Urtext = Plain Text ? – An Analysis of the Sarabande in d minor, Part 1 (Bar 1-10)



This is a translation of the post

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

by Dr. Marshall Tuttle.

Michael Bach

This is the first part of the analysis of the

“Sarabande” in D minor


Interpretation of the “Sarabande” in D minor
Michael Bach, Violoncello with BACH.Bogen




Sarabande d AMB -
Copy by Anna Magdalena Bach, digital scan of the Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin – PK



JSB = Johann Sebastian Bach
AMB = Anna Magdalena Bach

2-slur, 3-slur, 4-slur = Slurs over 2, 3 or 4 notes.
Three 2-slurs = three slurs over 2 notes
m, mm = measure, measures

C4 = middle C

Sub = subdominant
Dom = dominant
mSub= minor subdominant
mDom = minor dominant
RM = relative major
Rm = relative minor
SRM = subdominant of the relative major
DC = deceptive cadence
DD = dominant of the dominant
D7-chord = dominant seventh chord
Dom9 = dominant ninth chord
iDom9 = incomplete dominant ninth chord (missing the root)


The Slur-Code

Here I codify some insights that have emerged from my detailed analyses of all the “Suites” in the copy of AMB, almost as axioms advance. I call them the “Slur-Code” in the works for solo cello. In this “Sarabande“, the following rules apply:


The first note under a slur is emphasized, as is the first note after the slur. The longer the slur, the stronger the subsequent noteis emphasized and the weaker is the first note of the slur. This sometimes leads to the extreme case that an exceptionally long slur has to start very quietly, while the subsequent pitch is very strongly accentuated (e.g. m 13 of the “Allemande” in G Major).


When one slur directly follows another, the first note of the second slur receives emphasis, and the subsequent, linked notes decrescendo. The first note after the second slur is consequently unstressed.


Slurs are not normally notated when the polyphony defines them. The longest note determines the stroke of the bow and the length of the slur (legato) over the shorter note values. If a slur is notated over the shorter notes, this signifies a breaking of this rule. That is, this slur is to be performed and consequently the longer note values are divided in accordance with the slur. The pitches of the longer note values are thus repeated.


Analysis of the “Sarabande” in D minor


Sarabande d 1-4 001


Sarabande” in D minor, Edition Michael Bach
Sheet music example mm 1-4

Slurs that are understood from the polyphony and which JSB therefore did not have to notate are added in parentheses.


Preliminary note

The unusually large number of trills in the “Sarabande” in D minor is striking. There are a total of 7 trills, but not 8 as generally assumed, because no trill is notated by AMB in m. 5. 1). As remarked in the analysis of the “Sarabande” in E Flat Major 2), JSB used the trill, to refer to two harmonies. A trill is ergo no mere ornament, which is carried out according to traditional rules prescribed by decorating tables. Such a convention does not exist in the solo cello works. This signifies primarily that a compositionally relevant trill cannot be omitted nor can any other trill be added.

M. 1

Furthermore, the “Sarabande” opens unusually in D minor with a unison. The spelling of JSB is always a single note head with two Stems 3). Hardly any cellist plays this unison D3-D3. But from the unison there develops a dissonant interval of the second, D3-E3 which is even more rarely executed. This interval of the second is, however, essential because the interference of dissonance gives an oscillating sound effect similar to a trill. In addition, the second is the inversion of the interval of the seventh, which achieves its own expression in this movement.

Also, as pointed out previously in the “Sarabande” in E Flat Major, dissonant intervals must really sound to be perceived as such. It is true in no way to the thesis that here the note D3 when it is not played, is extended by the listener’s imagination, to form a dissonance with the sounding E3. Listeners can, due to listening habits, sometimes anticipate resolutions of dissonances, but the obverse does not happen, dissonances are not fictionally added. Human comprehension tends to resolve complex harmonic structures and complex intervals into simpler sonorities.

