Urtext = Plain Text? – An Analysis of the Prélude in G Major, Part 2 (Measures 4-18)


This is a translation of the post „Urtext = Klartext? “, October 25, 2013
by Dr. Marshall Tuttle. 

Michael Bach

This is the second part of my presentation transcription
” Urtext = Klartext? “

of 4 May 2013 at the Foundation Domnick Nürtingen near Stuttgart

Stiftung Domnick Präsentation Urtext Klartext 

It is helpful to open a second browser window with the blog post “The slurs in the Prelude of the Suite in G Major for Solo Cello ”
in order to have the score visible.


JSB = Johann Sebastian Bach
AMB = Anna Magdalena Bach
2-slur, 3-slur, 4-slur = slurs over 2, 3 or 4 notes
1. Zz = 1st beat of a measure
c4 = c ‘ (middle C)
DD = dominant of the dominant
D7 chord = dominant seventh chord
D9 chord = dominant ninth chord

The terms “Master tone” and “Servant tone” are borrowed from Thomas Mann ‘s novel Doctor Faustus. They distinguish between chord tones and non-chord such as passing notes. For details see Part 1 of the analysis.

Now for the question: Are there errors in the copy of AMB ?

I previously left off at measure 4, because the first slur there gave me a headache as well as the first slur in measure 5.


There are other locations later in the Prelude where I at first assumed there to be errors, and this is very rarely the case. In the Allemande, for example, the movement that follows the prelude, that there are no errors. There are also no questionable slurs in that movement. Otherwise, there are relatively few notational errors in the Suites.

But here, in this Prelude, sometimes the question has arisen if there are errors. Because if I now resolve this harmony …

[plays measures 3 and 4]

… then a resolution is always associated with relaxation. For this reason, it makes no sense to me at all, for this resolution, to notate here the first 3-slur on the bass note G2 and to stress A3. Since A3 is foreign to the chord, it is not a Master tone, it is a Servant tone in this case. It would receive a particularly strong emphasis if we had the first 3-slur here. That is, a 3-slur is slightly larger than a 2-slur and therefore the following note A3 would have an even stronger stress.

I then looked at the scans of the exact copy of AMB and I could imagine that either AMB had overextended this 3-slur, because it is conspicuously thicker on the 2nd note, or perhaps she may have a little more carefully placed the pen to the page early, to ensure that the ink flow on the 2nd note was really guaranteed.

Well, this is speculation. An answer to this question can at best provide only from the original of the transcription – a microscopic examination of the original document. Were it to follow that there is actually a 3-slur, then I would say that the 3-slur is an AMB copying error.
I hold a 2-slur therefore probable, because it responds to this tritone, he resolves:

[plays F#3–C4 and G3-slur3]

And, this octave is not slurred:

[plays G2–G3 of the first beat of measure 4]

Because in such a slur [2-slur through G3 and G2 ] the second note is an unaccented octave, it dissolves into the lower root. So if I do the bow stroke on the 2nd note the octave is more audible.

In the second half of the measure it makes perfect sense to slur G3 to G2 with a 2-slur, because now the harmonic journey begins – once again the root and the third are highlighted:
[plays the 2nd half of measure 2-slur on G2 through the last note F#3]

With this F# the first modulation begins. Yes, the modulation to the relative minor.

[plays the beginning of measure 5]

A brief reconciliation between the keys G major and E minor is presented here by means of a single note F#3 which is shared between the two keys.

The relative minor, E Minor, is not expected. Therefore, it should be highlighted. Therefore, it is appropriate to put a 2-slur on the root of E minor.

Again, it is questionable whether AMB wrote a 3-slur. As I said, it is the same as in measure 4, one has to add that this slur has two ends. I suspect that she actually wrote the slur twice, i. e. a 3-slur is overwritten with a 2-slur.

The inspection of the original copy of AMB on 19.09.2013 reinforces this interpretation. However, this determination was made only with the aid of a magnifying glass and not a microscope.

