WTC II/2 in C minor – Prelude 

    from Siglind Bruhn
J.S. Bach's Well-Tempered Clavier
In-depth Analysis and Interpretation

II/2.1.1 The prelude-type

This prelude is composed in almost consistent two-part texture; there are only three instances bars 12, 26 and 28 in which this simple pattern is suspended in favor of an apparent third voice or voice-splitting into fuller chords.

Polyphonic independence of the two voices is very limited. Most bars contain open or at least only slightly concealed parallel motion. On the other hand, and much more interestingly, each of the two voices contains in itself various levels, and often allows “melody” and “background” to be distinguished. In these cases, the background may be alternatively a pedal note or an ornamental filler.

One can distinguish several melodic features which recur, both in imitation or sequence and in various modifications and developments. Yet due to the very uniform rhythmic structure which, consisting exclusively of sixteenth-notes and eighth-notes, is interrupted only in the final bars of each section, these melodic features seem to bear less weight than they would in different surroundings. The result is a light piece based on motivic figures, but shaped primarily by large motions of ascending and descending lines. (One might feel reminded of the B major prelude from book I.)

 

II/2.1.2 The overall design of the prelude

Already the first one-bar figure is harmonized as a complete cadence; so are many of the following figures. When looking for harmonic data which might indicate the structural layout, one must therefore rely on more general observations.

Within the first section,

bars 1-5d

confirm the home key (C minor);

bars 5-9m

modulate to the relative key (Eb major);

bars 9m-12

confirm this secondary key.


Within the second section,

bars 13-17d

modulate to the subdominant (F minor);

bars 17-22m

confirm the subdominant;

bars 22m-26d

return to the home key;

bars 26-28

confirm the home key.

 

II/2.1.3 Practical considerations for performers

With its simple rhythmic pattern and the presence of both jumps and ornamental figures in the pitch pattern, the piece clearly represents a rather lively basic character. The corresponding articulation distinguishes non legato for the eighth-notes and a very crisp quasi legato for the sixteenth-notes.

The tempo is gently flowing. On the one hand, the performer should make sure that the listener perceives a quarter-note pulse with ornamentation rather than melodious sixteenth-notes. On the other hand, the impression of sheer finger virtuosity should be avoided not only did Bach choose 4/4 and not 2/2 for the meter, but he also expects additional ornaments on some of the very sixteenth-notes.

There are two kinds of ornament symbols in the score. Those indicating inverted mordents (see bars 7, 8) pose no problem: rhythmically, there is ample time for the three notes, and the pitch of the lower neighboring note is clearly G. The other ornaments, written as trills (see bars 14, 16), are more demanding. Even though none of these trills encompasses a suffix (since the following note is neither a melodic resolution nor on a “good” beat), we still have to accommodate four notes within the time of a sixteenth-note, due to the regular beginning on the upper neighbor note.

With regard to subtle color shading, careful gradation of intensity in the notes belonging to the different melodic “layers” accounts for much of the beauty in this prelude. To give an idea how dynamic shading can transmit this particular textural design, the following example depicts these “layers” in bars 1/2:

(ex. 19)

 

II/2.1.4 What is happening in this prelude

The prelude begins on the downbeat of the first bar with a bass note C. This is worth noting since the initial motive (M1) begins in a metrically weak position, and this bass note serves as a kind of anchor: it takes part in neither the melodic lines nor the regular background features. Its tone quality is therefore sonorous but neutral.

M1, as has been shown in the example above, consists of a melodic descent in quarter-notes. This descent is doubled in thirds by the lower voice. On the first level of background, a sixteenth-note-figure in the shape of an inverted mordent serves both as a melodic link between the notes of M1 and as an octave ornament of its parallel. On another level, the off-beat eighth-notes in the accompanying voice represent a repeated C which, although it gives way to the harmonically required B>ð at the end of the bar, conveys a strong sense of an indirect pedal note. (It is worth noting these features in so much detail because they turn out to be, even under different melodic guises, the constituents of the entire piece.)

M2 which is introduced in bars 3/4 appears as if enlarged on various levels. The steps of the melodic line, now ascending, move in strong-beat half-notes (so that we hear pairs of repeated notes in active/passive grouping: D-D, Eb-Eb, F-F, G-(Eb). The parallel in the lower voice also sets out, in bar 3, with ornamented half-notes (see ---G, ---Ab); only in bar 4 are these filled with linking chromatic steps in quarter-note pulse (Ab-A-Bb-B-C). The indirect pedal is abandoned in this motive.

