufficient to prove the existence of the composition. e mechanical realization of the work of art can thus be considered superfluous.9

With this notion of reading we arrive at the project of this paper. To try to approach it more closely, it seems appropriate to take the same prelude to that we have been discussing. is prelude will be the focus of the analysis in part . It will be obvious that the role played by rests in Bach’s textures, and in this prelude in particular, is another focal point. Part , then, is preliminary: it aims to create a context for the prelude, by examining the role of rests in the bass lines of some other works by Bach. A final part returns to issues of texture and performance in the light of the analysis.

Page 4: Reading Bach’s Ideas: the Prelude to BWV 998 · 2003. 10. 21. · Sharon Isbin’s comments here, and the performance editions of Bach’s lute works pre-pared by her mentor Rosalyn

As invoked so far, this concept of reading might seem banal enough: that to form an interpretation is to ‘read between the lines’ that is, to understand the unwritten lan-guage of gesture. But in what follows, I shall try to show that to read between the lines, in a deeper sense, means more than to hear inwardly the gestures implied by the nota-tion. It is to hear also whole passages of implied but unwritten music against which the music is projected, and from which the gestures chosen by the interpreter gain their full-est significance and force.

Page 5: Reading Bach’s Ideas: the Prelude to BWV 998 · 2003. 10. 21. · Sharon Isbin’s comments here, and the performance editions of Bach’s lute works pre-pared by her mentor Rosalyn

i Rhythmic levels: Bach & Chopin

Such punctuation of the bass line as we find in the lute works is nothing unusual for Bach. It is consistent with the notation throughout his instrumental music. e general principle is easily stated: given an initially static bass (for instance a tonic pedal), and when more than one voice is moving above the bass, Bach will likely allow himself fully sustained note values (without rests). Otherwise more articulated bass notes are the norm. A comparison of the praeludium with the allemande, in the First Partita for key-board , illustrates the distinction (examples a and b).

ese considerations show us something characteristic about Bach’s attitude towards rhythm and pulse. For him once described by an eye-witness, Gesner, as ‘full of rhythm in every part of his body’ 10 metre depends on the sounding together of several distinct layers of pulsation (for instance, crotchets, quavers and semiquavers). Hence if a single upper voice is flowing in one note value, he will prefer to articulate the bass with rests so that it clarifies a layer of pulse which is moving perhaps twice as slowly. So rhythmicised, the bass becomes a kind of audible ‘conductor’ to the treble, and both together make a sounding metrical framework.11

To clarify this point, let us compare the allemande just cited with the opening of Cho-pin’s Prelude in G major, op. no. (example ). In both pieces there are two overt levels of rhythm. But in Chopin’s texture it is the semiquaver and the minim which are repre-sented two layers are missing in between (the crotchet and the quaver). is omission,

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Page 6: Reading Bach’s Ideas: the Prelude to BWV 998 · 2003. 10. 21. · Sharon Isbin’s comments here, and the performance editions of Bach’s lute works pre-pared by her mentor Rosalyn

naturally, serves the purpose of a ‘poetic’ blurring of the rhythm in the le hand, whose irregular figuration already hints at the melody to come. In the Bach allemande, on the other hand, the rests link the level of the semiquaver in the upper voice with that of the crotchet in the bass. e two together are enough to clarify the intermediate level the quaver (this level is also implicit in the figuration).

An awareness of these superimposed rhythmic levels offers other benefits to the inter-preter. For it proves to be of great value when one wishes to avoid the interrupting effect of metrical accents in the moving part (at least as long as the rests are strictly measured).

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Page 7: Reading Bach’s Ideas: the Prelude to BWV 998 · 2003. 10. 21. · Sharon Isbin’s comments here, and the performance editions of Bach’s lute works pre-pared by her mentor Rosalyn

Example cites three out of many cases in the lute works, where the player might be tempted to accent the upper voice at the place marked with a non-accent (). e stop-ping of the bass notes notated at these places, by contrast, provides a quite different means of marking the metre, making the accents unnecessary.

ii Cadences: Suite

In Bach’s music not only in Bach’s music! a rest is an action: to silence a note is as pointed a gesture as to sound it. For some illustrations of this, I turn to the Lute Suite assuming here and there that readers will have their own scores to refer to beginning with its allemande. Certainly this is a more challenging texture to realise than the examples just cited: observe the rests with the right hand (play the rests, we say) and it becomes hard to sustain the cantilena above (example ):

What happens if we try? Whatever does happen, it makes its point as we arrive at the cadence, when we encounter a startling example of Bach’s feeling for texture when, in fact, we come across a general principle that governs many of Bach’s discourses: that is to treat the fully sustained texture as a special effect, used especially to mark and illuminate the cadence (example ).