(see blog post from 01.10.2013 “The original copy of the Six Suites for Cello by Anna Magdalena Bach”)

However that may be, the relative minor is introduced – that is why I put a 2-slur on the note E3 :

[plays the beginning of measure 5]

… and the DD develops:

[plays the DD in measure 6 and its resolution to the dominant]

And there, in measure 6, JSB now places a 2-slur on the seventh G3, because this is the fourth Master tone of the D7 chord of the dominant:

[plays root A2, third C#3, fifth E3 and seventh G3]

These tones define this chord – and the seventh, G3, must be resolved – to the third of the dominant:

[plays the DD7 chord and its resolution to D major]

JSB stresses the tone G3 with a 2-slur.

But all Urtext editions set a 3-slur on the note C#3. This is not quite so bad, as the seventh G3 is also emphasized in this case.

Incidentally, the bariolage of measures 31ff is already indicated here.

[Plays measure 6]

Yes – and the resolution to the dominant is done with a 2-slur because JSB now wants to highlight the highest note d4.

[plays beginning of measure 7]

This D4 is the root of the chord, and it is the highest note for the entire first half of the movement.
The Urtext editions make it this:

[plays the beginning of measure 7 with a 3-slur on the note F#3]

… and thus emphasizes the note C#4 which really makes no sense at all. The note C#4 is a Servant tone, a neighbor note.

[plays measure 7 to the beginning of measure 8]

Now we have again the relative minor as in measure 5:

[plays measure 5]

… which was a surprise. There is only a brief transition with the note F#3 …

[plays transition from measure 4 to measure 5]

But here we have no transition to the relative minor but the dominant, which generally resolves to G major:

[plays resolution to G major ]

However, here we get E minor:

[plays E Minor]

… and that very clearly, because the bass note E2 and third G3 are accented with the 2-slur on E2.

[plays measure 8]

This is something that is called a deceptive cadence in music. This harmony [E minor] is unexpected – similar to mesaure 5. The 2-slur is here an upbow and the third G3 is emphasized as the resolution of the note F#3 .
Now the slur is definitely not repeated:

All Urtext editions add here a complete 3-slur.

[plays second half of measure 8]

This signifies a decrescendo in JSB. So, this is exactly the reverse measure 3, where a slur is placed only in the second half of the measure, which signifies an increased dynamic. Here is a decrescendo. That is, JSB lets this harmony end by fading away:

[plays measure 8 to the beginning of measure 9]

Now we do not know where we are harmonically:

[repeats measure 9]

Here we have the first 3-slur on the G3. Now it is clear that the DD appears:

[plays the notes of the DD, the 3-slur on the seventh, G3, and the subsequent note D4]

So, JSB wants to stress the note D4:

Then, JSB places a 3-slur on the resolution, the third of the dominant, F#3:

[plays the beginning of measure 10]

Again, the highest note is emphasized D4, then a 3-slur on the note D3 in the third beat, the root of the dominant chord, which dominates this measure.

[plays second half of measure]

This strengthening of the dominant is necessary because after this measure the harmonies are very turbulent. JSB therefore ensures that the dominant is clearly manifested here. Therefore, it is strongly accentuated with two 3-slur, on the main pitches of the chord [root, third and fifth].

Now, looking foward, JSB takes a third approach to the relative E Minor. And he makes it quite powerful, even using a ninth chord. The first dissolves into an intermediate station, to A minor, subdominant of the relative minor:

[plays chord of A minor ]

JSB and then brings back a tension chord – and that is the secondary dominant to the relative minor in measure 13.
How does he do it ?
So once again the dominant :

[plays measure 10]

Then a tritone up:

[plays the note G#3 of measure 11]

Since we already know that we hear a tension chord:

[plays first the secondary dominant seventh of A Minor, the subdominant of the relative minor, E minor, and then the first notes of measure 11]

A 2-slur on the note F3 emphasizes this again. Why this 2-slur? Because this is the ninth of the chord:

[plays chord of the ninth to the note F4]

So even more dissonant than a seventh chord, but with the ninth F4 displaced downward an octave [F3], where JSB now connects this note (that’s a strange thing, really) to the root note, which actually is a Master tone. The ninth chord actually has 5 Master tones, but a four-part setting can accommodate only 4 tones, the root is simply omitted, because that is clear anyway, or as the Swabians say: It chatters without saying [This is obvious].

So this fundamental E3 is now attached to the ninth F3. JSB stresses the ninth F3:

[plays 2-slur on the note F3]

Many Urtext editions make it a 3-slur:

[plays 3-slur on the note F3]

… and thus emphasize the seventh D3. But this seventh is here in the bass and is repeated constantly, so it dominates anyway … I can not imagine that JSB has written a 3-slur here. [The copy of AMB is unambiguous.]