M3 in bars 5-7m lets go of an additional feature: the accompanying eighth-notes. Instead, the parallel melodic steps (on beats 1, 2, 3 of each of these bars) are surrounded by the ornamental figure now equally in parallels, and complemented by a scale (which overruns the obvious two-part texture by creating the illusion of a link between the upper and the lower voices). In bars 7m-8m, the lower part continues the previous pattern while the upper part emancipates itself briefly with a repeated ornamental figure. Bars 8m-9m conclude the harmonic progression with closing-formulas in the bass and the “melodic layer” of the upper part.

The first section ends with a transposition of M1 (compare bars 9m-11m with bars 1/2) followed by another cadential close (bars 11m-12). The second section begins with a slightly more complex pattern. In bars 13/14, we witness hidden-three part texture consisting of

(a)

an upper layer with melodic quarter-notes in bar 13 followed by a straightforward melodic figure and its descending sequence in bar 14;

(b)

a lower layer with neutrally-colored accompanying eighth-notes in bar 13 followed by quarter-notes in bar 14;

(c)

an ornamental background which, here, does not move together with the melodic lines but presents an indirect pedal on Bb in bar 13 (right hand), followed by the ornamented G and F in bar 14 (left hand).


The entire pattern is then repeated in transposition (upper voice a fifth down, lower voice a fourth up), with only minimal adjustments at the beginning of the pattern.

In the large middle portion of this section, no motives are established. Variations of earlier features can be made out, e.g. a modified version of M3 in bars 19/20, a remote resemblance of M2 in bar 22, and ornamented indirect pedal-notes in bars 17 (r.h.: C) and 21 (l.h.: F). Yet although a minimal sense of melodic recognition is encouraged by sequences, the predominant features are not to be found in the details but rather in the large-scale lines.

The following simplified version concentrates on these features and thus gives guidelines for intensity shading and dynamic shaping:

(ex. 20: bars 17-26)

 

After the harmonic return to C minor, the final three bars of the prelude recapitulate once more fragments of the various features established in this prelude. There is a variation of M2 which begins in the left hand with three sixteenth-notes upbeat to bar 26; they are paralleled in the middle voice in bar 26 and picked up by the upper voice in bar 27 (here accompanied by the chromatic steps heard several times previously in the bass). The piece ends with a final bar, very similar to that in the first section, thus establishing a certain sense of binary form that is otherwise easily lost in this piece.

Regarding the large-scale development of tension, this is the dynamic pattern which emerges from the play of motives and peak-note lines:

bars 1 and 2

two self-contained curves

bars 3-5d

crescendo

bars 5-9m

diminuendo

bars 9m-11m

two self-contained curves

bars 11m-12d

crescendo

bar 12

diminuendo

bars 13/14

curve with climax on bar 14d, climax of the prelude

bars 15/16

curve with climax on bar 16d, slightly softer

bars 17-20

diminuendo

bars 21 l.h.

diminuendo, r.h. crescendo

bars 22-25

diminuendo

bars 26-28d

crescendo

bar 28

diminuendo

 

WTC II/2 in C minor – Fugue

 

II/2.2.1 The subject

With only 28 bars, the C minor fugue seems relatively short. This is also reflected in its subject which spans exactly one bar, beginning after an eighth-note rest in bar 1 and concluding on the downbeat of bar 2. Like that in the preceding fugue, the subject commences as if in suspension on the fifth and closes on the third. Two other features are also reminiscent of the preceding fugue. With regard to rhythm, the regular eighth-notes are interrupted, at the very end of the phrase, by two sixteenth-notes which, together with the final note, form an inverted-mordent figure. With regard to pitch, the subject contains two larger intervals which appear as consecutive jumps (see bar 1: G-C-F).

One considerable difference between the two thematic lines is that the interval jumps in the C major subject occur in a metrically strong position (preparing a downbeat) while the C minor subject features the jumps in a metrically weak position (after a strong beat). And while in the C major subject the metric organization left no room for doubt, the three initial eighth-notes here give the impression - certainly to all listeners who do not rely on the score - of an upbeat in a 2/4 bar, especially since they describe a melodic curve (G-Eb-F-G) which returns to its beginning. (It is, in fact, almost impossible - and perhaps not even entirely desirable - to find a rendition for the beginning of this fugue which does not leave the metric organization unclear to the audience.)