By the way, a remark on the meter: 1. If the first beat is played as a single note (rather than as a unison interval between two notes) it could easily give the incorrect metrical impression of a mere upbeat to the following double stop with trill.

The slurring of the notes in the upper voice, due to the quarter note D3 in the second voice (see “Slur Code”), emphasizes the 2nd beat.

The 2nd beat consists of the fifth A2-E3 with a trill on the note E3. The fifth over A2 suggests a Dom function. Although the third of the minor Dom is missing, the trill E3-F3 could be regarded as a combination of the fifth E3 of the minor dominant and the third F3 of the minor tonic.
The prerequisite for the major Dom is missing, namely the absolutely necessary sounding of the third “C#”. Moreover, the interval A2-F3 alternatively could represent the minor tonic or RM.

The trill, which is right at the beginning of the movement, and therefore can not be a conventional resolution trill of something foregoing, symbolizes the vague harmonious affiliation of these two beats. The pitch of the trill intensifies the irritation, as customarily a fourth is trilled, which then resolves to the tonic. That would mean here that the secondary Dom of the RM could be heard on the 2nd beat. However, the bass note a2 (the sixth of the secondary Dom of the RM) contradicts this interpretation.

It follows that in m. 1 an initial harmony, a tonic has not yet been established. Of course, it can be assumed that all of the sets of “suites” start with the tonic. But doubts about the harmonic stability are aroused by the harmonic interval of a second (D3-E3) and by the trill.

Back in the 2nd and 3rd beat slurring occurs in the upper voice because of the half note value of the bass note. According to the “Slur Code” the tied notes decresendo to the resolution in the next measure. The two sixteenth notes are not a short Nachschlag, but form a melodic transition to the third of the chord of the tonic minor. (JSB has never notated a Nachschlag to the trills in the „Suites“.)

M. 2

Now for the first time the full chord of the tonic minor is heard.

M. 3

The notes Bb2 and G3 indicate the mSub. Thereafter, it is questionable given this sequence of sixteenth notes whether the Dom of the RM, or the Dom9 of the tonic will arise. The relatively long slur over these notes clearly emphasized the 1st beat of the following measure. The pitches are equalized under the slur, they can not be distinguished in harmonic function or weighted (as opposed to m. 7).

T 4

The note C#3 is clearly the third of the dominant. But it is obscured by the trill with D3, the root of the minor tonic (as opposed to m. 19). Accordingly, the basic D minor chord persists. As in m. 1, this is not a resolution trill, for the entirety of m. 4 remains, with the notes B2, A2, and the seventh G2, on the dominant.


Sarabande d 5-10 002

Sheet music sample mm 5-10

M 5

The 3-note chord of the 1st beat unquestionably represents the minor tonic.

The following fifth A2-E3 now receives no trill, contrary to widespread performance convention! The reason is that this measure can not be a repeat of m. 1 because D minor has since established itself as the home key. This second beat is also not preceded by an interval of a second. The perfect fifth, without the trill to F3, behaves more as “Dom” than the 2nd beat in m. 1


Perhaps somewhat speculative is a hypothesis that due to the abandonment of the trill E3-F3 in this “varied repeat” of m. 1 the appearance in m. 8 is all the more important.

M. 6

The expected minor tonic sounds as in m. 2. M. 7.

Again, as in m. 3, the question arises whether after the initial mSub, the Dom of the Rm or the Dom9 chord develops, although the Dom9 chord is excluded with the sounding of the note C4. But the three 2-Slurs continue to accentuate the pitches of still conceivable harmonies: the third Bb3 of the mSub, the root C4 of the Dom of the RM and the third A3 of the RM. However, with the notes C4 and A3 the mDom, is probably most obvious after the mSub.

M. 8

The trill E3-F3, in contrast to the trill in m. 4 is now unstressed, unaccented and ambiguous: is it a conjunction of the Dom of the RM with its resolution (third E3 of the dominant and root F3 of the RM) or the mDom with the minor tonic (fifth E3 of the mDom and third F3 of the minor tonic)?