e same change from short to sustained bass notes highlights the final cadence of this allemande, too. Here again, it may well be that Bach’s notation extends the kinds of texture known to contemporary lutenists. A er all, confronted with only the tablature for this piece, how would one play? It would be easier, more ‘natural’ even, to allow the open-ing chord and the subsequent bass notes to ring on. But Bach imposes a difficulty: stop the note. Later on, as the section reaches its goal the cadence he removes the obstacle: all the parts are allowed to resonate, and for a moment we can bask in the liberated sonor-ity. For the guitarist who wishes to make these distinctions, to communicate this implied release requires some sensitivity in balancing of voices. Since the change in texture affects only the bass, then as the bass becomes more sustained it must surely be well marked. Fortunately, when long notes are brought out against a moving texture, the effect can be

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Page 8: Reading Bach’s Ideas: the Prelude to BWV 998 · 2003. 10. 21. · Sharon Isbin’s comments here, and the performance editions of Bach’s lute works pre-pared by her mentor Rosalyn

one of greater luminosity without any perceived increase in overall dynamic level. is particular balancing act is perhaps necessary on the guitar owing to its lack of sustaining power, but it was a favoured resource of the pianist Glenn Gould, too, in his many record-ings of Bach.

Active silence and active sustaining likewise govern the unmarked opening section of the prelude to this suite. However, now the bass contains two ‘rhythmic characters’ (exam-ple ):

a single crotchet followed by a rest (m. ) and a ‘walking’ figure of two crotchets, again articulated by a rest (m. ).

Turning now to example , for a moment it might seem that in this prelude m. contains an anomalous three-note figure, but once it is realised that halfway through the measure the music returns to its opening sound (namely the octave of m. ), it becomes obvious that these two rhythmic characters follow one another in succession. Example aligns the second half of m. with the opening so as to highlight their equivalence.

Hence a new start that is, an articulation is necessary at the midpoint of m. . Just as crucially, the player needs either to reproduce the first sound of the piece or meaning-fully to transform it. Needless to add, the final measures of this opening section (before the très viste) replace the bass’s short crotchets with fully sustained minims so as to evoke the texture and ‘feel’ of cadence: another opportunity to balance the texture in favour of the bass.

As a final instance of ‘cadential texture’ let us consider the sarabande. e first part of the binary form is shown in example . In mm. , and , it is surely best to avoid an entirely legato line from one measure to the next, and instead to make a slight break (without a pause) between measures. In this way, the crotchet bass notes become a rhyth-mic ‘character’ crotchet plus rest. In m. this rhythmic character is shi ed onto the first

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Page 9: Reading Bach’s Ideas: the Prelude to BWV 998 · 2003. 10. 21. · Sharon Isbin’s comments here, and the performance editions of Bach’s lute works pre-pared by her mentor Rosalyn

beat, articulated by rests until the first cadence in m. . Now the additional length of the C in m. sounds ‘earned’, and can be enhanced by a different kind of attack.

To communicate the significance of this long note is all the more necessary in that there is a danger that it will seem static. is tendency is common at Bach’s cadences (c.f. the sarabande of ): it happens because the preceding note values (here, the qua-vers) tend to continue in the listener’s mind and subdivide the final long note (making it sound like several short notes tied together, so to speak). Ironically, an intabulation of this suite for lute by a contemporary lutenist ‘solves’ or rather perpetuates the prob-lem by filling in one of the beats le empty by Bach (example ).13 It might be better to insert a momentary break or breath before striking the long C, whose new quality of attack must set it apart from the crotchet bass notes already established.

Given the rich variety of long and short bass notes in Bach’s manuscripts, it is curious to consider the elaborations that guitarists have made of his solo violin and cello music. As a rule these elaborations are indifferent to the question of rests in the bass line, pre-ferring sustained note values throughout. Example gives the beginning (a) and first cadence (b) of another allemande: that of Cello Suite , . I have added a mini-mal number of bass notes (along the lines of example b) not because I wish to argue against more elaborate bass lines, but simply to show the deployment of rests that is such an integral part of Bach’s style.

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Page 10: Reading Bach’s Ideas: the Prelude to BWV 998 · 2003. 10. 21. · Sharon Isbin’s comments here, and the performance editions of Bach’s lute works pre-pared by her mentor Rosalyn

iii Rests in the Prelude to

Yet perhaps none of this is quite enough to make us feel entirely comfortable with the notated rests in the Prelude to the Prelude, Fugue and Allegro , for these rests do indeed make the bass notes extremely short. is is not to say that we do not now know rather more about them, and what creative opportunities they offer the performer. A er all, at the final chord there is a slight increase in the bass’s sustain (as also at the climax, the fermata in m. ), and before all from the very first note there is the ques-tion of the layering of pulses. Since the upper voice flows in an unbroken series of qua-vers, we might well expect Bach’s rests to articulate the next main level of pulse, namely the dotted crotchet and certainly, it is not so uncommon to hear the prelude realised as in example .

