Urtext = Plain Text? – An Analysis of the Prélude in G Major, Part 4 (Measures 31-42)


This is a translation of the post „Urtext = Klartext? “, January 21, 2014
by Dr. Marshall Tuttle. 

Michael Bach

This is the fourth 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.


Preliminary remark:

The aforementioned sequence of thirds c4 – a3 – fis3 – d3 – h2 – g2 – e2 includes, as discussed, the triads of the D7 chord, the tonic and the relative minor. The triad of the relative minor to the dominant is also included:

 Prélude G Terzfolge e2-c4

Looking at sequence of thirds starting with the note C2 and rising up to A3, the result is the triads of the subdominant, the relative minor, the tonic, the relative minor of the dominant, and the dominant. That is, the seventh C4 of the D7 chord is in this order the root of the subdominant chord.

If you start this sequence of thirds with the note A2 (the first note after the F#2) and continues on up to the touch E#7, you get all 12 notes of the chromatic scale:

Prélude G Terzfolge a2-eis7

It is interesting that JSB introduced the non-diatonic pitches of G major in this Prélude, almost in the same order in the composition as they appear in this sequence of thirds. First, the note C#3 in measure 5, then the note G#3 in measure 11 where E#3 is prematurely presented enharmonically as F3. This creates a strong tonal friction and harmonic voltage which resolves to the relative minor of the subdominant (a minor), the starting point of this sequence of thirds. In bar 13 the next note D#3 is added, as a leading tone to the parallel minor.

Only in measure 26 is the last remaining score A#3 (enharmonically changed to Bb3) added in conclusion. This is the said place where the tonality vanishes for a brief moment. It is the moment where the note B4 completes the 12-tone (atonal) pitch space.

Now a passage begins [at measure 31, second beat], which has no slurs – and his explanation. Exactly these three harmonies: D7 chord …

[plays D7 chord]

… Tonic …

[plays tonic and relative minor]

… and relative minor … are united here, re-introduced through the central F#3:

[plays the beginning of measure 31 with emphasis on the note F#3 that has a 2-slur]

It is again this tone range, which I have called the “nucleus” …

[plays G3, F#3 and E3 ]

… between G3 and E3, the tonic and the relative minor:

[plays bars 31 to 33]

What are these sounds? And why is the passage so long? – The rest of this passage is called a Bariolage, when one note remains the same and the others change. It is a very popular effect in the literature for strings. JSB uses the Bariolage for a specific reason. He uses it to make clear once again that the dominant, the tonic and the relative minor are close together.

[plays again the triads of the dominant, the tonic and the relative minor]

So, tonic:

[plays up to the note G3 in measure 31]

relative minor:

[continues to play to the note E3 in measure 31]


[continue to play to the note F#3 in measure 32]


[continue to play to the note G3 in measure 32]

relative minor:

[continues to play to the E3 in measure 32]


[continues to play to the F#3 in the 3rd beat of bar 32 and sets the Bariolage continued to the note A3 in the third beat of bar 33]

Now the Bariolage goes beyond this sound space …

[plays the 2nd Half of bar 33]

… and JSB writes something which is missing in many Urtext editions (from two or three editions), namely the Prime.

The A3 he doubled, he writes only one note head, but 2 stems, which is typical of his notation.



A Prime consists of two notes on the same pitch and is usually notated with two note heads and optionally with 2 stems. In rare cases, JSB writes a primary note with two stems as found in these cello Suites.


[plays the three 16th notes with the primary A3 of the third beat of measure 33, then B3 and Prime A3]

Prime …

[continues to play D3 and Prim A3]

Prime … So it will be played 2 tones … together:

[plays open A string and the note A3, on the D-string]

None of the famous cellists perform this.

But this is important because JSB has 2 possible harmonies in mind, you remember, we have the double pedal with D2-A3, so it could also be the dominant of the dominant …

[plays triad DD: A2-C#3-E3-A3]

… which is still a possibility. So he adds [to the dominant with its fifth A3] the DD [with root A3], and doubles the A3. This is not only because it is now about the tonal range of A3 going to B3 …

[plays beat three of measure 33 to the note D4 in measure 34]

… and to D4. You could look at A4 on the one hand, as a “pitch barrier” which is exceeded, on the other hand JSB presents to us that a second harmony is possible. This is perhaps speculative, but a double A3 sounds different than a single A3.