[plays again the whole of measure 11 and continues to measure 12]

This dissonance resolves to the subdominant of E Minor [A Minor]. So this is the first station on the way to relative minor. JSB writes a 3-slur:

[plays 3-slur of the 1st beat]

… and emphasizes the note B3. This is a Servant tone. Can that be correct? I say yes, because that is a Master tone of the relative minor, that JSB targeted in this manner.

[plays the entire measure 12]

In the third beat JSB repeats the signal sequence and there is now a 2-slur on the note E3, the tonic of the relative minor and thus emphasizes again the note B3.

[plays the chord tones of of the relative minor to the note E4]

So, JSB already prepares the relative minor in this manner. In retrospect we will see why he does it.

The accentuation of the note B3 in the first beat of measure 12 has a second reason: the fourth 16th note of the 1st and 3rd beat was previously usually a neighbor note below a Master tone. Here, in the course of a melodic intensification, the “Servant tone” B3 leads the “Master tone” A3 up to the high point of the phrase on C4. This melodic gesture is new, the existing motif has been transformed.

JSB now leads with the note F#3 at the end of measure 12 … F#3 has heretofore been a pitch that was used to prepare the relative minor:

[plays the end of measure 12]

… but the relative minor does not yet appear, first we get its secondary dominant:

[plays the entire measure 13]


These are all exclusively Master tones – it is a D7 chord, which would have to resolve to the relative minor – and even so, JSB sets the first 4-slur here:

[plays the beginning of the measure up to the A3]

… to this seventh A3 to give it a particularly strong emphasis.

The secondary dominant of the relative minor must resolve to the relative minor. To strengthen this expectation of the listener, the seventh is given extra accentuation.

Now, in the third beat JSB writes but only a 3-slur:

[plays beats 3 and 4 with a decrescendo]

… in order to emphasize the note F#3. This is a weakening of the 4-slur.

All Urtext editions invariably write only two 3-slurs on the note D#3.

Now the following happens – I repeat this measure:

[plays measure 13 and the beginning of measure 14]

What’s this? That’s not a resolution, or? This actually should have sounded something like this:

[plays the end of measure 13, and then, as a resolution, a chord of E minor]

After these mighty preparations of the previous cycles, one really expects now, especially after the secondary dominant that the relative minor finally appears. But it is not really clear, rather, it hides. And then JSB further uses a 2-slur on the note F#3 – and even binds the tonic of the relative minor.

[plays the first beat of measure 14]

Then the note G3 is easily stressed. And this close play around the pitch space G3-E3?

G is the root of G major, the key of the Prélude:

[plays chord notes of G Major]

E is the keynote of the relative minor:

[plays chord tones of E Minor]

And the note F#3 is exactly in between. Now one wonders, well, the whole thing resolves, because the note G3 dominates, but not yet on to G major?

[plays measures 13 and 14 and leads on to G Major]

That would be G major – anything is possible …

The assumption that the 2-slur is easy to slip just a 16th note backward is to be excluded, since obviously this balance between tonic and relative minor is intentional. The transitional nature of this measure is conveyed by means of this small 2-slur.

We shall see – that is the shortest way from the tonic to the relative minor?

[plays G3 and E3 and F#3]

and between … the note F#3 – This tone range:

[plays the chromatic G3, F#3 , F3 and E3 ]

… is the nucleus of this movement. We have already seen three times the relative minor presented in a variety of forms, that is the real “theme” of the entire movement

But here we are deprived of this resolution – no matter where [relative minor or tonic] – we have a kind of intermediate measure – you could now suspect – that there is sometimes at JSB – the resolution is not immediate but presented in a later measure, for example. Here, however, the note F#3 thwarts the resolution in the subsequent measure. Namely, it happens as follows:

[plays measure 14, stressing the note F#3]

F# , F# , F# , F# …

[plays up to the first note F#2 in measure 15]

F#. Now we know, there is still neither G Major nor E Minor to come. F# lacks a resolution and we have again a dissonant chord:

[plays measure 15]

If JSB had omitted the note F#3 in beat 3 of measure 14, we would have landed in E minor.

