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And now, continue to the article
Reading Bachs Ideas:
the Prelude to BWV 998
1
jonathan Leathwood

i
1ui vi.viv-vi.uiv
B
achs lute works: so we are accustomed to call the three suites and other pieces
catalogued as nwv ,:ooo plus the Suite nwv :oooa. It is a convenient but con-
troversial grouping. Only the Suite nwv , and the Prelude, Fugue and Allegro
nwv 8 survive in Bachs hand specifcally designated for the lute (nwv 8 is for
lute or keyboard). Te remaining pieces could well have been written for the lauten-
werck (a gut-strung harpsichord) or one of the more conventional keyboard instruments.
And while integral recordings by lutenists accumulate in the catalogue, the notion also
persists that Bachs writing for the lute poses special problems - an assumption which,
thanks to the perceived kinship among fretted instruments, has been duly passed on to
guitarists.
Tere are indeed passages in the lute works of Bach which cannot be realised literally
on the lute. But nowhere is the problem of the lutes idiom so characteristic yet so little
discussed as in Bachs notation of the contrapuntal texture, and in particular of bass-note
rests. Short bass notes proliferate in such pieces as the trs viste (very quick) movement
in the prelude to the Suite nwv ,, in the same suites frst gavotte, and in the prelude
to the Prelude, Fugue and Allegro nwv 8. It may well be that as far as lutenists were
concerned, Bach could have saved himself a good deal of ink. For one thing, such care-
ful notational distinctions within a multi-voiced texture would be largely lost when the
music came to be intabulated for lute. Moreover, many would claim that the lute tech-
nique of Bachs day was ill-adapted to the constant stopping of the bass strings, given a
hand position and fngering style in which the thumb was just as occupied with the treble
voice.
Something of this discomfort over notation has been inherited by modern guitarists,
to the extent that in the bad old days, editors were wont to suppress the rests.
:
Much has
changed since then. Not only is the so-called Urtext of the lute works more available in
numerous editions,
,
it is also more approachable. Techniques for varying articulation are
being studied ever more systematically by guitar students, and few would argue that it is
actually impossible for a guitarist to realise Bachs notation literally. Nonetheless, family
values persist: Guitarists opt frequently and explicitly to ignore the rests in the bass, fol-
lowing the imagined model of an ancestral lutenist.
vi.ui c n.cu s i ui.s :
Is this Baroque practice or merely bad practice: Should authenticity reside with the
lute or with the notation: In fact modern lutenists tend to give the lie to the assumed tech-
nical restrictions: for example, Lutz Kirchhof s recent recording of the prelude to nwv
8 respects the bass-note rests of Bachs manuscript exactly.

As for the guitar, many play-


ers are questioning the extent to which the modern instrument should fall into any par-
ticular tradition. Recent approaches to technique efectively locate the instrument within
a gamut of infuences, drawing above all on keyboard and bowed-strings which were,
even more than the lute, paramount in Baroque music. For many players, though, some
articulations and textures will always remain more natural, more native to the guitar than
others. Here is Sharon Isbin, writing in her Acoustic Guitar Answerbook:
Because the guitar has a faster decay and a smaller sound than the piano or
harpsichord, there are many times when it is desirable to allow a bass note on the
guitar to ring through a rest. In the opening measures of J.S. Bachs Prelude pour
la Luth o Cembal from the Prelude, Fugue, and Allegro (nwv 8), for instance,
the keyboard notation indicates bass-note rests that do not sound convincing when
played on the guitar [see example :
,
].
Because the tonality remains constant throughout the measure, a guitarist can let
the bass note decay naturally rather than stopping it abruptly on the third quaver.
Tis gracefully diminishing bass note reinforces the harmonic richness of both the
instrument and the phrase. Without it, the upper voices foat without a foundation.
If one carries out this approach for the remainder of the piece, a sinuous beauty
emerges that would be lacking if each rest were followed literally.
o