Regarding the rhythmic pattern, the apparently simple design in the subject is deceiving. From bar 5 onwards, sixteenth-notes become a regular feature, occurring either in linear runs and figures (see e.g. bars 4-7) or in complementary patterns between two voices (see e.g. bars 8/9, 11-13; these patterns then involve dotted and tied notes). Finally, there are even instances where other note values quarter-notes (in bars 14/15 and 19/20 regularly, in bar 3 partially as syncopations) and thirty-second-notes (in bar 26) play a role in the melodic material.

The harmonic background can be called rudimentary. It consists of the minimal I-V-I, coming without even a proper representation of the subdominant harmony. Whatever the harmonization of the initial note Bach changes this throughout the piece the tonic is established weakly on beat 2 and confirmed on the stronger beat 3. Where the connecting eighth-note is harmonized as a subdominant, this chord is not only placed in a metrically subordinate position but, more importantly, is heard as an ornamentation between the two tonic chords. The opposite is true for the fourth beat of this bar.

(ex. 21)

 

Considering this unusually plain harmonic design in conjunction with the metric particularities of the subject, there are two notes which might contend for the privilege of serving as the climax. On the one hand, the F on the fourth beat is harmonically slightly enhanced and appears melodically prepared by the two consecutive jumps. On the other hand, the G on the middle beat holds the metric focus and could be regarded as the point of departure for a G - F - Eb D Eb ornamented descent in quarter-notes. (In this interpretation, the C which causes the consecutive jumps would be read as a kind of background-level note not partaking in the main melodic line.)

 

II/2.2.2 The statements of the subject

This is a fugue with many subject statements - twenty-four altogether. While identifying the entries is not too difficult, the voice allocation is not as obvious as it might seem at first glance. A straightforward reading would distribute the statements among the four voices which Bach’s title mentions. Yet this obvious and apparently simple solution has several shortcomings.

-

The fugue is consistently in three-voice texture until bar 19 - i.e. for far more than half of the piece!

-

The exposition of a four-part fugue would have to include the fourth statement. This, however, appears in a texture with only one other voice -thus sounding clearly like the beginning of a new section (see bars 7/8).

-

To support this view, the downbeat of bar 7 presents a cadential close which is also melodically satisfactory, while that of bar 8 (after the fourth entry) is much less convincing.


L. Czaczkes, in his admirable analytical work on Bach’s fugues, makes a suggestion for the structure of this piece which may sound daring but has the immense advantage that it works, i.e. that it makes sense without asking for compromises. He contends that what the listener perceives and what Bach conceived is

 

a three-part composition, with a fourth “pedal” voice entering only towards the end,and only four subject statements and cadential bass notes.

 

The following table gives the voice allocation according to the concept described above and, in brackets, the designation according to an open score (Thompson, Toronto) which represents the “first glance” view. The descriptions in this chapter will refer to the former.

1

bars 1/2

A

13

bars 17/18

T

2

bars 2/3

S

14

bars 17/18

S

3

bars 4/5

T

15

bars 18/19

A

4

bars 7/8

T (B)

16

bars 19-21

B

5

bars 8/9

S

17

bars 21/22

B

6

bars 10/11

A

18

bars 22/23

B

7

bars 11/12

T (B)

19

bars 23/24

A

8

bars 14/15

S

20

bars 23/24

S

9

bars 14-16

A

21

bars 24/25

S

10

bars 15/16

T

22

bars 25/26

A

11

bars 16/17

A

23

bars 25/26

T

12

bars 16/17

S

24

bars 26/27

B

(ex. 22)

 

In the course of these twenty-four entries, the subject experiences a number of modifications as well as various groupings.

-

The answer is distinguished from the original of the subject by a smaller initial interval: the original major third is replaced by a major second. This arrangement allows the answer to begin in the tonic harmony but continue in the dominant. Throughout the fugue, seven subject entries can be identified as answers. Yet only two of them follow the interval structure of bar 2 (see bars 2/3 S, 16/17 A) while the remaining five reduce the initial interval even further to a minor second (see bars 7/8: B, 10/11: A, 17/18: S, 22/23: B, 23/24: S).

-

Inversions of the subject occur three times (see bars 15/16 T, 21/22 B, 26/27 B; all of them appear in the harmonic setting of an answer.)

-

The augmentation of the subject is used twice (see bars 14-16 A and bars 19-21 B). Both enlarged entries use the original version of the subject without any variations.

-

Strettos occur very frequently. They include combinations of the original, the inversion as well as the augmentation, and combine two, three or four statements. (In one case, the overlapping is even so dense that a repeated entry in one voice unites altogether five statements into a group.)