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Page 11: Reading Bach’s Ideas: the Prelude to BWV 998 · 2003. 10. 21. · Sharon Isbin’s comments here, and the performance editions of Bach’s lute works pre-pared by her mentor Rosalyn

In the event, however, Bach chooses to describe an intermediate rhythmic level pecu-liar to compound metres: he divides the dotted crotchet into a long-short pattern (crotchet and quaver). is division is indicated clearly enough from m. , but it is at its most explicit in m. (example ).

us far our understanding of Bach’s rests as metrical and structural markers. But before any further discussion of texture and articulation in this prelude (resumed in part ), it is time to consider the rather different matter of the role played by the bass, both within the two-voice framework and in the elaboration of the large design. Not that analy-sis and performance is an easy marriage: perhaps analysis can never really tell us exactly how to play. And yet just as the intuition invents possibilities, it is analysis which sets the limits, warning us as we weigh each creative idea of what in the composition we might be obscuring. As we shall eventually see, the way in which Bach achieves this prelude’s struc-tural build-up has a crucial effect on the texture. roughout the following analysis the reader is advised to follow the complete score of the prelude supplied with this article.

Page 12: Reading Bach’s Ideas: the Prelude to BWV 998 · 2003. 10. 21. · Sharon Isbin’s comments here, and the performance editions of Bach’s lute works pre-pared by her mentor Rosalyn

i e ideal stanza

e design of this prelude has frequently been remarked by guitarists: as so o en in Bach’s preludes, the opening idea is visited in an array of keys, ritornello-like, defining five ‘strains’ or stanzas, each new strain being somewhat longer than the one before. As the table below shows, the sequence of keys visited describes a simple harmonic progres-sion. Moreover, a count of the number of measures separating each return of the opening idea reveals a sequence based on ternary numbers (until the coda).

stanza measure proportions harmonic movement

1 1 6 mm I → V 2 6 9 mm V → vi 3 14 12 mm vi → IV 4 25 18 mm IV → I 5 43 7 mm I → I

And so to example . Borrowing a term from Schoenberg, we might describe this proc-ess of expanding lengths as ‘developing variation’. But what is being varied? In a way, this is not made clear until the end or rather not until the coda begins (m. ), for only then has the bass had its say in full. By then it is evident that if there are such things as modulating, expanding passacaglias, then this prelude is a model example. In example

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?

##

##

##

##

##

w

w

w

w

w

œ œ œœ

œ œ œœ

œ œ œ#œ

œ œœœ( )

œ

œ

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œ œ œ œ

œ œ œ œ

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( ) œn œ œ

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œ œ œ œ

œ

œœ œ œ

œ œœ

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5

4

3

2

1

coda

i

iv

vi

v

i

pedal & modulation (i, ii)

sequence (iii)

linear progression (iv)

cadence (v)

Example , Prelude: bass plan14

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, the most complete statement is naturally to be found in the fourth and last strain, when the bass passes through five distinct phases:

a tonic pedal a modulation to the dominant, in which the tonic note is made into a seventh (Bach’s

usual method of managing this modulation) a sequence a stepwise progression in the bass a cadence with characteristic disjunct movement in the bass

In this sense the fourth strain represents the definitive unfolding of all five phases. Not that it is autonomous: like the previous strains it is necessarily an open structure, begin-ning as it does from a foreign key (IV). is raises the possibility of an intriguing com-positional puzzle: to take the opening idea in the tonic and to essay all five phases in a single span. To do so would be to collapse the entire prelude into an ideal stanza: a closed structure, beginning and ending in the tonic; in effect, a complete piece.

Example takes up the challenge, and attempts to pass through all five phases of the bass just once. No doubt a condensed version of the prelude could have been realised in a number of different ways: but if example is anything to go by, perhaps no solution would quite convince. A particular difficulty comes at the beginning of phase (iii): no sooner has A major (V) been approached then the music retreats back into the tonic of D. To attempt the task of example is not to suggest that Bach had before him his own

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##

812

i) pedal

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ii) modulation4

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iv) stepwise progression

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Example , Prelude: an attempted ‘ideal stanza’

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ideal stanza which he then let out at the seams, and expanded into the finished work. Why then perpetrate such a fiction? As a matter of fact such an extrapolation proves its value, to the extent that it portrays our experience of structure. If each stanza outlines a facet of a submerged and fragmented ‘ideal’, viewed in a certain perspective, then what remains, a er the piece is over, is a residue or trace which is a superimposition of all the stanzas taken together, a summation of all these different vantage points. e organisation of this prelude is prismatic: it is le to us to reblend the various approaches back into a whole.

