Urtext = Plain Text ? – An Analysis of the Sarabande in D Major, Part 1 (Bar 1-8)



This is a translation of the post

Urtext = Klartext? – eine Analyse der Sarabande in D-Dur, Teil 1 (Takt 1-10)

by Dr. Marshall Tuttle

Michael Bach


This is the first part of the analysis of the

“Sarabande” in D Major


Burkard Weber

Interpretation of “Sarabande in D Major”

Michael Bach, Violoncello with BACH.Bogen:



Bach Digital

Copy of Anna Magdalena Bach, digital copy from the Staatsbibliothek in Berlin – PK


MB (Michael Bach): Here, in this piece, it there is a harmonic meaning, which is why we have monophony and two-, three-, and four-part passages.

There are many musicians, or almost all, who claim that the note values are not to be taken precisely. In my opinion, it is quite clear that they must be rendered exactly.

Because, in this movement, for example, the bass is usually not resolved. This can only be heard when the bass is held to the end.


Sarab D-Dur Bindebögen- 001


Measure 1

Let us take the first measure. We have D major. [plays bar 1]

What is the second sound? We have a reduced D major sound.

If this were focused on this second sound, Bach would have composed like this: [plays first the two-part and then the three-part harmony]

One would think this version is almost the same.

If you look at the first 8 bars, the second beat is always reduced in the number of notes. Often, a four-voice chord occurs on the 1st beat, and then a two note chord, or sometimes a three note chord, or sometimes even a single note, appears on the second beat

So, I can not imagine it being played like this: [emphasizes the double stop on the second beat instead of the three part chord on the first beat.

It is rather the opposite, that the second beat is “incomplete” and I play it slightly dynamically reduced, because we do not know …

This is always the case with Bach. When he changes from three- or four-parts to two-parts it means something. In this case, it is an opening to other harmonies.

Because, I could imagine this harmony now: [plays in B minor]

Only, the listener does not imagine this, because he has to be moved first of all. He does not imagine a C# in the bass (tonic chord of the mediant, F sharp minor). But it would be possible that the G does not appear at the end of the measure, but a G#. Then we would be in the mediant, or relative minor of the dominant.

But the G appears, and it is interesting again that this is a single note.

If Bach had left this previous A, then a minor seventh would arise. This happens later in measure 13: [plays measure 13]

We’ll talk about that later. In any case, when I hear this seventh, I am already thinking of a dominant, namely: [plays A – C# – E – G]

Measure 2

This does not happen, however. The piece continues with the G of the subdominant in the first beat of the second bar.

And here the focus is effectively on the second beat. That is, the resolution to D major. Although we only have a two-part chord, it is clear, this is D major.

The first chord of the second bar is interesting: First, it is not playable. The 6th Suite is written for a five-string instrument. We have the difficulty that we do not have the E-string and therefore there are a few modifications.

But here, with this chord: [plays G – G – B – E], that would still be playable on a five-string instrument, but not that: [plays G – G – B – C#] because C# is below the E-string.

That is, one must omit a tone here if one does not want to break the chord. By the way, I’ve never heard a cellist playing all four notes.

What sound do we want to leave out now? There are 2 possibilities. We have this chord first: [plays  G – G – B – E]. Here I also omit the doubled G, which is “painless”.

Furthermore, one could play as follows: [plays G – G – C#], leaving out the B, but now playing the previously omitted octave G. Then we have an ordinary resolution of the Tritone (G – C#) to D major (F# – D).

I am not doing this, but I want to intensify the dissonance and play: [plays G – B – C#] this strong dissonance with C# and B.

BW (Burkard Weber): This is a pungent resolution, but it is nice.

MB: Yes, that’s how it is.

There is now one more thing: the notated note values. There are half notes in the lower voices and quarter notes in the upper voices.

Normally these quarter notes would now be slurred. Because always … [plays a short passage from the Gavotte II in D major, bars 12ff] There are also no slurs, but in the lower voice are quarters and in the upper voice are quavers.

As a rule, therefore, in almost all cases in the case of Bach, the upper voice is then slurred. This also means that the tied second note is unstressed.

This is my observation, which I have made when examining the slurs. I am talking about a Slur Codex. There are about 10 rules with small modifications.

One of the rules is that if there are longer note values in a chord, below or above, and one voice moves, it is slurred.

And then there is one more thing that I discovered when studying the Chaconne for violin solo. This is due to the fact that we do not have such highly chordal movements on the cello where such a thing occurs. That if longer and shorter note values are played together, it is played dynamically as if there were a single all-embracing slur.

I take this measure [plays bar 4] to mean that the first note after the slur is emphasized.

This is all a little quick and complicated and maybe not so easy to understand …

Here, in the Sarabande in D major, there is an exception to the fact that Bach sometimes notates slurs (bars 4 and 7) and sometimes does not in such cases (bars 2, 3 and 6).

This means, for example, if he writes a slur in bar 4 [plays the first beat in bar 4], the resolution (F#) is unstressed and the next note (G) is emphasized. If he had not written this slur, the resolution would not be unstressed, let’s say so. This occurs elsewhere (bar 23).

This means that whenever there is no slur, the second chord is not attenuated, but rather is amplified even more [plays the first beat of measure 2].

It is interesting here, again, that the bass is not resolved. He could go from G to F#. The F# is found in the voice above, but not in the bass [plays the second beat of bar 2].