Modifications can appear at almost any place in the phrase; they can serve as variations or as harmonic changes, or one can result from the other.

-

Simple variations at the beginning of the subject include an abbreviation of the initial note (see bars 8/9: S and bars 17/18: S).

-

Simple harmonic changes occur in the from of a change of mode (see bars 7/8: T, bars 10/11: A, bars 22/23: B and bars 25/26: A).

-

The final note can be raised in the manner of a Picardy third (see bars 23/24: A), or it can be diverted in such a way as to transform the inverted-mordent figure into a scale portion (see bars 10/11 and below).

-

If this deviation of the final note occurs in the inversion of a minor-mode entry, the subject ends in the melodic minor scale and thus contains shifting accidentals (see bars 15/16 and 21/22).

-

Similarly, new harmonization of the beginning (due to stretto position) converts the second and third subject notes into the sixth and seventh degree of an ascending (melodic) minor scale - followed in the descent by notes from the natural scale (see bars 16/17: S, bars 17/18: T and, with additional variations at the beginning, bars 17/18: S and 18/19: A).

-

Yet another change from major to minor mode due to harmonization in a stretto position can be observed in S: bars 24/25. Finally, the very last statement surrounds its initial note with semitones (artificial leading-notes) on both sides; in addition, the entire final four-note group appears varied in bars 26/27: B). (This statement is, in fact, modified to a degree which might make us hesitate to recognize it.)

 

II/2.2.3 The counter-subjects

The fugue does not establish any truly independent counter-subject. There is, however, a line which accompanies the subject answer as well as the subsequent entry (see bars 2/3: A, bars 4/5: S). This simple descent is, in fact, perceived more as a continuation and further relaxation after the subject than as a thematically independent component. It fails to recur in this fugue.

 

II/2.2.4 The episodes

There are seven subject-free passages in this fugue, most of them very short:

E1

bars 3/4

E4

bar 11 (eighth-notes 2-5)

E7

bars 27/28

E2

bars 5-7

E5

bars 13/14 (or 12-14)

E3

bars 9/10

E6

bar 23 (eighth-notes 2-5)

The episodes are easily described in both their material and the role they play in the overall dynamic outline.

-

E3 is closely related to the subject: it evolves from the preceding entry in two descending sequences which include all three voices. It functions as a bridge, the tension falls slightly.

-

E5 and E6 contain typical cadential formulas, as does the final E7 which splits into five and (in the final chord) six voices. All convey a distinct feeling of closure, although they do not have to end too softly.

-

E1 displays descending lines which link two subject statements. In this respect, E1 corresponds with E3. Again the tension decreases slightly.

-

E4, although only half a bar long, nevertheless has highly important effects: it shifts the subject metrically (thus placing the climax on the downbeat) and harmonically (modulating with a chromatically enhanced bass line from C minor to F minor). The tension rises here.

-

The only longer episode, E2, is also the only one to introduce an independent motive. First presented in the tenor, the motive consists of eight sixteenth-notes which describe a fifth jump answered in opposite direction by an almost complete scale. The motive is sequenced once and then imitated in inversion in the upper voice, where it is also sequenced. (A further imitation, now in the middle voice, accompanies the following subject statement.) This episode is dynamically self-contained: the tension rises through one bar and falls through the other.

-

In bars 12/13, the ascending sequences in all three voices take up a mediator’s position between primary and episode material. The tenor presents a very free variation of the subject (which includes a completely changed first eighth-note and two octave displacements). This sequential bar complements E5, extending it to two-bar length with a curved dynamic shape and thus establishing a correspondence to E2.

 

 

II/2.2.5 Character, tempo, articulation, ornament realization

The basic character of this fugue needs careful pondering, with the entire piece in mind. Owing to the simple rhythm pattern and the two jumps in the subject, the initial two bars might easily lead us to assume a lively character, with detached eighth-notes and quarter-notes. This articulation, however, fails already in bar 3 where the syncopated rhythm would be practically lost in detached style. The approach would be even more absurd from bars 8/9 onwards where we need not only legato playing but, more importantly, a calm mood to appreciate the texture. Thus the complexity of the rhythm pattern leads the way in determining the basic character, which is rather calm.

Having solved this, the articulation is still not altogether self-evident. The rules for articulation in calm character demand legato in all notes which form part of the melodic line, but non legato for cadential bass patterns and consecutive jumps. Tackling the consecutive jumps first as these influence the performance of the subject, one may be surprised to discover that the decision regarding the dynamic shape of the subject may have a bearing on the articulation.