What’s even stranger is that the whole thing starts with a thrice repeated Prime, so successively three times a Prime:

[plays the 3rd beat of measure 33]


This three-time Prime stands there. And since it is very close AMB might have dedicated the note stems themselves, the middle, and too much has accidentally been recorded.

Now this is a place where I actually looked at other copies from the 18th century. There are a student of JSB [Kellner], which originated from AMB earlier and two that have arisen after JSB’s death. As for pitch, you can already look there once – and I realize that in all 3 copies the Prime in measure 33, beat three appears three times. So, it is not a scribal error of AMB.

Now, what could it be? Of course, the secondary dominant to the parallel minor, so:

[plays parallel minor]

Parallel minor …

[plays measure 13]

… Do you remember? The secondary dominant of the relative minor also has an A3 as its seventh. JSB reminds us of this secondary dominant. But he also turns right back because here …

[plays beat 4 of measure 33, and then continues up to beat 2 of measure 34]

… he brings D3. With this two-time D3 it exchanges the note D#3 [third of the secondary dominant to relative minor]. And JSB writes henceforth only a “two-fold” Prime [only on the second and fourth 16th notes of a beat] – and in the end he leaves the Prime …

[plays measure 36]

… which causes a natural decrescendo. But it is also shown that the dominant of the dominant is finally abandoned, leaving only the dominant.


Furthermore, since the note C#4 is omitted, the presence of the DD ultimately remains in the balance. The absence of C# from bar 31 makes the harmonic character of this passage vague.

It must be mentioned in this connection that the relative minor of the subdominant also has A3 as the root. Thus, the Prime can also be assigned to the relative minor of the subdominant, which is in my opinion the most sensible alternative.


Now something strange happens again, there is the “nucleus” of which I spoke, and although complete:

[play the notes E3 and F3 of measure 37]

… even the note F3 …

[plays slowly]

… F#3, G3. Hence this chromaticism that I attribute to this C#4 [in measure 22] developed, namely:

[plays first beat of measure 22 beat 2 and then the chromatic scale on the pedal D3, measure 37ff]

The C#4 appears one last time [measure 38 beat 2] and then another expansion of the tone space – we had so far as a top note the Eb4 – and now follow E4, F4, G4 and F#4. This is again the afore mentioned “nucleus”, but an octave higher. JSB has withheld this until the end. The sound space is exploding now, suddenly upward. This is a chromaticism that – I do not know if there are other examples in JSB – the tonality is really cancelled. Only the lower pedal note D2 still sustains the sense of the key. But the chromaticism quashes the tonality. This again recalls Thomas Mann with this Johann Conrad Beissel and the Master- and Servant-tones, because here all the sounds are “equal”. Yes, in Doctor Faustus Thomas Mann makes indirect reference to Arnold Schoenberg, whose twelve-tone methods in fact put an end to the tonal hierarchy. This is found even here in JSB.

Well, the final cadence, so the chromaticism ends thus:

[plays beginning with the note E4 in measure 38]

In bar 39, a 2-slur on the bass note D2, which also emphasizes the G4.

[continues to play to measure 40]

The G4 is emphasized again with a 2-slur on the bass note:

[plays measure 41]

Now, a 3-slur on the seventh C4 further emphasizes the F#4, the tritone.

All Urtext editions put 3-slurs in these bars 39-41 without exception. Many repeat 3-slurs in the second half of the measure, but there is none. Because of the absence of slurs in the second half measure JSB creates again a dynamic slowdown. The emphasis must not be repeated again, affirming it is now rapidly coming to an end. So why again an increase, a crescendo made within the respective 3 bars?


The sudden increase and intensification of expression occurs in the penultimate bar by the unexpected entrance of the note C4, too, in contrast to the two previous measures, as the second 16th note of the first beat gets a longer slur. (JSB could have left it on the A3.)

Moreover, the tritone F#3-C4 is quoted again in this bar, which characterizes the two parts of the movement. Here, however, in its inversion C4–F#4.


Incidentally, it is noteworthy that JSB emphasizes the second beat. We have here a 4/4-time and have learned that this meter is characterized by a heavy first beat and a similar heavy third beat, but does not focus on the second or 4 beats. This is here [as a result of slurs] clearly different. And that makes sense, because it is only on the 2nd beat that the harmony is clear. That is, the emphasis on the second beat acts so “harmonically” because it is “understandable”.

