I decided to take a look at the Minuets from the first ‘Cello Suite, BWV 1007 by J.S. Bach. Since most guitarists play transcriptions of this suite I thought it might be interesting to examine the harmonic implications of a single line of music. I used the original ‘cello version because it consists of a single line with the exception of the chord in measure four. I also transposed it to D major since that seems to be the key most guitarists play it in.

Bach or course was the master of writing single lines that implied harmony as well as counterpoint. It wasn’t too difficult to determine most of the implied harmony. There were a few exceptions where there could be many possible solutions and hopefully I picked a good one.

The most difficult for me to determine were the cadential harmonies in measures fifteen, twenty-three, thirty-nine and forty-seven for example. Here we could have many possible interpretations. For instance, in measure twenty-three I hear three distinct harmonies implied. I decided the A (beat one), the D (beat two) and the C# (second half of beat three) were the important soprano chord tones. These I show in my first reduction staff. The other tones are either appoggiaturas (C#, resolving to D), implied passing tones (F#, passing between G and E, although the E is also implied) or a bass note (low A).

I also struggled with the opening four measures of Minuet II. It is clear that we have descending parallel tenths in the outer voices beginning on the tonic and ending on the dominant. What puzzled me was the choice of the inner voice. In measure one I am certain the A on the second half of beat two is the chord tone and the Bb is an upper neighbor, moving back to A in measure two. Measure three was the real problem; is the F on the second half of beat two the chord tone or is it the G on beat three? I decided to hear the F as the chord tone and hear the G as a passing tone between the F in measure three and the A in measure four as shown in the harmonic reduction staff. This also takes care of the parallel fifths that would occur in the upper two voices if G were the chord tone in measure three. I suppose this is one reason Bach’s music is so interesting to listen to as it can be heard in different ways.

This is basically how I approached the entire analysis. The first reduction staff shows what I think are the important structural tones and the second reduction staff is the implied harmonic content.

I want to mention a few things concerning the harmonic rhythm. You can see that for the most part the rate of harmonic change is one chord (sometimes two) per measure until we get close to a cadence at which time the harmonic rhythm increases to the rate of one chord per beat (three per measure). This is consistent throughout the piece and is consistent with most of Bach’s music that I have examined. It’s as if he is signaling a cadence is coming through this increase in the harmonic rhythm.

The Roman numeral analysis shows how these chords function within a key as well as showing the different key areas that are contained within the piece and how they relate to the main key. From this we can see the typical move to the dominant (V) at the cadence of the first section (measure eight) of Minuet I as well as the move into the submediant key area (vi) in the second section before the return to tonic at the close.

In Minuet II we begin in the parallel minor (D minor) and move to the dominant at the cadence of the first section and, as is also typical, move from D minor to the relative major (F) in the second section before returning to tonic (D minor) for the close.  

You can’t beat Bach when it comes to harmony and counterpoint. This is why his music has always been the model for the development of tonal music theory. Enjoy these minuets and let me know what you think. The score with the reduction and analysis is below.

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June 07, 2017 @04:38 pm
bach's apostle
thank you for this analysis
April 29, 2012 @12:53 pm
Tony Hyman
Thanks for the trouble John I am sure I will get round to contributing a bit once I have finished a bit off home studio session work that I hope to finish by the end off next week.I was thinking that one could take this example and discuss musical as well as part of the analyses.Should come in handy for those interested in that sort of thing .It should prove useful for program notes as well.What do you think.Why should pianists have all the fun?Nothing against pianists off course.

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