-

If the F on beat 4 of the subject is considered the climax, then this climax is prepared in a linear way by the fifth and fourth leaps. In this case, these leaps would have to be played gently detached as they in fact interrupt the smooth melodic line (see ex. 23a).

-

If the middle-beat G epitomizes the peak of tension, the situation is different. As was already shortly mentioned above, this interpretation supports the subsurface line G - F - Eb D Eb in the second half of the subject. In this concept, the C that causes the two jumps does not belong to the mainstream melodic flow but sounds as if on another level of intensity. It acts thus as a momentary escape from a smooth line in descending seconds, and not as an equal participant in a pattern of active jumps. In this understanding of the subject, the entire phrase would thus be played legato.

ex. 23a

ex. 23b

In either case there are a few jumps outside the subject which require non legato rendering: the octave jump in bar 3 (G), the cadential jumps in the lower voice of bars 8-10 and 13/14, the alto on the middle beat of bar 19, and the bass in bar 23 as well as in the three final notes in bars 27/28.

The tempo of this fugue is moderately flowing: slow enough to allow for full appreciation of the texture in all bars with complementary rhythm structure, but not so slow as to stretch the augmented statements beyond recognition - these should still move in such a way that they could be sung on one breath.

The relative tempo of the prelude to the fugue may be chosen in simple proportion since the two pieces are conceived in such different character.

a half-note

corresponds with

a quarter-note

in the prelude

in the fugue


(Approximate metronome settings: prelude beats = 108, fugue beats = 54)

 

II/2.2.6 The design of the fugue

What follows considers the design of the fugue under Czaczkes’ assumption of a three-part fugue with late-coming pedal voice. The entering order of the voices in the three-part portion of the piece (bars 1-19), the texture in which they appear, the dynamic gestures of the episodes and the harmonic progression all support one plan.

The first section comprises three statements - one in each of the voices - as well as a linking episode (E1) and a self-contained one (E2) which concludes the section on the downbeat of bar 7. The second section begins with the ensemble reduced to two voices (bars 7/8) and the subject statements representing the answer now in major mode (see bars T: 7/8 and A: bars 10/11). There are four entries in this section, the last of which is redundant and appears in F minor. It is followed by a very much varied sequence which shifts to G minor, the key in which the section ends with a cadential formula on the downbeat of bar 14. Both episodes included in this section are bridges between consecutive entries. E3 corresponds with E1 in the first section both with regard to its descending sequences and with regard to its position between the second and the third statements of the section.

The third section begins again with reduced number of voices (see bars 14/15). It is further marked by the introduction of the augmented subject in stretto with an original entry and an inverted entry. In this three-part stretto, the alto (which enters second) is in the lead. It is followed by another stretto in which a repeated soprano entry (also entering second) is the salient feature; this repeated entry takes up the same time as the augmented entry before. Secondary entries in this stretto appear in the alto, the tenor and again in the alto. The third component of this section is now provided by the entering bass. Matching the preceding strettos with three entries, the bass covers consecutively the augmented, the inverted and the original versions of the subject. The cadential close of E6 completes this section.

The fourth and last section begins once more with a drastic reduction in the number of voices, but embarks on two more strettos. The first presents an interplay of alto and soprano, with sketchy support of the tenor and only an eighth-note C as a pedal note in the bass. The second stretto begins similarly (entries in soprano and alto, similar tenor figure, same bass eighth-note) but then proceeds to including a tenor entry and a strongly varied bass entry, together with fragments of the subject in the upper voices. E7 concludes this section.

The first and second sections are almost equally long and very similarly designed. Also of corresponding length are sections I+II (bars 1-14) and III+IV (bars 14-28). For a sketch showing the design of this fugue, see ex. 24.

 

 

 

II/2.2.7 The overall dynamic outline of the fugue

The first and second sections remain almost understated in their emotional content. The tension rises very little in the course of the first section where the increase in texture is counteracted by descending lines both in the accompanying voices and in the episode. The same holds true for the three entries which open the second section. Only the redundant entry presents a slightly heightened level of intensity.

The third section, by contrast, conveys impressions of density (see above all the five-entry stretto in bars 16-19) and of grandeur (see the augmented alto entry, the reiterated one in the soprano and particularly the threefold statement of the bass). While in the fourth section the bass pedal evokes a foreboding of the impending end, the impression of density is repeated, particularly in the final four-part stretto and in the voice splitting of the closing episode.