Tis, from the pen of one of our most substantial and informed interpreters of Bach,
deserves some discussion. It seems, though, that there are two inconsistencies, the frst
having to do with Isbins notion of foundation, and the second with her comments
about the relative sustaining powers of guitar and keyboard.
First, we should ask the Answerbook, what is meant by foundation here: Surely not
harmonic foundation. Afer all, few would argue that just because a bass note is to be cut
short, it thereby ceases to be understood - heard - as harmonic support for the upper
line. On the contrary, it persists owing to what Kirkpatrick referred to as our internal
damper [sustaining] pedal.
,
In other words, the rests cannot undermine the contrapuntal
framework, because the bass notes ring on in our imagination. Clearly Isbin is here think-
ing of the resonance of the instrument, rather than the grammar of the counterpoint.
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Example : nwv 8, Prelude
vi.ui c n.cu s i ui.s ,
Second, Isbins comment that the rests sound abrupt and unconvincing on the
guitar - they do indeed articulate the bass line very sharply - does not tally with her
remarks about the unequal sustaining qualities of guitar and harpsichord. If the rests rep-
resent an efect native to the harpsichord, which has a greater sustaining power than the
lute, then they will sound more abrupt on the harpsichord, not less.
Isbins last argument is surely the best - that when the bass notes are allowed to reso-
nate on the guitar, then a texture is created that the harpsichord can hardly emulate, a
texture which Bach might well have enjoyed. Tis joins with Isbins notion of foundation
in the service of a richness of sonority. Nevertheless, we should beware: if this richness
is only pleasing, not necessary in any grammatical sense, we must ask whether it is rel-
evant to this piece, or whether the notation is not pointing to some other sonority which
we, the interpreters, must fnd. Afer all, the work is designated for lute frst, harpsichord
second: perhaps so too is Bachs meticulous text, rests and all. As we shall see in part iv
below, harmonic richness in this prelude is as much a matter of the inner ears capacity
to sustain harmony notes - to create an imaginary acoustic - as it is of notes sustained
visually in a notated texture, or aurally by a resonating instrument.
Sharon Isbins comments here, and the performance editions of Bachs lute works pre-
pared by her mentor Rosalyn Tureck,
8
are thought-provoking because they highlight and
expand a truism: that no notation is a completely transparent window to the intentions
of the composer. Now that the Urtext of these works is so widely available, how can we
be sure we have learnt to read it: Te tradition of notated art music, transmitted as much
through written ciphers as through direct lines of performance practice, is as literary
as it is oral. We are all player-readers, and the more awe-inspiring and widely known a
masterpiece becomes, the more we are inclined to speak of this or that performance as
a reading - most conspicuously when it goes against the instructions of the score. Te
words which Heinrich Schenker chose to begin his treatise on performing might seem
self-defeating, given the subject of the book (it was never fnished), but they defne a nec-
essary condition of the performers task:
Basically, a composition does not require a performance in order to exist. Just as
an imagined sound appears real in the mind, the reading of a score is sumcient to
prove the existence of the composition. Te mechanical realization of the work of
art can thus be considered superfuous.
9
With this notion of reading we arrive at the project of this paper. To try to approach it
more closely, it seems appropriate to take the same prelude to nwv 8 that we have been
discussing. Tis prelude will be the focus of the analysis in part iii. It will be obvious that
the role played by rests in Bachs textures, and in this prelude in particular, is another
focal point. Part ii, then, is preliminary: it aims to create a context for the prelude, by
examining the role of rests in the bass lines of some other works by Bach. A fnal part
returns to issues of texture and performance in the light of the analysis.
vi.ui c n.cu s i ui.s
As invoked so far, this concept of reading might seem banal enough: that to form an
interpretation is to read between the lines - that is, to understand the unwritten lan-
guage of gesture. But in what follows, I shall try to show that to read between the lines,
in a deeper sense, means more than to hear inwardly the gestures implied by the nota-
tion. It is to hear also whole passages of implied but unwritten music against which the
music is projected, and from which the gestures chosen by the interpreter gain their full-
est signifcance and force.
vi.ui c n.cu s i ui.s ,
i i
vi.ui c n.cus vis1s
i Rhythmic levels. Bach o Chopin
Such punctuation of the bass line as we fnd in the lute works is nothing unusual for
Bach. It is consistent with the notation throughout his instrumental music. Te general
principle is easily stated: given an initially static bass (for instance a tonic pedal), and
when more than one voice is moving above the bass, Bach will likely allow himself fully
sustained note values (without rests). Otherwise more articulated bass notes are the
norm. A comparison of the praeludium with the allemande, in the First Partita for key-
board nwv 8:,, illustrates the distinction (examples :a and :b).
Tese considerations show us something characteristic about Bachs attitude towards
rhythm and pulse. For him - once described by an eye-witness, Gesner, as full of rhythm
in every part of his body
10
- metre depends on the sounding together of several distinct
layers of pulsation (for instance, crotchets, quavers and semiquavers). Hence if a single
upper voice is fowing in one note value, he will prefer to articulate the bass with rests so
that it clarifes a layer of pulse which is moving perhaps twice as slowly. So rhythmicised,
the bass becomes a kind of audible conductor to the treble, and both together make a
sounding metrical framework.
11

To clarify this point, let us compare the allemande just cited with the opening of Cho-
pins Prelude in G major, op. :8 no. , (example ,). In both pieces there are two overt levels
of rhythm. But in Chopins texture it is the semiquaver and the minim which are repre-
sented - two layers are missing in between (the crotchet and the quaver).
::
Tis omission,
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Example :a nwv 8:,, Praeludium


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Example :b nwv 8:,, Allemande


vi.ui c n.cu s i ui.s o
naturally, serves the purpose of a poetic blurring of the rhythm in the lef hand, whose
irregular fguration already hints at the melody to come. In the Bach allemande, on the
other hand, the rests link the level of the semiquaver in the upper voice with that of the
crotchet in the bass. Te two together are enough to clarify the intermediate level - the
quaver (this level is also implicit in the fguration).
An awareness of these superimposed rhythmic levels ofers other benefts to the inter-
preter. For it proves to be of great value when one wishes to avoid the interrupting efect
of metrical accents in the moving part (at least as long as the rests are strictly measured).
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vi.ui c n.cu s i ui.s ,
Example cites three out of many cases in the lute works, where the player might be
tempted to accent the upper voice at the place marked with a non-accent (