Example ’s attempt, and inevitable failure, to notate this residue literally suggests that in the last resort no one statement can quite hold together, and for a simple reason it lacks a climax. It is not for nothing that Bach has four stanzas, four commentaries, before the coda: only from such partial but graded statements is the sense of gaining a high point at all possible. For when at last, the finished picture emerges, we experience it not, surely, by an intellectual effort, but through an accumulation of feeling. is is achieved by Bach’s expansion of each stanza, brought to a head by the fermata of m. , and released by the unique sixteenth notes that celebrate its resolution. At such a moment, we are granted a powerfully direct impression of a single governing statement no matter that it cannot be written down. An effort such as example remains a metaphor: an icon not only of our intuition of form, but of the point of climax and resolution.

In the search for an ideal stanza, it is thought-provoking to consider the coda, since it is the only segment of the prelude which is tonally closed. Admittedly, it hardly represents the elusive ideal, but what it does show is its terminal poles: the opening tonic pedal and the disjunct bass movement of the final cadence bass motion that has been painstak-ingly earned, snakes-and-ladders fashion, throughout the prelude.

ii Foreground & background

Bach’s rule for the bass line, then, is clear. Each successive stanza must review in order all previously stated material before adding anything new. Now segments of the bass line will occur in many different contexts, and simple pragmatism dictates that as he arrives at a new phase in the ground bass, Bach must at the same time look ahead and plan for its successful use in all subsequent stanzas.

What now of the upper voice? At this point it is startling to realise that Bach’s principle of use and reuse in fact applies to the complete two-voice framework. is is not apparent on the surface of the music simply because each time Bach arrives at an analogous or par-allel passage (upper and lower voices together) he encounters I should say devises a number of technical problems. e rule of repetition of both voices together, then, is one that cannot be kept, but it is a rule nevertheless. For this very impossibility of a series of literal restatements (we shall shortly see why) is the source of the ‘variational’ character of the upper line. We miss the point if we only marvel at the unity of the bass line, and Bach’s rich inventiveness at finding new counterpoints to it: in fact Bach had to find new

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counterpoints, and when he didn’t have to, he generally didn’t. At the same time, each new invention is conscientiously related to the precedent of the previous stanzas not least, but not just, through the persistence of the bass line.

As a first instance, let us go to mm. –. In m. the music enters phase (ii) of our ‘ideal stanza’, and our first resort the very simplest continuation would naturally be to use again the material heard in mm. –. e result is illustrated in example , line a. It fails because the sequential figure (x) leads to a leading note (the low C#) in m. which is le hanging (until m. at the earliest). Bach is ready with a solution: he simply avoids the C # altogether, and composes instead an ascending line over the original bass (line b). One problem remains: as the upper voice moves through an ascending fourth, a bare octave is struck in m. , and the bass’s E must be altered to C # (line c). is is the only instance of Bach’s altering a note apparently fixed in the bass plan so as to accomodate a variation in the treble.

roughout the rest of the prelude, the problems are of two kinds, involving either changes of mode and non-parallel harmonic goals. We shall discuss each in turn. Note that in the musical examples below, line a will each time illustrate music notion-ally rejected by Bach: that is, it will notate a literal and latent restatement, in the gov-erning tonality, of music heard previously; subsequent lines will illustrate Bach’s real choices his remodelings and variations.

is is somewhat more and somewhat less than musical relic-hunting. Less because in the last resort, no-one can claim to understand anything about Bach’s actual thought-processes: the reader will by now have realised that the ‘Bach’ of my argument is noth-ing without the quotation marks. More because the rejected passages construed in the examples are not only ‘his’, they are mine and yours in short, the work’s. In a word, they constitute a background to the music that we hear and play. ey are the sum total of our expectations, our educated guesses. And by contradicting this background, by charting the unexpected, the music that Bach puts in its stead gains its vitality. us stated, this is

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##

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a

b

c

(x)27

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unresolved leading note

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*

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œ ‰ Œ . œ ‰ Œ .