[plays second half of measure 13 without the note F#3, and then the E minor chord with the bass note E2.]

One can also imagine a different melody in measure 14, and then you would end up in G Major:

[plays alternative melody and then G major]

But JSB does not do that. Rather he composes a harmonic progression implying the relative minor which actually comes to nothing.

Yes, a 3-slur on the seventh C3 in measure 15 measure is correct:

[plays measure 15 and then the first note of measure 16, G2]

That the bass note G2, could now be the resolution to G major:

[plays chord notes of G Major]

We might just as well expect (as we have already heard in this movement) that the dominant resolves to the relative minor:

[plays the dominant chord, and then the relative minor, E Minor]

So, the matter is still open in the first two notes …

[plays G2 and B2 of the measure 16]

… where it will resolve. Now JSB slurs the tritone B2-F3, which always has a reason, because the two Master tones are usually not bound. But JSB binds to the central F3 and separates the successive note, E3.


All Urtext editions write the same thing twice in this cycle, a 3-slur on the note B2 – and thus the harmony is clear:

[plays the notation of the Urtext editions and emphasizes B2 and F3]

This is clear because it is clearly a D7 chord:

[plays the D7 chord and the resolution to the subdominant C Major]

… resolves to C major.

But, and this has given me many headaches, why is there a 2-slur here? I can explain it so that JSB has kept the D7 chord still hidden actually. He deceives with the resulting emphasis on the note E3 …

[resolves the tritone: plays B2-F3 to B2-E3, the relative minor]

… the resolution to the relative minor which still could be expected.

[plays measure 15 again with resolution to the relative minor]

I think that’s an interesting point, because it once again supplies the idea of the relative minor which was virtually ignored in the resolution of measure 13. But in the second half of the measure this throwback to the relative minor is transformed into a unique D7 chord:

[plays measure 16]

Because … the seventh F3 is now emphasized a second time. It resolves …

[plays further to measure 17]

… to C major, the third being emphasized twice with a 3-slur.

Measure 16 has a certain affinity with measure 2 in that the respective first beats both indicate a first inversion chord. That is, in both cases the relative minor sound is heard as analyzed. While the ambivalence between subdominant and relative minor persists in measure 2, the 2nd half of measure 16 clearly intones a D7 chord.

Furthermore, in measure 17 the subdominant is unmistakably highlighted by the slurs as opposed to measure 2. Measure 17 forms together with measure 18 and the first half of measure 19 a clearly definable harmonic cadence, the completion of the first half of the movement.

But now JSB does something special:

[plays measure 18]

Now he repeats the third measure and he takes up the articulation of the third measure:

[points to the projection of a copy of AMB, measure 3]

This is the first half of the 3rd measure [without slur] – and the second half with the 2-slur on the note F#3, under the word ” Prélude “, is now taken for measure 18. One might reasonably ask what JSB has in mind. The note F#3 still stands for the harmonic development in the first part of the movement. Then, on the third beat of measure 18 JSB places the 2-slur on the bass note G2.

[plays measure 18]

JSB therefore slurs to the F#3, and emphasizes the tritone above, the note C4. This C4 will be of great importance in the second half of the movement. And JSB demonstrates by means of his slurs that the first half of the measure stands for the first half of the movement, and the second half of the measure foreshadows the second half of the movement.

All Urtext editions, however, set a consistent 3-slur in the first and third beats.

And now in measure 19, we also have a 2-slur, the note B3 is to be emphasized as the resolution of the high note C4:

[plays the beginning of measure 19]

Again, all the Urtext editions notate a 3-slur.

But this resolution is not the same resolution as in measure 4. The note F#3 in measure 3 is resolved first by G3 and B4 only then resolves the note C4:

[plays resolution of measure 3]

Here JSB reverses the order of resolution, resolving first the C4 to B3 by:

[plays resolution of measure 18]

Additionally, this detail displays the increased significance of the new pitch C4 over F#3.

…and then brings the resolution of the note F#3 by:

[plays resolution and emphasizes the note G3 of the second beat of measure 19]

Why is that? Because JSB quotes the beginning of the movement. The beginning:

[plays measure 1]

JSB cites this motive here as a resolution. That is, the resolution has created a new beginning here. The harmonic development of the first half of the movement is now complete, and something new begins. JSB demonstrates this new beginning quite clearly with that quotation.


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