). Te stop-
ping of the bass notes notated at these places, by contrast, provides a quite diferent
means of marking the metre, making the accents unnecessary.
ii Cadences. Suite nwv ,
In Bachs music - not only in Bachs music! - a rest is an action: to silence a note is as
pointed a gesture as to sound it. For some illustrations of this, I turn to the Lute Suite
nwv , - assuming here and there that readers will have their own scores to refer
to - beginning with its allemande. Certainly this is a more challenging texture to realise
than the examples just cited: observe the rests with the right hand (play the rests, we say)
and it becomes hard to sustain the cantilena above (example ,):
What happens if we try: Whatever does happen, it makes its point as we arrive at the
cadence, when we encounter a startling example of Bachs feeling for texture - when, in
fact, we come across a general principle that governs many of Bachs discourses: that is to
treat the fully sustained texture as a special efect, used especially to mark and illuminate
the cadence (example o).
Te same change from short to sustained bass notes highlights the fnal cadence of
this allemande, too. Here again, it may well be that Bachs notation extends the kinds of
texture known to contemporary lutenists. Afer all, confronted with only the tablature for
this piece, how would one play: It would be easier, more natural even, to allow the open-
ing chord and the subsequent bass notes to ring on. But Bach imposes a dimculty: stop
the note. Later on, as the section reaches its goal - the cadence - he removes the obstacle:
all the parts are allowed to resonate, and for a moment we can bask in the liberated sonor-
ity. For the guitarist who wishes to make these distinctions, to communicate this implied
release requires some sensitivity in balancing of voices. Since the change in texture afects
only the bass, then as the bass becomes more sustained it must surely be well marked.
Fortunately, when long notes are brought out against a moving texture, the efect can be
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vi.ui c n.cu s i ui.s 8
one of greater luminosity without any perceived increase in overall dynamic level. Tis
particular balancing act is perhaps necessary on the guitar owing to its lack of sustaining
power, but it was a favoured resource of the pianist Glenn Gould, too, in his many record-
ings of Bach.
Active silence and active sustaining likewise govern the unmarked opening section of
the prelude to this suite. However, now the bass contains two rhythmic characters (exam-
ple ,):
a single crotchet followed by a rest (m. :) and
a walking fgure of two crotchets, again articulated by a rest (m. ,).
Turning now to example 8, for a moment it might seem that in this prelude m. , contains
an anomalous three-note fgure, but once it is realised that halfway through the measure
the music returns to its opening sound (namely the octave of m. :), it becomes obvious
that these two rhythmic characters follow one another in succession. Example 8 aligns
the second half of m. with the opening so as to highlight their equivalence.
Hence a new start - that is, an articulation - is necessary at the midpoint of m. ,. Just
as crucially, the player needs either to reproduce the frst sound of the piece or meaning-
fully to transform it. Needless to add, the fnal measures of this opening section (before
the trs viste) replace the basss short crotchets with fully sustained minims so as to evoke
the texture and feel of cadence: another opportunity to balance the texture in favour of
the bass.
As a fnal instance of cadential texture let us consider the sarabande. Te frst part
of the binary form is shown in example . In mm. :, : and , it is surely best to avoid
an entirely legato line from one measure to the next, and instead to make a slight break
(without a pause) between measures. In this way, the crotchet bass notes become a rhyth-
mic character - crotchet plus rest. In m. , this rhythmic character is shifed onto the frst
Example 8 nwv ,, Prelude, mm. :
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vi.ui c n.cu s i ui.s
beat, articulated by rests until the frst cadence in m. 8. Now the additional length of the
C in m. 8 sounds earned, and can be enhanced by a diferent kind of attack.
To communicate the signifcance of this long note is all the more necessary in that
there is a danger that it will seem static. Tis tendency is common at Bachs cadences (c.f.
the sarabande of nwv ,): it happens because the preceding note values (here, the qua-
vers) tend to continue in the listeners mind and subdivide the fnal long note (making
it sound like several short notes tied together, so to speak). Ironically, an intabulation of
this suite for lute by a contemporary lutenist solves - or rather perpetuates - the prob-
lem by flling in one of the beats lef empty by Bach (example :o).
13
It might be better
to insert a momentary break or breath before striking the long C, whose new quality of
attack must set it apart from the crotchet bass notes already established.
Given the rich variety of long and short bass notes in Bachs manuscripts, it is curious
to consider the elaborations that guitarists have made of his solo violin and cello music.
As a rule these elaborations are indiferent to the question of rests in the bass line, pre-
ferring sustained note values throughout. Example :: gives the beginning (a) and frst
cadence (b) of another allemande: that of Cello Suite i, nwv :oo,. I have added a mini-
mal number of bass notes (along the lines of example :b) - not because I wish to argue
against more elaborate bass lines, but simply to show the deployment of rests that is such
an integral part of Bachs style.
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Intabulation by a contemporary lutenist
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vi.ui c n.cu s i ui.s :o
iii Rests in the Prelude to nwv 8
Yet perhaps none of this is quite enough to make us feel entirely comfortable with the
notated rests in the Prelude to the Prelude, Fugue and Allegro nwv 8, for these rests
do indeed make the bass notes extremely short. Tis is not to say that we do not now
know rather more about them, and what creative opportunities they ofer the performer.
Afer all, at the fnal chord there is a slight increase in the basss sustain (as also at the
climax, the fermata in m. o), and before all - from the very frst note - there is the ques-
tion of the layering of pulses. Since the upper voice fows in an unbroken series of qua-
vers, we might well expect Bachs rests to articulate the next main level of pulse, namely
the dotted crotchet - and certainly, it is not so uncommon to hear the prelude realised
as in example ::.
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vi.ui c n.cu s i ui.s ::
In the event, however, Bach chooses to describe an intermediate rhythmic level pecu-
liar to compound metres: he divides the dotted crotchet into a long-short pattern
(crotchet and quaver). Tis division is indicated clearly enough from m. ::, but it is at its
most explicit in m. ,o (example :,).
Tus far our understanding of Bachs rests as metrical and structural markers. But
before any further discussion of texture and articulation in this prelude (resumed in part
iv), it is time to consider the rather diferent matter of the role played by the bass, both
within the two-voice framework and in the elaboration of the large design. Not that analy-
sis and performance is an easy marriage: perhaps analysis can never really tell us exactly
how to play. And yet just as the intuition invents possibilities, it is analysis which sets the
limits, warning us as we weigh each creative idea of what in the composition we might be
obscuring. As we shall eventually see, the way in which Bach achieves this preludes struc-
tural build-up has a crucial efect on the texture. Troughout the following analysis the
reader is advised to follow the complete score of the prelude supplied with this article.
vi.ui c n.cu s i ui.s ::
i i i
vi.ui c 1ui vviiUui 1o nwv 8
i Te ideal stanza
Te design of this prelude has frequently been remarked by guitarists: as so ofen in
Bachs preludes, the opening idea is visited in an array of keys, ritornello-like, defning
fve strains or stanzas, each new strain being somewhat longer than the one before. As
the table below shows, the sequence of keys visited describes a simple harmonic progres-
sion. Moreover, a count of the number of measures separating each return of the opening
idea reveals a sequence based on ternary numbers (until the coda).
stanza measure proportions harmonic movement
1 1 6 mm I V
2 6 9 mm V vi
3 14 12 mm vi IV
4 23 18 mm IV I
3 43 7 mm I I
And so to example :. Borrowing a term from Schoenberg, we might describe this proc-
ess of expanding lengths as developing variation. But what is being varied: In a way,
this is not made clear until the end - or rather not until the coda begins (m. :), for only
then has the bass had its say in full. By then it is evident that if there are such things as
modulating, expanding passacaglias, then this prelude is a model example. In example
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iv
vi
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pedal & modulation (i, ii)
sequence (iii)
linear progression (iv)
cadence (v)
Example : nwv 8, Prelude: bass plan
14
vi.ui c n.cu s i ui.s :,
:, the most complete statement is naturally to be found in the fourth and last strain,
when the bass passes through fve distinct phases:
a tonic pedal
a modulation to the dominant, in which the tonic note is made into a seventh (Bachs
usual method of managing this modulation)
a sequence
a stepwise progression in the bass
a cadence with characteristic disjunct movement in the bass
In this sense the fourth strain represents the defnitive unfolding of all fve phases. Not
that it is autonomous: like the previous strains it is necessarily an open structure, begin-
ning as it does from a foreign key (IV). Tis raises the possibility of an intriguing com-
positional puzzle: to take the opening idea in the tonic and to essay all fve phases in a
single span. To do so would be to collapse the entire prelude into an ideal stanza: a closed
structure, beginning and ending in the tonic; in efect, a complete piece.
:,