*octave

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Example , Prelude, mm. –

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Hans Keller’s contention that all good music relies on the friction between expected and unexpected the listener provides the background (the expectations) and the composer supplies the foreground (the surprises). But in this prelude, as we attempt to define these discarded continuations and bring them into awareness, we discover the most surprising thing of all. Whereas in later music especially, the background consists of the routine and the predictable, in this prelude it consists more of the intractable and the unworkable.

iii Changes of mode

Not all music in the major mode survives literal translation into the minor. In this prelude, the difficulty is essentially a melodic one: what to do with the variable sixth degree of the scale. Bach’s solution is almost always to avoid it.

e simplest case of this is found in strain , when the composer has to restate the open-ing in the relative minor, B. It can be seen from example that Bach was unhappy with the effect of G # in m. and made a slight adjustment to the upper line (lines a and b). (G n is of course impossible here, but G # is a borrowing from the major, and Bach evi-dently felt that in its harmonic context it introduced too heavy a major colouring.) e reader will note that this change is retained in strain (m. ) even though it is no longer needed (line c), and that the new motive thrown up by the change inspires the subsequent sequence (in mm. ff., not in the example). It is such particular and beautiful details as these that go to make up the sense of developing variation.

And here is a chance to induce something about Bach’s thought-process. For having discovered that his opening didn’t quite work in the minor mode, and having made an acceptable change one which even persists in the next major-mode statement what stopped him from returning to the opening and making the same change there, so as to ensure perfect consistency?

We must conclude that such a course would be contrary to Bach’s notion of cra . For to change the opening measures on the grounds of their slight unworkability in the minor would be to condemn their invention as defective. In this prelude, though, the fitness of

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a

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Example , Prelude, mm. –

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the opening idea is not defined by its potential, but by its immediate rightness. On this view, any idea which is in itself attractive is eligible for elaboration. Hence the opening to this prelude must be worked out as it is, and if the constraints of tonal working subject it to variation, evolution and erosion, so be it: the idea itself must not be changed. A er all, why else would Bach have written the simple fugue which follows this prelude, based as it is on the very plainest subject, which is nothing without its melodic shape, and yet which cannot be answered in the dominant without that shape being destroyed utterly?

e next two examples again deal with the problematic scale degree . Example is routine: line a demonstrates an unacceptable clash of C n and C # within the same harmony. In example , line a, the D # in m. interferes with the linear connection between the two upper D naturals: line b clarifies the connection with a harmonic reduction and Bach’s reworking is shown in line c.

is last example prompts an interesting question: if such a casual emendation was all that was needed in stanza , why did Bach go to so much more elaborate lengths in stanza , where phase (ii) has a quite new upper line (mm. –)? e answer is supplied by the same considerations of voice-leading as applied in example . If we examine a transposi-tion of mm. –, duly altered as in stanza and shown in example , we soon see that the upper voice’s D # in m. is le hanging. is problem does not arise in stanza , since the next phase is recomposed (see section iv). Curiously, then, the more elaborate recomposi-tion precedes the less elaborate one a potent example of Bach’s, so to speak, passive or preordained variation of the material.

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Example , Prelude, mm. –

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.˙.˙

Example , Prelude, mm. –

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Bach does not invariably avoid the problematic scale degree . Example provides a counter-example to show how a sharpened sixth rejected by Bach in one circumstance (line a) could be accepted in another. e G # in line b is acceptable in three ways: firstly, the tonality is in flux; secondly, the G # is supported with its own bass note; and thirdly, its chromatic colour is prepared by A # in the previous bar.

Translating from minor to major does not usually present melodic problems, but the different collection of chords offered by the two systems can throw up difficulties when translating sequences. As we have seen, phase three of our ideal stanza is a three-bar modulating sequence: in stanzas and (of course, the sequence is not yet presented in stanza ) the respective sequences begin from a minor tonality. Not until stanza is the sequence put to the test in major. e result is shown in example : the sequence becomes problematic in the second measure when a diminished chord is

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Example , Prelude, mm. –

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Example , Prelude, mm. –

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Example , Prelude, mm. –

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encountered and we are le wondering what to do with the upper line’s G. (Another po-tential problem is that these measures virtually duplicate mm. – at the same pitch, but in fact Bach did not always forbid himself such straightforward repetitions.) Bach’s solution is again to avoid the false note, and so a new sequence is composed against the background of the old one.

iv Non-parallel harmonic goals

Perhaps the most fascinating set of compositional alternatives occurs in m. . At this point Bach must use again the modulating sequence, on the model of mm. –. Trying this for ourselves, as in example , we discover that the sequence breaks down, since it is bound to reach either C # diminished (which is no goal at all) or C major (which isn’t either, since it is not a direct key-relation of the tonic, D).

