Bach Fugue Bwv 997 Analysis Essay

At first glance, one might assume that you could just re-tune the ‘A’ contrabass string for the entire piece. This necessitates not having a low ‘A’ in the entire movement, unless there is a suitable rest to re-tune the note. Unfortunately in m. 16, there appears a low ‘A’, right after a low ‘G’ in m. 14 and before a low ‘G’ in m.18. Of course, you could also assume that the other contrabass string could be re-tuned, but they are all needed in their regular tunings throughout the entire movement.

The manuscript of the score for Lute Suite III is also not in tablature, the universal notation system for lutenists during Bach’s lifetime.[44] You could chalk this up to expediency on Bach’s part; it may have been easier for him to write in regular notation for the sake of getting it down on paper. Adding further confusion is the recorded fact that Bach could play the lute. Perhaps we will never know why the “lute” music was not always notated using tablature.As an interesting aside, we should take note of the bourrée from theSuite in E Minor (BWV 996) occurring in a collection made by Bach‘s pupil Johann Ludwig Krebs in two staff notation. A later hand added the words “auf’s Lautenwerk.”[45] In addition to Lute Suite III, some of Bach’s clavier pieces were probably composed first for the lute (possibly from an improvisation): the little prelude in C minor, the prelude in E-flat major, (B.G. XLV, p. 141), the suite in e minor (B.G. XLV, p. 149 ff.) and the one in E Major (B.G. XL II, p. 16 ff.). The one in C minor (B.G. XLV, p. 156 ff.) is a clavier arrangement of a composition for the lute. The fugue of the G minor sonata for solo violin and the Suite discordable for cello have also come down to us in lute tablature. The three Bach partitas for lute mentioned in Breitkopf’s catalogue in 1761 are thus not lost, as many had thought. Conclusively, and as written earlier, Bach himself probably played the lute, whatever his ability may have been.Interestingly, Lute Suite III is the most lutenistic of all of Bach’s lute works. However, it contains technical impossibilities such as a contrabass G, a note that exists on no known 18th century lutes (even with scorditura tuning),[46] but is within the range of a large Baroque harpsichord.Similar problems in Bach’s other lute pieces suggest that Bach played the lute, but probably not very well. However, as stated earlier, he owned a lute which was listed among the instruments in his estate in 1750. He was also personally acquainted with many German lutenists, among them Silvius Leopold Weiss, Johann Kropfganss, Johann Christian Weyrauch, and Luise Gottsched. His own keyboard and composition students Johann Ludwig Krebs and Rudolph Straube and probably Ernst Gottlieb Baron (who visited the Cöthen court in 1720 and praises the playing of Bach in his book of 1727) were also lutenists. Thus, we can assume that Bach was intimately acquainted with the lute and its notation and technique even though he probably was not an adept lute performer.[47] There is a strong possibility that the Lute Suite III was composed as a piece of idealized lute music for, or at least upon, this lute-harpsichord. In writing in this manner Bach would not have had to use tablature, and it would have been easy to write passages that are awkward on the lute even though they sound lutenistic. Bach could also extend the range of the lute easily downward. In a chamber setting, no time would need to be spent retuning the lute strings.In an anonymous tablature version of Lute Suite III made during Bach’s time, the lutenist who adapted the work had to transpose low G’s and other notes that are difficult or impossible to play. This tablature version is a good example of the performance practices of lutenists of the time.There is no question that the original medium of the Lute Suite III and his other lute works was the plucked string, whether lute, lute-harpsichord or harpsichord. The arpeggiated style of the suite is clearly, what inspired the anonymous intabulation.[48] While modern guitarists and marimbists may be interested to know for what instrument the music was actually composed, they can rest assured that it falls idiomatically on the guitar and on a more modern instrument, the marimba.[49]