We have often focussed in this set second beat, so this myth that these pieces were meant to be danced to can be forgotten.

For example, at the very beginning the second beat is emphasized:

[plays measure 1 beat 2]

Or, yes there are many places …

[plays beginning of bar 7 and aborts]

No, not there. But here:

[plays measure 11]

Or even here:

[plays measure 13]

Also in:

[plays measure 15]

Even here:

[measure plays 16 and emphasizes the fourth beat and depends on measure 17]

Here not so much:

[plays the beginning of measure bar 19]

But here again:

[playing measures 20 and 21]

And here:

[plays the start of measure 22]

This is the second beat [A3]. So, there are even more places. Also in:

[plays measure 29]

The second beat and yet here:

[plays the start of measure 31]

So, it is typical of these works that the second beat is often emphasized.


The second beat also sometimes hosts pitches that are not emphasized by a slur, but give the course of the composition a new twist and thus draw attention to themselves: for example, the notes F3 in measure 37 and C#4 in measure 38

In the other Suite movements it is often true that the real focus is not to be found on the strong beats.


Yes, now the last question: Why is there a chord in the final measure?

[plays the G major triad of measure 42, all three pitches simultaneously sounding]

Because that is not to meant to be any further harmonic ambiguity. He opens the door, so to speak to the other Suite movements. JSB could have written something else:

[plays from measure 41 and performs the resolution to the tonic also with a 16th – arpeggiation of the chord]

He does not. He could have …

[plays again at measure 41 and resolves to the relative minor]

… introduced the relative minor. This happens previously on a few occasions, but not here.

Here, the chord is really something that is unambiguous – and therefore, to my mind, the sounds should be played together and not:

[breaks the G major chord in the two dyads G2-B3 and B3-G4]

… something like that.



Yes, that was it, now?

Public 1 (ironically): But this cannot be. [laugh]

MB : You are right. There are 42 Suite movements, and each can be analyzed in a similar way, it doesn’t repeat anything. The fact is that one could at least say so much about each set. I am also very restrained, because I have only talked about the harmony and excluded all other aspects, because my initial intent was to develop a well-founded clarification for the reading of slurs. This contradicts all the Urtext editions. But what the heck. [Audience laughs]

Now I play this movement – then I would like to hear your questions or take a break and perform the Sarabande in D minor.

[plays the Prélude in G Major]



MB: Yes. Are there any questions? [Pause ]

At best, the questions should be asked now and not private so that we can all benefit. [Pause ]

Maybe the questions will come a little later …

Audience 1: In the entire performance the tempo fluctuations are much more clear to me than the  slurs that are derived from the transcript. That was much more unusual than the bowings for my ear.

MB: That’s a result … of articulation, caused by the irregularity of slurs. It causes a … , yes, the meter is bypassed basically. There it is no longer in this form. It looks like [the traditional notation in 4/4 time], but it is not so. Just because the slurs are placed irregularly. That is the reason why it is always “corrected” [in the Urtext editions]. Because you can not imagine it this way, the fact that the accents are so irregular. The thing I just tried to explain with the second beats is in the small range [emphases on the second or fourth 16th note of a beat] the case. That made me surprised – not just you. [laugh]

Audience 1: To me it is so delivered, that when it [is handled technically] so skillfully, a scale, for example, that one has already played umpteen times that went very quickly. Something like: ‘ Aha, he can do that. He has been practicing for many scales and then go on grounds of dexterity faster and not from any scientific reasons.’

MB: Well, there are maybe 2 , 3 or 4 scales. If we use … at this point , for example , …

[plays measure 19]

Because … I want to quickly get there, to the note C#2. That is not because it is easy to play, but that [the scale] is actually clear.

The only thing which is left would be:

[initially plays the notes F#2 and E2]

… as far as we were already … only these two tones:

[plays then D2 and C#2 ]

But more important to me then is:

[plays the second 16th note A2 to the note G3 of measure 20]

… the Septim G3 here. So this bass note:

[plays C#2 of measure 20]

… of course is a surprise, but this follows from the tones before:

[plays scale from the note F#2 down]

Of course you could emphasize this, but … if you emphasize “everything”, then …


The surprise effect of the bass note C#2 in measure 20, as well as the bass note F#2 in bar 15, is created by the sudden appearance of these unprepared pitches.