e solution appears to be to quit the sequence a measure earlier than the model (see line b of the example). It is not hard to see why Bach rejects this solution too (a er all, everything is easier to see a er Bach has shown it to us): to curtail the sequence so abruptly seems to admit its defects without compensating for them the background (the impracticable) replaces, indeed defeats the foreground (the inventive). (Some, too would press the claims of the proportions of each stanza, for if the sequence were reduced to two bars, this third stanza would total only ten bars, breaking the ternary-based sequence shown in the table above.) Bach, to be sure, admits the pressing harmonic need to break the sequence a er two repetitions, but he transforms bare necessity into rich invention by stating the bass in augmentation, and so composing a quite new upper line.

v e tonic minor

One more feature of the bass plan invites comment: the transformation of mm. – into mm. –. In the latter section, as the tightly packed motivic content of the upper voice liquidates into instrumental figuration, the bass restates mm. – but in the minor key. Given this restatement, the performer must find some way of comparing in sound the two bass descents. ere are many ways of shaping them: one could choose

Example , Prelude, mm. ff., recomposed

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to underline the similarity by playing them in the same way, or one might try to con-front equivalent but opposing inflections, such as a diminuendo in mm. – versus a crescendo in mm. – (example ).

e goal of the second descent, of course, is the G minor harmony a key relation not of D major but of D minor. e consequence is a truly startling progression, in which the Neapolitan harmony (E b of m. is wrenched upwards by a semitone to the second-ary dominant (E seventh) in m. . Functionally speaking, they each represent the same chord in two guises, the first essentially from the minor domain, the second from the major. Example clarifies this equivalence. e shock of m. is made even greater by the unprepared seventh in the bass the most dissonant spacing of a seventh chord avail-able and the appoggiatura which for a moment creates a quartal sonority.19

Example

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Example , Prelude, mm. – and –

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-

i Sonority

Sonority is really the principal issue in this prelude, and for a simple reason: the richest sonorities are all imaginary. A guitarist searching for the best fingering of the upper line is soon led to wonder, should notes belonging to the same harmony be allowed to ring together? Should the implication of different voices in the upper line be made explicit? At first this seems a simple enough question, and yet when we try to make a faithful harmonic realisation, we discover that the figuration implies far more than a progression of simple triads, but rather a series of suspensions (example ).

Such a richly expressive texture defies realisation on the guitar, but in any case its literal rendering is obviously not Bach’s intention. Everything is le to the miracle of the inner ear. e task of the performer is to hear inwardly the sustained part-writing, shimmering with dissonances, and to allow the music to breathe with it. To imagine sustained parts to this degree is an essential part of self-training without it we must needs give up the guitar and take up the organ instead. Besides, anyone who has fought against the difficul-ties of performing in an over-dry hall will know that an ‘inner acoustic’ can be as sumptu-ous as the most flattering resonance.

We should not quit example without noting that in it, the bass is now notated long. For as we saw in part , Bach sustains a pedal bass when it is underpinning a multi-voiced texture. Now we can turn the point on its head: the fact that Bach notates the bass

Example , Prelude, opening measures

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to be played short should give us some indication that the treble voice cannot bear much of a polyphonic rendering (that is to say, much over-ringing of notes). We are reminded of the French lutenists’ style brisé, in which inner voices are casual passers-by, dropping in and out the texture; but to apply this term to Bach’s trademark, multi-voiced voices, as is o en done with this prelude, is probably mistaken. On the other hand, an interest-ing experiment is to finger the piece as if to allow the harmonies and their dissonances to ring, but to keep the texture dry, with a minimum of overlapping sound, sometimes li ing le -hand fingers, sometimes replacing right-hand fingers. Such a fingering, clearly, does not set out to maintain a consistent tone colour throughout repetitions of motivic cells, but it may be the most suggestive one as far as the inner ear is concerned.

ii Balance of voices

In section above, I described this prelude as a ‘modulating, expanding passacaglia’ as it turned out, provisionally. For in the next section it became something else: a series of attempts to repeat a two-voice framework, more or less literally. Of course, in almost every case the ground bass is fundamental fixed from one stanza to the next and it is the treble which must invent new counterpoints in response to the changing tonality and modality. e single exception, the one which disproved the first rule and established the second, is the bass C # in m. (this was considered in example ). Just this one note is enough to show that the bass line is not immutable: rather the two voices behave as a harmonic aggregate, so that Bach may vary either so long as the harmonic sense remains clear. Nevertheless, the bass is privileged. If it is not quite true to say that the bass carries the theme and the treble the counterpoint, nor is it entirely false.

