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 1-8)

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:

Lecture on YouTube:
Bach, Sarabande D-Dur Cello solo | Analyse Michael Bach | Teil 1

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.

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