M. 9

The next two measures produce a diffuse situation with their dissonances. The 1st beat could mean the minor tonic or RM.

The chord of the 2nd beat could be the mSub or Sub of the RM, both containing the non-harmonic note A3 in the upper voice. On the other hand the note Bb2 in the bass could be the minor sixth of the minor tonic.

As a result of the 2-slur in the 1st beat the bass note is A2 is repeated and sounds together with the seventh G3. However, the chord lacks the necessary third C# for a Dom7 chord.

The dotted quarter note in the two lower voices of the 2nd beat is remarkable. Because of this, both slurred sixteenth notes G3 and F3 sound alone. The simultaneous sounding of the notes Bb2-D3 in the lower voices together with G3 would complete the chord of the mSub, while F3 would complete the chord of the Sub of the RM. Both shouldn’t appear here, so complete chords with their thirds are avoided (see m. 21).


The seventh Bb2-A3 would be interchangeable with a trill A3-Bb3 in the upper voice, omitting the bass note Bb2. This suggests that the presence of two harmonies, either the minor tonic with the mSub or RM with its Sub. This analogy reveals the essential relationship of seconds, sevenths and trills, which is virtually celebrated in this “Sarabande“.

M. 10

Again, the first beat remains harmonically ambiguous. Although now the minor tonic is finally eliminated by the notes Bb2 and G3. Still the mSub and the secondary Dom of the RM are present as alternatives. In the upper part, a 2-slur is again above the sixteenth notes, which accentuates the seventh Bb2-A3. But it is still missing the clarifying third of the chord to distinguish between the competing harmonies.

The 2nd beat brings strong dissonances. The chord G2-F3-Bb3 could be described as a secondary Dom (Dom7 chord) of the RM with suspended fourth F3. However, on account of the bass note G2, instead of the possible note C3, and the upper Bb3 the sound still has a certain Sub flavor.

Now follow the two sixteenth notes C4 and D4 in the upper voice instead of the possible notes A3-G3, which might be expected in analogy with the previous measure. The harmony of G2-F3-C4 intensifies the previous dissonance. With the pitches “F” and “C” the mSub has been displaced and the Dom of the RM now seems solely to rule.

Consequently, this explosive dissonance transforms the previous mSub definitively into the Dom of RM, which is a rarity in this movement. Usually the mSub converts into the Dom, because the notes “G” and “Bb” can be reinterpreted as a seventh and and ninth of the Dom. Both notes will, however, turn into the fifth and seventh of the Dom of RM. (The fact that the transformation of the mSub either into the Dom or into the Dom of RM is an issue that has already been indicated in m. 3 of the “Sarabande“. In m. 4, the preferred resolution happens to be the Dom.)

Notable here are the note values of the two lower voices: Unlike in the previous measure, JSB notates a half note. In conjunction with the 2-slur on the two sixteenth notes in the upper voice, this causes a repetition in the lower voices. Indeed, these three pitches G2-F3-C4 should sound together, creating a very sharp dissonance.



The minor tonic, which was latently present for 9 bars and which could be sustained in a pedal point on a “D” in the bass – is ousted in this measure. The RM and its Dom are rigorously asserting themelves.

Remarkable, however, is the fact that the actually indispensable third “E” of the Dom of the RM is missing, so that an unambiguous statement that this is a secondary Dom is not possible.


AMB listed a “tr”, sometimes shortened to a “t”. Other symbols of ornamentation do not appear in the “Suites” on except a single grace note in the “Allemande” in G Major. This singular grace note is also harmonically based.

The “Sarabande” in E Flat Major contains only a single trill, which is unusually placed on the last note of the first half of the movement.

The identical spelling is also found in the transcripts of Johann Peter Kellner and the two from the 2nd half of the 18th century.





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