Audience 1: You are the player, but the listener is easily mislead, … as I said it , … therefore easy to get off on the “wrong track” .

MB: The situation that the listener gets set on the “wrong track” by JSB is so constantly here. That’s exactly what seems interesting to us. For example, at this point:

[plays first half of measure 22]

That is not expected. What is expected:

Prélude G T22 Alternative 1

[plays first beat of measure 22, but then A3, D4 and F#4 with fermata]


Prélude G T22 Alternative 2

[repeats first beat of measure 22, but then A3, C4 and D4 with fermata]

Because we already have this harmony:

[plays chord tones of the D7 chord]

But JSB writes:

[plays again first half of measure 22]

The other [the previous two examples] sound trite. Why ? Because they add nothing new to the foregoing.

And at this point, for example:

[playing measures 13 and 14]

… here the listener expects a resolution, but does not receive it. And so there are many places … or fallacies.

Audience 1: In this notation [projection of a copy of AMB] the last bars right at the end of a line are indeed often only half measures. It is strange that these measures will be continued in the next line …

MB: That’s why AMB also has made a slip of the pen sometimes. But you know, I also think that … this is more familiar to someone, like me, for example, who plays contemporaneous music, since there is rarely printed music. As you read all sorts of things, however, the [copy of AMB] here is a no brainer [a trifle]. But in music education, there are Urtext editions and printed music, because the classics indeed all are laid out. Many are no longer accustomed to reading the actual original text. But I think that this is a very important thing that you can also see the original typeface because without studying this original typeface I might also never have encountered this [the interpretation of slurs] – not with the Urtext editions anyway. But even if that had been [the transcript of AMB] printed as I present it? I do not know …

The characteristic style of handwriting is something important, again AMB has “only” copied. You can tell already on her handwriting, that she has not all necessarily understood what JSB has composed. She considers herself even a little too slavishly to the original. On the other hand, you realize that her penetration in the composition is not as deep – but those are things where you start to question if there is a little unclear slur, she got that? Did JSB write that? What could be the interpretations? How would it have to be, perhaps? And then one comes to issues as a result of such note image that you would not otherwise face … that deepens the understanding of the work immensely.

I have delivered to you today some examples of how the piece could have been composed differently or could have continued, because the expectations of the listener plays a very large role in JSB. He does not expect that the listener does remember the beginning, but he expects that one can relate one bar with the direct following bar, i. e. that the listener expects a resolution and this doesn’t happen.

Audience 2: The Cello Suites are often associated with the Partitas for violin. Of the Partitas for Violin there are handwritten scores of JSB. Where are those harmonic features that you have filtered out of the “supposedly faulty” copy of AMB?

MB: Of the violin works there is also a copy of AMB.

Audience 2: But, I thought there was also the autograph of JSB? Are there actually these harmonic features which you have presented to us today similarly visible in his notation?

MB: That is a good question which I had expected. I also brought this matter to myself, and there is an answer. But that would be really – so please do not be disappointed if I do not answer this question, but only say, it is an important question – and I have, as far as it has been possible to me, that’s associated with a lot of time to get thus already concerned. But that would be at least another seminar which would be organized in order to clarify this in detail. You must then deal with both versions, the autograph and copy of AMB, which was created at the same time as the [copy of the] cello Suites, 10 years after its composition. This is very exciting.

Audience 3 : You then get an invitation for that. [laugh]

Audience 2: If I may still experience this [laugh]

MB : Another question? Or the Sarabande? [Pause ]


In memory of Janos Starker I ‘m playing the D minor Sarabande. Janos Starker was my teacher and he died a few days ago in Bloomington at the age of 88. We had one last meeting in Geneva, in the Grande Salle du Conservatoire [in December 2000]. He there met my curved bow and we have made a public event. On the website BACH.Bogen a transcription of our meeting is transcribed. It was a very enjoyable meeting – unfortunately the last.

[plays the Sarabande in D Minor]

[Applause ]


Audience 2: A fulfilled and exhausted Auditorium bows to the speaker for this really incredibly intense encounter with the score and soundscape of the first Suite Prelude. I wish you many expert listeners in other contexts. Let that be heard far and wide.



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