Urtext = Plain Text? – An Analysis of the Prélude in G Major, Part 3 (Measures 19-30)


This is a translation of the post „Urtext = Klartext? “, November 6, 2013
by Dr. Marshall Tuttle. 

Michael Bach

This is the third part of my presentation transcription
Urtext = Klartext?

of 4 May 2013 at the Foundation Domnick Nürtingen near Stuttgart


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.


 [plays measure 19]

Here again the F#2 that leads further into the depths … now the C#2, a 3-slur …
[plays further to the end of measure 20 and then plays the possible resolution to D major]
I have now played the resolution of this dissonant chord, but that does not happen here…
I have played it to clarify why a slur is “missing” here. A slur…
[plays the beginning of measure 20]
… is on the note A2 (3-slur), emphasizes the seventh of the DD7–chord, and then no slur comes in the second half of the measure (in the repetition of the motive) …
[plays second half of measure]
… this is an attenuation (relaxation) … and is not followed by the expected resolution …
[plays D major triad]
… but, rather than resolving the C#2 up a semitone (resolution to the dominant) JSB now resolves a semitone lower …
[plays C#2 and then C2]
This is the seventh of the chord (D major), which was actually required. The fact that JSB places no slur in the second half of measure 20 means that first of all he wants us to believe that a resolution will follow.
The Urtext editions, naturally, “normalize” the bowing in the second half of measure 20.
What would JSB have to have  done to make it unmistakably clear that he wanted no repeat of the 3-slur? Write a note in the score: “This is not a slur?” The same applies to measures 3, 8, 24, and 39-41, in which the Urtext editions usually add complementary slurs.

But now in bar 21 all the slurs are in their places:
[plays the beginning of measure 21]
Again, it is the central A2, which receives the 3-slur. That’s something like a pedal point. The third F#3 is emphasized:
[plays measures 21 and 22 to the fermata]
Yes, it is always on that note A2 that the slurs form something like a pedal point. It is the only pitch that belongs to both harmonies (dominant and DD) …

[plays measures 20 and 21] 

…which is identical.
What happens next is very special, in the measure with the fermata (measure 22) …
[plays half of measure 22]
… this C#4, because it does not fit here. We have here a D7-chord, so:
[plays the D7-chord]
… which would have to resolve to G major:
[plays chord of G major]
But JSB “tinkers” here with the pure C#4. And the question arises: What is it doing here? Is there a Master tone or a Servant tone? So you might also suspect that he now brings back the secondary dominant here: 
[plays the DD7-chord with C#4 and the dominant chord as a resolution]
But we are already in the dominant (bar 21), then a brief secondary dominant … (16th note C#4 in measure 22) and then again the dominant (d4 with fermata) – that makes little sense, this effort here is not worth it. Moreover, the period of time (only a 16th note C#4) is also too short to insert here a perceptible secondary dominant harmony. And: The C#4 is connected by a slur (i. e. unstressed). We have a slur here …
[plays beat 2 of measure 22]
… even the D4 is still slurred. That is, JSB here creates an irritation with this half step C#4, and this passage ends as a question.Many artists see things differently and think that you could place an ornament on the note C#4:

[plays second beat measure 22 with a mordant on the note C#4 and emphasizes the top note D4 with a downbow]

… and play D4 as a conclusion. With an ornament the note C#4 would be repeated at least once. But in my opinion the C#4 really appears only in “passing”, so to speak “en passant”. It should not be significantly accentuated because it moves straight on: [plays the first three 16th notes after the fermata]… and again we have a C3. We are still on the D7-chord:[plays the D7-chord]… and do not leave it.This C#4 is a type of a melodic element, which later in the movement (chromatics), comes to a grand effect. 
Following the seminar, the audience had the opportunity to ask questions. This measure was again taken up and alternative versions of the pitch C#4 were demonstrated.
There is something special, and that is that we have two slurs that follow one another directly. In my interpretation this means, as is usually the case with slurs …
[plays the first slur in measure 22 and the subsequent note A3]
… the following note is emphasized. It also means that a decrescendo takes place in the second beat.
[plays second beat of measure 22]
That is, the D4 …
[plays D4, the highest note of measure 22]
… will not be emphasized as a completion. Rather, this note is appended. So, if two slurs follow each other, it usually has the result that the second slur gets an accent and a decrescendo, grows quieter as it proceeds. We have another example in this movement confirming this.
One more point: many analysts see here the conclusion of the first part of the Prélude and think the second half of the movement begins here. But, this is not so. The second half begins of course …
[plays the beginning of measure 19]
… with this tonic, and leads to these two harmonies that extended into the second half.
Concerning the two bass notes C#2 and C2 of bars 20 and 21: These two pitches clearly separate two harmonies: C#2 as a third of the DD and C2 as seventh of the dominant. Both the continuous exchange between C4 and C#4 and the double pedal D2-A2 are characteristic of the second half of the movement.
We always have the continuous pedal point D2 and A2:[plays the fifth D2-A2]D2 is the root of the dominant chord and A2 is the root of the DD (where it is also heard as fifth of the dominant). And so it continues in measure 22 (after the fermata) beginning with A2:
[plays the ascending scale of measure 22 beginning with A2 – through the beginning of measure 24]Here there are no slurs, why? Because the harmony is clear here. There is no doubt it is all in with the dominant sevenths. But what now occurring in the next measure:

[plays measure 24 with upbeat D4]
… for the first time a chromatic expansion of the pitch space, namely the Eb4, the ninth of the dominant chord:

[plays the dominant chord tones and emphasizes the seventh, C4 and the ninth Eb4]

… seventh, ninth, so this is a little tone space extension. So now we have landed on the ninth, one notices this chromatic play around the central D4, which was the highest note so far, …

[plays first and second beats of measure 24]

… this temporary horror JSB has gotten himself into, that he has now exceeded his pitch space, so that he quite “anxiously” plays around the central D4, and then …
[continues to play until the end of measure 24]
… he returns straightaway back to safe ground, the root: 
[continues to play until the second beat of measure 25]
This is the dominant, which resolves  … 
[continues to play until the end of measure 25]
… to a short lived tonic. But this is not a full resolution (the dominant in the bass makes this a second inversion chord which is technically dissonant) but that will cause primarily something, namely:
[plays measure 26 and emphasizes notes G3 and C#4]
The note G3 and the note C#4:
[plays G3 and C#4 first, then the second half of the measure]
This of course makes the DD tritone interval clear to us. JSB now places a 2-slur on the note B3, by which means the following Bb3 is emphasized. We are there for a moment in an unsecured harmonic space because the DD that we have here:
[plays the DD9-chord]
… has the note Bb3 as ninth, which resolves gradually to A3. But here we have first a B3, although that is a diatonic pitch:
[plays the scale of A Major]

… melodically so “right”, but harmonically so “wrong” if you will. And therefore JSB places a 2-slur on the note B3, so that you can hear it clearly.

This conflict between B3 and Bb3 is particularly dissonant and expressive.


The Urtext editions make it a 3-B:[plays the version of the Urtext editions with a 3-B on the rating C#4]
This makes the note B2 an unstressed Servant tone of the DD which weakens the dissonance of the chromatic sequence. Some editions even still change the note B3 into Bb3:
[plays C#4-B3-A3-B3]
Thus harmonically “all clear” since there is no irritation.However in this version:
[plays C#4 B3-A3-B3]

A curious aside: Using the pitch C4 instead of C#4 JSB could have quoted the letters of his name CHAB.
But the harmonic irritation resulting from C#4, B3 and Bb3 was more important than the name quote.
So here are 2-slurs: 
[plays second half of measure 26 with the 2-slurs on the notes B3 and A3]
As I said, this will stress the notes A3 and B3, and now the seventh G3:

[continues to play until the end of measure 27 with a 3-slur on G3 in the first beat]

Remaining unmentioned in this lecture are the stabilizing 3-slurs in measure 25 on the note A2, in measure 26 on the note G2, and in measure 27 on the note C#3, which accentuate the root of the DD, the tonic, and the third of the DD respectively. The resolution to the tonic in bar 26 causes a strengthening of the tonic G3, but reinterpreted as the seventh of the DD.

Now the C#4, which was introduced just prior to the fermata, appears last or the second to last time, because it is repeated as leading tone (and changing note) to D4.
[plays C#4-D4-C#4-D4]
We have now quite clearly landed in D Major: 
[plays measure 28 to the note D2]
So, this is again the pedal D2 [pause].

I would suggest now, I am indeed “in good shape” [laughter], but it will again be here quite a “chunk” that must be broken, and that now would be a little too much, I think we need about half an hour, until we are at the end at least. I would like to take a short break [applause].


[after the pause]

I must backtrack a little, I have worked all the while without a script. A little more about the last two points, which we have heard. The Urtext editions are alike in the way they equalize the two measures. 