The fact that Bach does not resolve increases the expectation.

In the following measure, D major appears [plays the first beat of measure 3], but that is not a direct resolution.

We will now see how this will develop. The first bar has already given us the clue, a question mark: why does Bach omit the bass here, in the second beat of the bar?

On the other hand, [plays bars 2 and 3], the second beat is emphasized, which is the paradox in this piece, that often the second beat is emphasized, even though the number of notes is reduced.

Measure 3

Here [plays 2nd beat of bar 3] are also “only” 3 notes, which are clearly the dominant.

Measure 4

And then it resolves, the resolution is tied, and the G is emphasized. Why is the G stressed even though it is a single note?

It is emphasized, of course, because of the slurring, since the 1st note is stressed thereafter, according to the Slur Code.

But, there is another reason too: We always have this line [plays the upper voice of measure 2, measure 3 and measure 4], this cambiata around the target note. Thus the G, the first note of this motif is highlighted [plays 2nd and 3rd beats of bar 4].

With this monophony [plays the 3rd beat of bar 4], the question arises again, as in the beginning, do we have a third related key? What key would be possible? It could, for example, conceivably be B minor.

This often happens with Bach, that he changes into the relative minor, which he could already have written in the second bar: [plays bar 2 with B minor chord in the second beat of the cadence] That could already have come, that is why there are two-parts.

This question becomes  increasingly clear: What does the reduction of the number of parts mean?

With this monophony we do not know whether we have this harmony (B minor) or D major or even F sharp minor. [plays chords of the relative minor, the tonic and the mediant.] Three possibilities are conceivable here, at least.

Measure 5

And what is Bach doing next? In fact, B minor, the relative minor comes as the next harmony.

This is a chord, which we can not finger on the cello with 4 strings.

After the arpeggio, I play not only the fifth (B – F#), but the D also, but not the notated low D, because it is not the bass note. The bass note (B) I would gladly sustain, but that does not go with a four-string cello, the 5th string is missing.

So, I play the D after the break one octave higher, which also appears here: [plays 2nd beat of measure 5] I would not want to attenuate this bass tone even further [plays B in the bass of the first beat of measure 5] with a competing low D.

But I play the high D, so that it is quite clear that the relative minor will sound.

The Tritone [plays second beat of measure 5] is clearly the dominant.

Measure 6

Now we have a chord – it is the widest in this movement – which we can not even reach. Even if we had an E-string, we could not reach it. Because, we have a G#, an E and a D … and now the B would be up here: [indicates with right hand on the imaginary place of the B on the fingerboard on the E-string, this interval cannot be fingered because of the limited hand span.

Even here (in a higher position, one string lower), the B would be unreachable.

I play first the 3 low notes and then the two upper ones. The second chord contains only 3 notes (G# – E – C#), which I can reach. And I repeat again the bass (G#), which, again, is not resolved.

BW: That’s what I meant with regard to the bass notes. I did not mean that they did not matter; they were often not resolved, and did not fulfill what one expected from the bass.

MB: But, that’s just the interesting thing about the piece.

As I said, I play this chord completely [plays the 2nd chord of the 1st beat of bar 6].

By the way, we have no half-note in the upper voice. The B is not a half. I assume that this is the middle voice [plays D – C# – D from bar 6], and this note B in the upper voice could theoretically be sustained.

Bach shortens it to a quarter, and I suppose that is perhaps somewhat subjective that he really wants to draw attention to the bass, that the bass is actually to be held. I then play like this: two down bows.

Now we have again a minor seventh [plays the second beat of measure 6], that could be this harmony: [plays E = G# – B – D]. This would be the same harmony as the first chord of this measure [plays G# – E – D – B].

So, we remain in the harmony (dominant of the dominant), but it could theoretically already be the dominant, with a suspended fourth.

Bach leaves the harmony open again on the second beat. It is also emphasized again, because the chord before it has half notes in the lower voice and quarter notes in the upper voice. In other words, according to my knowledge this means an emphasis on the next beat. This means an emphasis [plays the second beat of bar 6], although we do not know exactly which harmony prevails.

Measure 7

And now we know it [plays the 1st beat time of bar 7], because the bass sounds. Now the G# from the previous beat resolves to A.

Here is a slur notated by Bach [plays the first beat of bar 7], that is, the resolution in the upper voice to the third is again unstressed, as in: [plays the first beat of bar 4] But the next beat is emphasized.

Well, what is this? [Plays 2nd beat of bar 7] A major seventh. One could now interpret the D as a suspended fourth to the C#. Or, it could still be the dominant of the dominant, namely D as seventh. So, we do not know … nevertheless stressed.

Measure 8

And now [plays 1st beat of measure 8] we know. The C# at the end of the first part is emphasized. Why? This is very interesting:

We have slurs here. If a slur follows another slur, then the first note under the second slur is emphasized, but the next note after that second slur is unstressed.

And this is also the case here: [plays 3rd beat from bar 7 and further] Now Bach is notating a tie. I do not play this tie, I change the bow because of the three-part chord, but I perceive it correspondingly like a tie by trying to make the bow change inaudible and by not stressing the three part chord on the first beat of measure 8. Here [plays the first beat of measure 8] is once more a slur and then on the second beat an emphasis.

We have an overly long slur, which consists of a slur, a tie and another slur.  This is a unity. This is over all a very long slur.This results in a very strong accentuation of the third of the dominant, even though it is a single note.