How then to find the right balance of sound between the two voices? It is already a technical challenge to play the bass as strongly as the treble. But even this is not enough, for in an equal-voiced two-part texture, the listener’s attention is all the same more attracted to the upper line (according to my observations, at least). To draw the listener’s attention actively to the bass requires the balance to be shi ed subtly in its favour, and the necessary independence of the thumb must be harnessed.

e most characteristic difficulty is posed by mm. –, when the bass line voices an augmentation of mm. –. Is there anything to be done about this in performance? Nothing too ingenious, at any rate: to apply for example the same dynamic shading to the bass line in either passage, one moving twice as slowly as the other, seems rather manipu-lative. In fact, it might even be that the bass is not to be shaped with much dynamic expression. Rather it must have something of the weight and direct simplicity of a cho-rale, so that the augmentation speaks clearly, more fact than effect.

And so back to Bach’s rests. For to make the bass sound independently in passages such as these, the rests prove their worth. Perhaps if Bach’s time had known the articulation marking so favoured by Debussy, the weighted staccato (line-and-dot, ¯), we would find

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the bass line thus marked throughout. We have already seen in part that the very dif-ficulty of some of Bach’s rests can be of help in hewing out the texture: in this prelude, equally, the bass notes gain from the extreme definition the rests give them. is is true even from the opening bars. When the rests are observed strictly, the bass is straight away a separate character, something active and more than a cushion of sound for the treble. By the same token, only when the bass is played with some degree of fullness does the definition of the rests come to life. us these rests are the key to the balance of the tex-ture called forth by analysis. All this, of course, is more or less as described by Bach’s second son, Philipp Emanuel, in his advice to keyboard players:

Notes which are neither detached, connected, nor fully held are sounded for half [in the case of , it is evidently two thirds] their value, unless the abbreviation Ten. (Held) is written over them, in which case they must be held fully. Crotchets and quavers in moderate and slow tempos are usually performed in this semidetached manner. ey must not be played weakly, but with fire and a slight accentuation.21

‘...With fire’! If the rests in the bass are tantamount to articulation marks, even expres-sion marks, it is interesting to speculate that the top voice might not be undermarked.

ere are only four slur markings in the autograph (mm. , , and ). Perhaps then a consistent legato from beginning to end is open to question.

iii Interpretation

How much basis for an interpretation have we found in all of this? is is the question which few professional analysts like to be asked the performers among them included. In this case, I have attempted to avoid analysis in its primary sense of interpretation and reception, and sought instead to present some snapshots of the composer at his work-bench: a human figure facing decisions without which this prelude could not have been written in the way it has. A er all, isn’t it commonly said that a successful performance is not repetition but recreation? What happens, then, if we try to translate such sentiments into skills? ere can be little doubt that what has been so painstakingly described above was for Bach, by now with a good forty years of composing behind him, a series of quick, unreflecting steps or intuitive leaps in a word, ‘improvisation’. Witness the following description of Bach, related by his son Philipp Emanuel in a letter to Bach’s biographer Forkel:

When he listened to a rich and many-voiced fugue, he could soon say, a er the first entries of the subjects, what contrapuntal devices it would be possible to apply, and which of them the composer by rights ought to apply, and on such occasions, when I was standing next to him, and he had voiced his surmises to me, he would joyfully nudge me when his expectations were fulfilled.23

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In this perspective, the material amassed in the examples above cannot quite be assigned to the ‘preinterpretive’ stage of learning. For it is not enough to research and notate the various compositional possibilities, only to forget them once the interpretation has been formed. e skill we are speaking of, surely, is not experienced through pen and ink it is felt in the fingers.

e guitarist who plays by rote, able only to start at the beginning and to play through, and the guitarist who brings the background to life, improvising variant a er variant in real time, have something essential in common: what they know, they know by ‘feel’. Of course, this latter player, a kind of master in his or her way, did not grow ready-made out of the former. is article enacts an intermediary stage: Bach’s flashes of insight are here calculated step by step. For the rote player, the departure from the purely tactile realm, a minor Eden in the journey towards mastery, may be painful and slow: the intellect must learn to direct the fingers and a bewildering number of variants have all to be played and committed to memory. Nevertheless, to play the analysis is crucial: a er many experi-ments there is the real chance that this work might become a kind of reflex in which the mind, always so slow, is ready to give up its conscious role. At this point, when all distinc-tion of thought and feeling has been melted down, the tactile immediacy felt by the begin-ner is restored, and mastery is not knowledge but sensation. Such a player, we might add, long ago forgot the difference between playing and reading.

Notes

I must thank Philip Weller (University of Nottingham), Ricardo Iznaola (University of Denver), Antonia Banducci (University of Denver), Steven Waechter (University of Northern Colorado) and the composer Bayan Northcott, who devoted much time to reading dra s of this paper and suggested important revisions.

See for example Johann Sebastian Bach, Kompositionen für die Laute, arr. Hans Dagobert Brüger (Wolfenbüttel and Zürich, : Möseler Verlag), in particular the Suite .