Example :, takes up the challenge, and attempts to pass through all fve phases of the
bass just once. No doubt a condensed version of the prelude could have been realised in
a number of diferent ways: but if example :, is anything to go by, perhaps no solution
would quite convince. A particular dimculty comes at the beginning of phase (iii): no
sooner has A major (V) been approached then the music retreats back into the tonic of
D.
:o
To attempt the task of example :, is not to suggest that Bach had before him his own
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Example :, nwv 8, Prelude: an attempted ideal stanza


vi.ui c n.cu s i ui.s :
ideal stanza which he then let out at the seams, and expanded into the fnished work. Why
then perpetrate such a fction: As a matter of fact such an extrapolation proves its value,
to the extent that it portrays our experience of structure. If each stanza outlines a facet of
a submerged and fragmented ideal, viewed in a certain perspective, then what remains,
afer the piece is over, is a residue or trace which is a superimposition of all the stanzas
taken together, a summation of all these diferent vantage points. Te organisation of this
prelude is prismatic: it is lef to us to reblend the various approaches back into a whole.
Example :,s attempt, and inevitable failure, to notate this residue literally suggests that
in the last resort no one statement can quite hold together, and for a simple reason - it
lacks a climax. It is not for nothing that Bach has four stanzas, four commentaries, before
the coda: only from such partial but graded statements is the sense of gaining a high
point at all possible. For when at last, the fnished picture emerges, we experience it not,
surely, by an intellectual efort, but through an accumulation of feeling. Tis is achieved
by Bachs expansion of each stanza, brought to a head by the fermata of m. o, and
released by the unique sixteenth notes that celebrate its resolution. At such a moment, we
are granted a powerfully direct impression of a single governing statement - no matter
that it cannot be written down. An efort such as example :, remains a metaphor: an icon
not only of our intuition of form, but of the point of climax and resolution.
In the search for an ideal stanza, it is thought-provoking to consider the coda, since it is
the only segment of the prelude which is tonally closed. Admittedly, it hardly represents
the elusive ideal, but what it does show is its terminal poles: the opening tonic pedal and
the disjunct bass movement of the fnal cadence - bass motion that has been painstak-
ingly earned, snakes-and-ladders fashion, throughout the prelude.
ii Foreground o background
Bachs rule for the bass line, then, is clear. Each successive stanza must review in order
all previously stated material before adding anything new. Now segments of the bass line
will occur in many diferent contexts, and simple pragmatism dictates that as he arrives
at a new phase in the ground bass, Bach must at the same time look ahead and plan for
its successful use in all subsequent stanzas.
What now of the upper voice: At this point it is startling to realise that Bachs principle
of use and reuse in fact applies to the complete two-voice framework. Tis is not apparent
on the surface of the music simply because each time Bach arrives at an analogous or par-
allel passage (upper and lower voices together) he encounters - I should say devises - a
number of technical problems. Te rule of repetition of both voices together, then, is one
that cannot be kept, but it is a rule nevertheless. For this very impossibility of a series of
literal restatements (we shall shortly see why) is the source of the variational character
of the upper line. We miss the point if we only marvel at the unity of the bass line, and
Bachs rich inventiveness at fnding new counterpoints to it: in fact Bach had to fnd new
vi.ui c n.cu s i ui.s :,
counterpoints, and when he didnt have to, he generally didnt. At the same time, each new
invention is conscientiously related to the precedent of the previous stanzas - not least,
but not just, through the persistence of the bass line.
As a frst instance, let us go to mm. :,,o. In m. :8 the music enters phase (ii) of our
ideal stanza, and our frst resort - the very simplest continuation - would naturally be to
use again the material heard in mm. ,,. Te result is illustrated in example :o, line a. It
fails because the sequential fgure (x) leads to a leading note (the low C
#
) in m. : which is
lef hanging (until m. ,, at the earliest). Bach is ready with a solution: he simply avoids the
C
#
altogether, and composes instead an ascending line over the original bass (line b). One
problem remains: as the upper voice moves through an ascending fourth, a bare octave
is struck in m. :, and the basss E must be altered to C
#
(line c). Tis is the only instance
of Bachs altering a note apparently fxed in the bass plan so as to accomodate a variation
in the treble.
Troughout the rest of the prelude, the problems are of two kinds, involving either
changes of mode and non-parallel harmonic goals. We shall discuss each in turn.
Note that in the musical examples below, line a will each time illustrate music notion-
ally rejected by Bach: that is, it will notate a literal and latent restatement, in the gov-
erning tonality, of music heard previously; subsequent lines will illustrate Bachs real
choices - his remodelings and variations.
Tis is somewhat more and somewhat less than musical relic-hunting. Less because
in the last resort, no-one can claim to understand anything about Bachs actual thought-
processes: the reader will by now have realised that the Bach of my argument is noth-
ing without the quotation marks. More because the rejected passages construed in the
examples are not only his, they are mine and yours - in short, the works. In a word, they
constitute a background to the music that we hear and play. Tey are the sum total of our
expectations, our educated guesses. And by contradicting this background, by charting
the unexpected, the music that Bach puts in its stead gains its vitality. Tus stated, this is
V
V
V
#
#
#
#
#
#
a
b
c
(x)
27











.