[first, plays the preparatory measure 23]

The Urtext editions make it a 3-slur:

[plays measure 24, with 3-slurs on the notes of the first beat Eb4, and the second beat D4]

… and also:

[plays measure 26, each with a 3-slur on the notes of the third beat C#4, and the fourth beat, Bb3]

This is of course not there. Why? Although the measures are very similar, they both go back to this fermata:

[plays second beat of measure 22]

… where this chromaticism was already indicated. But everything happens in measure 24 in a harmonically secure context:

[plays the beginning of measure 24]

It takes only a very small extension of the pitch space up to the ninth, no more. Meanwhile, in this measure:[plays third and fourth beats of measure 26]

… for a moment the harmony is destabilized. Therefore, this is the reason for the slurs on those notes.

Now we come to a point – and I ‘m trying to keep myself a little more to the manuscript – where only the articulation … puts us on the track of determining which harmony is intended.
The fact is, we have for the first time 4 long slurs, which is exceptional. And, well, I’ll play first of all my version:
[plays measure 29 until the beginning of measure 31]
This is how this passage sounds.
In this passage of 2 measures one would initially think AMB had prescribed three or four times … that the slurs should actually all be the same. So the end of these slurs is always unique. As for the last, since AMB has forgotten to complete the slur on the next line. This is clearly so, because at the end of the line above the slur is quite far out the staff. But it does not continue on the next line. So, that slur is open as to where it ends, but the other 3 slurs always end at the end of the 2nd or 4th beats [see below].
Well, what do we have here? We have a scale. Which could also sound like this if it were not broken by JSB (by means of octave displacements), it would have sounded like this:
[plays measure 29ff starting with the bass note D2 and then a descending scale starting with the top rating C7] 
So you see, this is a huge “mountain”. But because this is a scale, you can not detect Master tones or Servant tones. That is, the harmony remains unclear. And because this is so, one might say, then why should there be slurs?I play the initial organ point D2 once with:
[plays measure 29 détaché, wherein in the first half measure the note D3 is heard as a second voice, and adheres to the succeeding measure]


You could also leave out the slurs. But slurs always have to mean something in JSB. So I return to search out the harmonic reasons.It is obvious that this peak pitch:

[plays the first three 16th notes of the first and thirds beats of measure 29f]

… so the pitch after the large interval resolves, for example, the Seventh C4 resolves to B3. And so I considered different harmonizations. First, it looks as if we have the following:

[playing double stops F#3-C4, followed by thirds G3-B, F#3-A3, E3-G3 and D3-F#3]

This is a simple harmonic progression of the D7-chord on the tonic, dominant and submediant to the dominant.

But it could also sound like this:

[plays the second half of measure 29 to the first beat of measure 31, each with a chord on the third 16th note of the first and third beats: first, the tonic chord, then the subdominant chord of the relative minor, then the relative minor and then the dominant chord] 

Therein is the relative minor contained, and in the last example also the subdominant of the relative minor. That already appeared in the first Part of the Prélude (measure 12), A minor as a precursor to E minor.Or, it could go like this:
[plays the tritone F#3-C4, then G3-B3, C3-E3, F#3-A3, B2-D3, E3G3, A2-C3 and D3-F#3]
This is basically not much different.However, this means that we actually have a resolution exactly on the third 16th note, like this:
[plays out and amends the resolution to the tonic chord, subdominant of the relative minor, relative minor and dominant, respectively, on the third 16th note of the first and third beats of measures 29ff.]
… which means that the slur would always start there. This would mean that:
[plays measure 29ff, the long slurs beginning always on the third 16th note of the first and third beats]
Suspensions are not usually slurred to their resolutions in the Suites.
I was actually quite happy with this solution … that sounds conclusive, convincing, plausible … only that was then too simplistic and song-like for me. So, it is not so, because I could not live with errors in the AMB copy. But I thought for artistic reasons: “It’s probably not, because: why such a simple chord progression after all the chromatic ramifications? JSB will not return to it.” It was clear to me.
I continued searching, and … even so because there is still a … Yes ! So … as I have just set the slurs, that would be a correction of the manuscript. Only the 2nd slur of AMB …
[plays second half of measure 29]  …corresponds to this schema. The third slur no longer corresponds:[plays measure 30 with both slurs, each of which begins only in the fourth and not the third 16th note]Since the slurs put a 16th note later. It ‘s like this: the last slur is incomplete because it was beginning on the fourth 16th note and no longer continuing on to the next line:

[demonstrates with four fingers of the left hand, which should represent the four 16th notes, and indicates the slur, starting with the 4th Finger in the air]But you can see, AMB has again prescribed. She forgot a note. She has inserted a note between the first two 16th notes later and has erased the last note (fourth 16th note) so that one might think that she has forgotten the slur that first came to rest on the third note, to move a 16th note forward. She forgot to correct that slur, and the continuation of the slur on the next line she also forgot. So, the slur simply leads nowhere.
[demonstrates with hands]
So, naturally, this slur would be moved forward a 16th note.
The previous slur (measure 30, first beat) unfortunately begins on the fourth 16th note. It appears as though that slur just begins straight (horizontal, without curvature)  and underneath there is a shorter stroke that seems to be failed, because the ink has run out or anything else happened. This upper slur is not notated down to the note head, but begins horizontally. Then, it is plausible that the beginning of this slur is not precisely indicated, because the ink flow was not working. So here we extended this slur forward and down to the third 16th note. And thus “the world is in order.”
As regards the first slur (measure 29, first beat) since AMB has definitely prescribed it, or it looks as if she has extended it because it begins like this:
[plays measure 29 with a single long slur starting on the note B3]

So, because we have a D2 8th note here actually on the fourth 16th note.Or it looks like that she wrote a 2-slur, and then a 4-slur:

[plays a 2-slur on the note B3 and a 4-slur on the note A3]

But now we can not stop a slur at just one note (A3) and have a second start. Either that is an extension of the 4-slur to the front or the 2-slur has slipped to a 16th note to the rear.

The latter seems to me to be the most plausible at this point because we have the same pitches in the same measure (second half measure) yet again:

[plays measure 29 with a 2-slur on the note C4, 4-slur on the note A3 and the subsequent long slur starting on the B3 of the third beat]

A second resolution to G major in this measure really makes no sense:

[plays measure 29 with 2 long slurs, starting on the two notes B3, each backed by a G major chord]

That makes no sense, if one thinks harmonically.

So I have come to the conclusion that there is a 2-slur. As a consequence – think of the fermata, where two slurs follow each other – the second slur starts strong and decrescendos, so that the resolution to the tonic (third beat) can actually happen relaxed, and that makes sense for me:
[plays measure 29 again with the 3 slurs]
So, the first slur would be clarified thus far. Now, what about the last two? I must ever recall how I got it … Yes! I have indeed played this scale. And that is clear, it is composed of the following thirds:
[plays melody consisting of C4 – A3 – F#3 – D3 – B2 – G2 – E2 – C4 – E3 … etc.]
What are these harmonies ? We have the D7-chord:
[plays D3 – F#3 – A3 – C4]
That resolves into the tonic :

[plays G2 – B2 – D3]

And then the relative minor:

[plays E2 – G2 – B2]

In other words, let us assume at this point again that we are on the D7-chord in bar 29 which resolves to the tonic, an assumption that clearly agrees with the slurs quite well, and then the relative minor appears.

[plays measure 30 with the chord of the relative minor on the fourth 16th note G3]

… and here already the dominant, which often follows the relative minor:

[plays second half of measure 30 with the chord of the dominant on the fourth 16th note F#3]

 … and then the dominant in bar 31 is maintained.

Actually in other words, the penultimate slur of this passage in measure 30 starts on the fourth 16th note, on the G3, which is the third of the relative minor:

[plays measure 30 again starting with the slur on the note G3, supported by the chord of the relative minor]

… and then the dominant:

[plays second half of measure 30 starting with the slur on the note F#3, supported by the chord of the dominant]

Now this is very unusual, a slur with an emphasis on the fourth 16th note of a beat, so that’s really the weakest part of the beat. And that is difficult to accept. But if you understand that with this scale, with these slurs, JSB “proffers” the relative minor which played such an important role in the first half of the movement again, so completely unnoticed … by means of scales, not harmonies, i. e. executed melody leads to the relative minor, then you also accept that one “gets out of synch” here. That there is a point here, which opens both metrically and harmonically and releases itself in the “empty space”. And so it is here.

The bass note in measure 30, C3 is unusally emphasized here. It functions as a derivative action (Servant tone) for the B2 bass note of the 3rd beat (and less than the dominant sevenths, which would be a Master tone). Referring again to the slur in the AMB copy, as is striking that this slur decidedly does not stop on the last note in measure 29 F3, but is drawn out and  points to the note C3 of the succeeding measure. It stands to reason, therefore, to assume that the initial note C3 of measure 30 is bound to the preceding notes of measure 29.

In this case, the high note B3 emphasizes the resolution, which is the fifth of the relative minor. Also, you can see the high note of the third beat A3 already indicating the dominant. Consequently, then both top pitches on the second 16th note of the first and third beats accentuate, as I said, their fourth 16th note.

With the slurring of the bass note C3 definite indication of A minor, the subdominant of the relative minor is excluded (see above
). This interpretation of the slur over seven 16th notes also solves a technical bowing problem, because in this way the following slur can compensate by being taken in the opposite direction.

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