In addition to the Tureck editions cited below, of particular interest to guitarists must be the edition by Tilman Hoppstock: Johann Seb. Bach, Das Lautenwerk und verwandte Kompositionen im Urtext für Gitarre (Darmstadt, : Prim-Musikverlag). is edition aligns the unfingered text with related versions, such as the Cello Suite (for ) and the Violin Partita (for a).

Johann Sebastian Bach, e Works for Lute in Original Keys and Tunings, played by Lutz Kirchhof (Sony Classical: Vivarte ).

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roughout this article, musical examples from the lute works of Bach will be given in the keys conventionally chosen by guitarists.

Sharon Isbin, Acoustic Guitar Answerbook (California, : String Letter Press), p. f.

Ralph Kirkpatrick, Interpreting Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier: A Performer’s Discourse of Method (New Haven and London, : Yale University Press).

Packed with food for thought, Rosalyn Tureck’s ‘Critical-Facsimile-Performance’ edi-tions of Lute Suites and , with fingerings by Sharon Isbin, are published by G. Schirmer (New York and London).

Heinrich Schenker, e Art of Performance, ed. Heribert Esser (New York and Oxford, : Oxford University Press); trans. Irene Schreier Scott from Die Kunst des Vortrags (unpublished).

Letter from Gesner to Marcus Fabius Quintilianus (), quoted in e Bach Reader, ed. Hans T. David and Arthur Mendel (New York, : Norton). Gesner was rector at the Leipzig omasschule where Bach was cantor from until his death.

e notion of contiguous rhythmic levels (called the beat, the pulse and the ‘tap’ levels, from long values to short) is explored to some extent in Dance and the Music of J.S. Bach by Meredith Little and Natalie Jenne (Bloomington and Indianapolis, : Indiana University Press).

Of course, Chopin’s rests articulate the phrase, but do not rhythmicise the line in the way that Bach’s do.

is intabulation is anonymous and is supplied in the edition of Bach’s lute works edited by Hoppstock (op. cit.), who does not identify its source.

In example , the slurs are not intended to show phrasing, but, loosely, movement and dependence.

See the chapter entitled ‘ e Ideal Ritornello’ in Laurence Dreyfus’s deeply insightful book, Bach and the Patterns of Invention (Cambridge [Massachusetts] and London, : Harvard University Press)

e choices governing the treble voice need not detain us at this point: later it will become clear why, for example, I could not merely transpose the upper line in mm. – in phase (ii), but had to content myself with a more indirect derivation.

Hans Keller, Essays on Music, ed. Christopher Wintle (Cambridge : Cambridge University Press). See particularly ‘Towards a eory of Music’, and ‘Mozart’s Wrong Key Signature’.

In a future article I plan to show how Bach elaborates this fugue so as to balance

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these two incompatible imperatives: the melodic shape of the subject versus the tonal constraints of the answer.

quartal: made up of fourths in this case, the bass’ D is part of the quartal chord, transferred registrally down by three octaves.

My thanks to Ricardo Iznaola for this suggestion.

Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach, Versuch über die wahre Art, das Clavier zu spielen (Berlin, and ); fac. repr. ed. L. Hoffmann-Erbrecht (Leipzig, n.d.); trans. W.J. Mitchell as Essay on the True Art of Playing Keyboard Instruments (London, ), p..

Christoph Wolff, in e New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, ed. Stanley Sadie (London, ), dates within the last ten years of Bach’s life.

e Bach Reader (op. cit.), p.

—First published in Guitar Journal (), pp –© Jonathan Leathwood

Born in in Warrington, England, studied guitar princi-pally with Gordon Crosskey, Paul Galbraith, Richard Wright, and Ricardo Iznaola, and interpretation with pianist and conductor George Hadjinikos. His recitals have featured the three violin partitas of Bach in one evening, traditional Hispanic repertoire, large-scale cycles (notably by the pioneering Andalusian composer Maurice Ohana), and first performances of works by living composers such as Param Vir and Robert Keeley.

Jonathan's career has been supported by many awards, from such sponsors as the Countess of Munster Trust, the Ian Fleming Trust, and the Park Lane Group. When he was eighteen he was a prizewinner in Television's Young Musician of the Year. Since then he has performed in most countries of Europe, including the Nürtingen Festival in Germany and the Lagonegro Festival in Italy, and toured the United States. As a chamber musician he has performed with the celebrated cellist Steven Isserlis, and will shortly release two compact discs in duo with William Bennett, one of the greatest flautists of his generation.

Jonathan Leathwood teaches at the University of Northern Colorado and the Univer-sity of Denver. He is editor of Guitar Forum.


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