.







#



.

.


.

.


.

.
unresolved leading note


.


.
*
octave


#



n





.


.


Example :o nwv 8, Prelude, mm. :,,o
vi.ui c n.cu s i ui.s :o
Hans Kellers contention that all good music relies on the friction between expected and
unexpected - the listener provides the background (the expectations) and the composer
supplies the foreground (the surprises).
:,
But in this prelude, as we attempt to defne these
discarded continuations and bring them into awareness, we discover the most surprising
thing of all. Whereas in later music especially, the background consists of the routine and
the predictable, in this prelude it consists more of the intractable and the unworkable.
iii Changes of mode
m.,ov 1o miov Not all music in the major mode survives literal translation into
the minor. In this prelude, the dimculty is essentially a melodic one: what to do with the
variable sixth degree of the scale. Bachs solution is almost always to avoid it.
Te simplest case of this is found in strain ,, when the composer has to restate the open-
ing in the relative minor, B. It can be seen from example :, that Bach was unhappy with
the efect of G
#
in m. :, and made a slight adjustment to the upper line (lines a and
b). (G
n
is of course impossible here, but G
#
is a borrowing from the major, and Bach evi-
dently felt that in its harmonic context it introduced too heavy a major colouring.) Te
reader will note that this change is retained in strain (m. :o) even though it is no longer
needed (line c), and that the new motive thrown up by the change inspires the subsequent
sequence (in mm. ,of., not in the example). It is such particular and beautiful details as
these that go to make up the sense of developing variation.
And here is a chance to induce something about Bachs thought-process. For having
discovered that his opening didnt quite work in the minor mode, and having made an
acceptable change - one which even persists in the next major-mode statement - what
stopped him from returning to the opening and making the same change there, so as to
ensure perfect consistency:
We must conclude that such a course would be contrary to Bachs notion of craf. For to
change the opening measures on the grounds of their slight unworkability in the minor
would be to condemn their invention as defective. In this prelude, though, the ftness of
V
V
V
#
#
#
#
#
#
a
b
c
26
14


#


n

#




8


.

.





n


n



.

.








*
#
#


8


.

.


.

.
Example :, nwv 8, Prelude, mm. ::,
vi.ui c n.cu s i ui.s :,
the opening idea is not defned by its potential, but by its immediate rightness. On this
view, any idea which is in itself attractive is eligible for elaboration. Hence the opening to
this prelude must be worked out as it is, and if the constraints of tonal working subject it
to variation, evolution and erosion, so be it: the idea itself must not be changed. Afer all,
why else would Bach have written the simple fugue which follows this prelude, based as it
is on the very plainest subject, which is nothing without its melodic shape, and yet which
cannot be answered in the dominant without that shape being destroyed utterly:
:8

Te next two examples again deal with the problematic scale degree o. Example :8 is
routine: line a demonstrates an unacceptable clash of C
n
and C
#
within the same harmony.
In example :, line a, the D
#
in m. :8 interferes with the linear connection between the
two upper D naturals: line b clarifes the connection with a harmonic reduction and
Bachs reworking is shown in line c.
Tis last example prompts an interesting question: if such a casual emendation was all
that was needed in stanza ,, why did Bach go to so much more elaborate lengths in stanza
:, where phase (ii) has a quite new upper line (mm. :o): Te answer is supplied by the
same considerations of voice-leading as applied in example :o. If we examine a transposi-
tion of mm. ,, duly altered as in stanza , and shown in example :o, we soon see that the
upper voices D
#
in m. :o is lef hanging. Tis problem does not arise in stanza ,, since the
next phase is recomposed (see section iv). Curiously, then, the more elaborate recomposi-
tion precedes the less elaborate one - a potent example of Bachs, so to speak, passive or
preordained variation of the material.
V
V
#
#
#
#
a
b
8








n

#
*
#


.

.



#


n

#






.

.
Example :8 nwv 8, Prelude, mm. 8
V
V
V
#
#
#
#
#
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a
b
c
17
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.


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.

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.
.

.
.
Example : nwv 8, Prelude, mm. :,:
vi.ui c n.cu s i ui.s :8
Bach does not invariably avoid the problematic scale degree o. Example :: provides a
counter-example to show how a sharpened sixth rejected by Bach in one circumstance
(line a) could be accepted in another. Te G
#
in line b is acceptable in three ways: frstly,
the tonality is in fux; secondly, the G
#
is supported with its own bass note; and thirdly,
its chromatic colour is prepared by A
#
in the previous bar.
miov 1o m.,ov Translating from minor to major does not usually present melodic
problems, but the diferent collection of chords ofered by the two systems can throw up
dimculties when translating sequences. As we have seen, phase three of our ideal stanza
is a three-bar modulating sequence: in stanzas : and , (of course, the sequence is not yet
presented in stanza :) the respective sequences begin from a minor tonality. Not until
stanza is the sequence put to the test in major. Te result is shown in example :::
the sequence becomes problematic in the second measure when a diminished chord is
V
V
#
#
#
#
a
b
9
#










n


.

.
#


n

#






.

.
unresolved leading note




#

*
#


n




.


.

n




#






.


.
8
8
8
8


#


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#


n













Example :o nwv 8, Prelude, mm. :o
V
V
#
#
#
#
a
b
m. 15 discarded


*
#
#


13




(!)
#

#





8


#


n

#




8


.

.
Example :: nwv 8, Prelude, mm. :,:
V
V
#
#
#
#
a
b
8
8
8
8
30








8
8
8
8




#
( )






8
8
8
8

Example :: nwv 8, Prelude, mm. ,o,,


vi.ui c n.cu s i ui.s :
encountered and we are lef wondering what to do with the upper lines G. (Another po-
tential problem is that these measures virtually duplicate mm. :::, at the same pitch,
but in fact Bach did not always forbid himself such straightforward repetitions.) Bachs
solution is again to avoid the false note, and so a new sequence is composed against the
background of the old one.
iv ^on-parallel harmonic goals
Perhaps the most fascinating set of compositional alternatives occurs in m. :. At this
point Bach must use again the modulating sequence, on the model of mm. :::. Trying
this for ourselves, as in example :,, we discover that the sequence breaks down, since it
is bound to reach either C
#
diminished (which is no goal at all) or C major (which isnt
either, since it is not a direct key-relation of the tonic, D).
Te solution appears to be to quit the sequence a measure earlier than the model (see
line b of the example). It is not hard to see why Bach rejects this solution too (afer
all, everything is easier to see afer Bach has shown it to us): to curtail the sequence so
abruptly seems to admit its defects without compensating for them - the background
(the impracticable) replaces, indeed defeats the foreground (the inventive). (Some, too
would press the claims of the proportions of each stanza, for if the sequence were
reduced to two bars, this third stanza would total only ten bars, breaking the ternary-
based sequence shown in the table above.) Bach, to be sure, admits the pressing harmonic
need to break the sequence afer two repetitions, but he transforms bare necessity into
rich invention by stating the bass in augmentation, and so composing a quite new upper
line.
v Te tonic minor
One more feature of the bass plan invites comment: the transformation of mm. :,:,
into mm. ,o,8. In the latter section, as the tightly packed motivic content of the upper
voice liquidates into instrumental fguration, the bass restates mm. :,:, but in the
minor key. Given this restatement, the performer must fnd some way of comparing in
sound the two bass descents. Tere are many ways of shaping them: one could choose
Example : nwv 8, Prelude, mm. :f., recomposed
V
V
#
#
#
#
a
b
19


#


n
#










#


#


n






n
( )




n
( )


.
n

.

n
( )

vi.ui c n.cu s i ui.s :o


to underline the similarity by playing them in the same way, or one might try to con-
front equivalent but opposing infections, such as a diminuendo in mm. :,:, versus a
crescendo in mm. ,o,8 (example :).
Te goal of the second descent, of course, is the G minor harmony - a key relation not
of D major but of D minor. Te consequence is a truly startling progression, in which
the Neapolitan harmony (E b of m. , is wrenched upwards by a semitone to the second-
ary dominant (E seventh) in m. o. Functionally speaking, they each represent the same
chord in two guises, the frst essentially from the minor domain, the second from the
major. Example :, clarifes this equivalence. Te shock of m. o is made even greater by
the unprepared seventh in the bass - the most dissonant spacing of a seventh chord avail-
able - and the appoggiatura which for a moment creates a quartal sonority.
19

Example :,
V
V
V
b
#
#
#
#
w





w




V
w
n


b




b
II
6

#

n








V V
6




b
#

n



.






V2
4
V
6

b n



b
II
6
.
b n


Example : nwv 8, Prelude, mm. :,:, and ,o,8
V
V
#
#
#
#
a
b
36
[
[
23


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n

.
j

j


j

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]
]

vi.ui c n.cu s i ui.s ::


i v
1ui vi.uiv-vi.viv
i Sonority
Sonority is really the principal issue in this prelude, and for a simple reason: the richest
sonorities are all imaginary. A guitarist searching for the best fngering of the upper line
is soon led to wonder, should notes belonging to the same harmony be allowed to ring
together: Should the implication of diferent voices in the upper line be made explicit:
At frst this seems a simple enough question, and yet when we try to make a faithful
harmonic realisation, we discover that the fguration implies far more than a progression
of simple triads, but rather a series of suspensions (example :o).
Such a richly expressive texture defes realisation on the guitar, but in any case its literal
rendering is obviously not Bachs intention. Everything is lef to the miracle of the inner
ear. Te task of the performer is to hear inwardly the sustained part-writing, shimmering
with dissonances, and to allow the music to breathe with it. To imagine sustained parts
to this degree is an essential part of self-training - without it we must needs give up the
guitar and take up the organ instead. Besides, anyone who has fought against the dimcul-
ties of performing in an over-dry hall will know that an inner acoustic can be as sumptu-
ous as the most fattering resonance.
We should not quit example :o without noting that in it, the bass is now notated long.
For as we saw in part ii, Bach sustains a pedal bass when it is underpinning a multi-
voiced texture. Now we can turn the point on its head: the fact that Bach notates the bass
Example :o nwv 8, Prelude, opening measures
V
V
#
#
#
#
8
12
8
12
a
b


.

.
. .
n
.
.
w
.

.
.


.

.
.

.
.
w
. .

.
.


.

.
.
w
.
w
. .

.
.

.
V
V
#
#
#
#
4
#











8


.
8


.
. w
.
.

.
.
#
.






#





8


.


.
.
w
.
.
. .

. .
#
j

8

.

.
w
. w
.
vi.ui c n.cu s i ui.s ::
to be played short should give us some indication that the treble voice cannot bear much
of a polyphonic rendering (that is to say, much over-ringing of notes). We are reminded
of the French lutenists style bris, in which inner voices are casual passers-by, dropping
in and out the texture; but to apply this term to Bachs trademark, multi-voiced voices,
as is ofen done with this prelude, is probably mistaken. On the other hand, an interest-
ing experiment is to fnger the piece as if to allow the harmonies and their dissonances
to ring, but to keep the texture dry, with a minimum of overlapping sound, sometimes
lifing lef-hand fngers, sometimes replacing right-hand fngers. Such a fngering, clearly,
does not set out to maintain a consistent tone colour throughout repetitions of motivic
cells, but it may be the most suggestive one as far as the inner ear is concerned.
:o
ii Balance of voices
In section iii above, I described this prelude as a modulating, expanding passacaglia - as
it turned out, provisionally. For in the next section it became something else: a series
of attempts to repeat a two-voice framework, more or less literally. Of course, in almost
every case the ground bass is fundamental - fxed from one stanza to the next - and it is
the treble which must invent new counterpoints in response to the changing tonality and
modality. Te single exception, the one which disproved the frst rule and established
the second, is the bass C
#
in m. : (this was considered in example :o). Just this one note
is enough to show that the bass line is not immutable: rather the two voices behave as a
harmonic aggregate, so that Bach may vary either so long as the harmonic sense remains
clear. Nevertheless, the bass is privileged. If it is not quite true to say that the bass carries
the theme and the treble the counterpoint, nor is it entirely false.
How then to fnd the right balance of sound between the two voices: It is already a
technical challenge to play the bass as strongly as the treble. But even this is not enough,
for in an equal-voiced two-part texture, the listeners attention is all the same more
attracted to the upper line (according to my observations, at least). To draw the listeners
attention actively to the bass requires the balance to be shifed subtly in its favour, and
the necessary independence of the thumb must be harnessed.
Te most characteristic dimculty is posed by mm. ::,, when the bass line voices
an augmentation of mm. :::. Is there anything to be done about this in performance:
Nothing too ingenious, at any rate: to apply for example the same dynamic shading to the
bass line in either passage, one moving twice as slowly as the other, seems rather manipu-
lative. In fact, it might even be that the bass is not to be shaped with much dynamic
expression. Rather it must have something of the weight and direct simplicity of a cho-
rale, so that the augmentation speaks clearly, more fact than efect.
And so back to Bachs rests. For to make the bass sound independently in passages such
as these, the rests prove their worth. Perhaps if Bachs time had known the articulation
marking so favoured by Debussy, the weighted staccato (line-and-dot,

), we would fnd
vi.ui c n.cu s i ui.s :,
the bass line thus marked throughout. We have already seen in part ii that the very dif-
fculty of some of Bachs rests can be of help in hewing out the texture: in this prelude,
equally, the bass notes gain from the extreme defnition the rests give them. Tis is true
even from the opening bars. When the rests are observed strictly, the bass is straight away
a separate character, something active and more than a cushion of sound for the treble.
By the same token, only when the bass is played with some degree of fullness does the
defnition of the rests come to life. Tus these rests are the key to the balance of the tex-
ture called forth by analysis. All this, of course, is more or less as described by Bachs
second son, Philipp Emanuel, in his advice to keyboard players:
Notes which are neither detached, connected, nor fully held are sounded for
half [in the case of nwv 8, it is evidently two thirds] their value, unless the
abbreviation Ten. (Held) is written over them, in which case they must be held
fully. Crotchets and quavers in moderate and slow tempos are usually performed
in this semidetached manner. Tey must not be played weakly, but with fre and
a slight accentuation.
21

...With fre! If the rests in the bass are tantamount to articulation marks, even expres-
sion marks, it is interesting to speculate that the top voice might not be undermarked.
Tere are only four slur markings in the autograph (mm. , :o, o and 8). Perhaps then
a consistent legato from beginning to end is open to question.
iii Interpretation
How much basis for an interpretation have we found in all of this: Tis is the question
which few professional analysts like to be asked - the performers among them included.
In this case, I have attempted to avoid analysis in its primary sense of interpretation and
reception, and sought instead to present some snapshots of the composer at his work-
bench: a human fgure facing decisions without which this prelude could not have been
written in the way it has. Afer all, isnt it commonly said that a successful performance is
not repetition but recreation: What happens, then, if we try to translate such sentiments
into skills: Tere can be little doubt that what has been so painstakingly described above
was for Bach, by now with a good forty years of composing behind him,
::
a series of quick,
unrefecting steps or intuitive leaps - in a word, improvisation. Witness the following
description of Bach, related by his son Philipp Emanuel in a letter to Bachs biographer
Forkel:
When he listened to a rich and many-voiced fugue, he could soon say, afer the frst
entries of the subjects, what contrapuntal devices it would be possible to apply, and
which of them the composer by rights ought to apply, and on such occasions, when
I was standing next to him, and he had voiced his surmises to me, he would joyfully
nudge me when his expectations were fulflled.
23

vi.ui c n.cu s i ui.s :
In this perspective, the material amassed in the examples above cannot quite be assigned
to the preinterpretive stage of learning. For it is not enough to research and notate the
various compositional possibilities, only to forget them once the interpretation has been
formed. Te skill we are speaking of, surely, is not experienced through pen and ink - it
is felt in the fngers.
Te guitarist who plays by rote, able only to start at the beginning and to play through,
and the guitarist who brings the background to life, improvising variant afer variant in
real time, have something essential in common: what they know, they know by feel. Of
course, this latter player, a kind of master in his or her way, did not grow ready-made out
of the former. Tis article enacts an intermediary stage: Bachs fashes of insight are here
calculated step by step. For the rote player, the departure from the purely tactile realm, a
minor Eden in the journey towards mastery, may be painful and slow: the intellect must
learn to direct the fngers and a bewildering number of variants have all to be played
and committed to memory. Nevertheless, to play the analysis is crucial: afer many experi-
ments there is the real chance that this work might become a kind of refex in which the
mind, always so slow, is ready to give up its conscious role. At this point, when all distinc-
tion of thought and feeling has been melted down, the tactile immediacy felt by the begin-
ner is restored, and mastery is not knowledge but sensation. Such a player, we might add,
long ago forgot the diference between playing and reading.

^otes
: I must thank Philip Weller (University of Nottingham), Ricardo Iznaola (University
of Denver), Antonia Banducci (University of Denver), Steven Waechter (University of
Northern Colorado) and the composer Bayan Northcott, who devoted much time to
reading drafs of this paper and suggested important revisions.
: See for example Johann Sebastian Bach, Kompositionen fur die Laute, arr. Hans
Dagobert Brger (Wolfenbttel and Zrich, :::: Mseler Verlag), in particular the
Suite nwv ,.
, In addition to the Tureck editions cited below, of particular interest to guitarists must
be the edition by Tilman Hoppstock: Johann Seb. Bach, Das Lautenwerk und verwandte
Kompositionen im Urtext fur Gitarre (Darmstadt, :: Prim-Musikverlag). Tis edition
aligns the unfngered text with related versions, such as the Cello Suite nwv :o:: (for
nwv ,) and the Violin Partita nwv :ooo (for :oooa).
Johann Sebastian Bach, Te Vorks for Lute in Original Keys and Tunings, played by Lutz
Kirchhof (Sony Classical: Vivarte s:x ,8,8).
readi ng bachs i deas 25
5 Troughout this article, musical examples from the lute works of Bach will be given in
the keys conventionally chosen by guitarists.
6 Sharon Isbin, Acoustic Guitar Answerbook (California, 994: String Letter Press), p 37f.
7 Ralph Kirkpatrick, Interpreting Bachs Well-Tempered Clavier: A Performers Discourse
of Method (New Haven and London, 984: Yale University Press).
8 Packed with food for thought, Rosalyn Turecks Critical-Facsimile-Performance edi-
tions of Lute Suites bwv 996 and 997, with ngerings by Sharon Isbin, are published by
G. Schirmer (New York and London).
9 Heinrich Schenker, Te Art of Performance, ed. Heribert Esser (New York and Oxford,
2000: Oxford University Press); trans. Irene Schreier Scott from Die Kunst des Vortrags
(unpublished).
0 Gesners testament appears in a note in his edition of Quintilians rhetoric, published in
Gttingen in 738. Hans T. David and Arthur Mendel (New York, 945: Norton). Gesner
was rector at the Leipzig Tomasschule where Bach was cantor from 723 until his
death.
Te notion of contiguous rhythmic levels is explored to some extent in Dance and the
Music of J.S. Bach by Meredith Little and Natalie Jenne, who speak of the beat, the
pulse and the tap levels (Bloomington and Indianapolis, 99: Indiana University
Press).
2 Of course, Chopins rests articulate the phrase, but do not rhythmicise the line in the
way that Bachs do.
3 Tis intabulation is anonymous and is supplied in the edition of Bachs lute works ed-
ited by Hoppstock (op. cit.), who does not identify its source.
4 In example 4, the slurs are not intended to show phrasing, but, loosely, movement and
dependence.
5 See the chapter entitled Te Ideal Ritornello in Laurence Dreyfuss deeply insightful
book, Bach and the Patterns of Invention (Cambridge [Massachusetts] and London,
996: Harvard University Press)
6 Te choices governing the treble voice need not detain us at this point: later it will be-
come clear why, for example, I could not merely transpose the upper line in mm. 4
in phase (ii), but had to content myself with a more indirect derivation.
7 Hans Keller, Essays on Music, ed. Christopher Wintle (Cambridge 994: Cambridge
University Press). See particularly Towards a Teory of Music, and Mozarts Wrong
Key Signature.
8 In a future article I plan to show how Bach elaborates this fugue so as to balance
vi.ui c n.cu s i ui.s :o
these two incompatible imperatives: the melodic shape of the subject versus the tonal
constraints of the answer.
: quartal: made up of fourths - in this case, the bass D is part of the quartal chord,
transferred registrally down by three octaves.
:o My thanks to Ricardo Iznaola for this suggestion.
:: Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach, Versuch uber die wahre Art, das Clavier zu spielen (Berlin,
:,,, and :,o:); fac. repr. ed. L. Hofmann-Erbrecht (Leipzig, n.d.); trans. W.J. Mitchell as
Essay on the True Art of Playing Keyboard Instruments (London, :), p.:,,.
:: Christoph Wolf, in Te ^ew Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, ed. Stanley
Sadie (London, :8o), dates nwv 8 within the last ten years of Bachs life.
:, Te Bach Reader (op. cit.), p. :,,
First published in rc1z Guitar journal (:ooo), pp :,:
:ooo Jonathan Leathwood

Born in :,o in Warrington, England, ,o.1u. ii.1uwoou studied guitar princi-


pally with Gordon Crosskey, Paul Galbraith, Richard Wright, and Ricardo Iznaola, and
interpretation with pianist and conductor George Hadjinikos. His recitals have featured
the three violin partitas of Bach in one evening, traditional Hispanic repertoire, large-
scale cycles (notably by the pioneering Andalusian composer Maurice Ohana), and frst
performances of works by living composers such as Param Vir and Robert Keeley.
Jonathan's career has been supported by many awards, from such sponsors as the
Countess of Munster Trust, the Ian Fleming Trust, and the Park Lane Group. When he
was eighteen he was a prizewinner in nnc Television's Young Musician of the Year. Since
then he has performed in most countries of Europe, including the Nrtingen Festival in
Germany and the Lagonegro Festival in Italy, and toured the United States. As a chamber
musician he has performed with the celebrated cellist Steven Isserlis, and will shortly
release two compact discs in duo with William Bennett, one of the greatest fautists of his
generation.
Jonathan Leathwood teaches at the University of Northern Colorado and the Univer-
sity of Denver. He is editor of Guitar Forum.