There exists three principal existent 18th-century manuscripts of Lute Suite III/Cello Suite V: the manuscript “for lute” in J.S. Bach’s hand, another for unaccompanied cello in the script of Anna Magdalena Bach and a third in French Baroque lute tablature in the script of an anonymous lutenist.[50] Two copies also exist of the cello version, one by J.P. Kellner and the other by an anonymous scribe.Bach’s music is essentially a synthesis of two musical styles that were identified with the countries of their origin, Italy and France. The Italian Style was virtuostic, extroverted, expressive and disposed to straightforward, vigorous rhythms, drama, and high contrast. The French style was restrained, graceful, impressionistic, and inclined to intricate rhythms, elegance, balance and subtle nuance. The music of all of the cello suites, except Cello Suite V, is mostly Italian in style, whereas Cello Suite V seems to be mostly in a French style. We may speculate that Bach looked over Cello Suite V and saw an opportunity to make another version of it. Perhaps one of his sons, his wife or one of the many lutenists he was acquainted with suggested this idea to him.Another of Bach's compositions supposedly written for the lute, Prelude [, Fugue and Allegro], (BWV 998) (“Prelude our la Luth. ò Cémbal. par J.S. Bach.”) is confined to the range of the lute and is in a lutenistic style (generally a slow-moving bass and a relatively thin texture). It seems to have been conceived as a lute piece but written at the harpsichord. “This impression is also suggested by the alternative instrumentation in Bach’s own hand: “Prelude for the lute and harpsichord.” It is very unlikely that the work was composed at the lute since there are many awkward and uncomfortable fingerings that never occur in the works of a lutenist such as Silvious Weiss, for example, although his musical style is quite similar. Where this sort of writing appears in the Prélude Fugue and Allegro, the fingering many guitarists and lutenists use is intended to allow the individual voices of the harmonies to ring as long as possible.In the past, some scholars have doubted whether it is a complete composition and even whether it is by Bach. Upon examining the autograph score, these doubts are easily laid to rest: the autograph score “is signed in Bach’s hand, “par [by] J.S. Bach,” and Bach writes “Fin” at the end of the Allegro. On the basis of the watermark analysis and the character of Bach’s script, the date of composition of BWV 998 has recently been placed in the beginning to mid-1740’s, though it could conceivably be a revision of another piece since lost. The late date is substantiated by the da capo fugue, a rare form that Bach used in a few other late compositions, among them the C minor lute suite, BWV 997.”[51] Was Bach particular about which instruments music should be played on? The evidence suggests that he was not. In fact, he composed pieces for the purpose of being played on multiple instruments.Through careful research, it seems that if Bach played the lute, he was not very good at it, or he was idealistic about the range of the lute. He probably indulged himself with the sound of the lute on his lute-harpsichord because it was easier to play and had a larger range. Although it is difficult for a somewhat hero-worshipping society to imagine, Bach was probably not good at all things, particularly at playing the lute. The keyed instruments were what he played most of all, so that is probably what he composed with and mostly wrote for, including the lute-harpsichord. We may conclude that Bach probably would not mind if his music were played on different instruments, as long as the instruments are sufficiently sensitive to warrant an excellent performance.

August, 2005

[1]Manfred F. Bukofzer, Music in the Baroque Era, (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 1947), 164.

[2]John Gingerich, “Music of the Baroque Period, M653” Class Notes, fall 1996, Indiana University.

[3]Claude V. Palisca, Baroque Music, 3d ed. (Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1991), 184.

[4]The Baroque Guitar, selected and trans. Frederick Noad, (New York: Ariel Music Publications, Inc., 1974), 17.

[5]Donald Jay Grout and Claude V. Palisca, A History of Western Music, 4th ed. (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, inc., 1988), 288.

[6]Harold Gleason and Warren Becker, Music in the Baroque, Music Literature Outlines, Series II, 3d ed. (Frangipani Press, Alfred Publishing Co., Inc., 1987), 56.

[7]Manfred F. Bukofzer, Music in the Baroque Era, (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 1947), 167.

[8]Donald Jay Grout and Claude V. Palisca, A History of Western Music, 4th ed. (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, inc., 1988), 289.

[9]Claude V. Palisca, Baroque Music, 3d ed. (Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1991), 186.

[10]Manfred F. Bukofzer, Music in the Baroque Era, (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 1947), 168.

[11]Manfred F. Bukofzer, Music in the Baroque Era, (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 1947), 47.

[12]Ibid., 111.

[13]Donald Jay Grout and Claude V. Palisca, A History of Western Music, 4th ed. (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, inc., 1988), 397.

[14]Claude V. Palisca, Baroque Music, 3d ed. (Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1991), 184.

[15]Manfred F. Bukofzer, Music in the Baroque Era, (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 1947), 169.

[16]Ibid., 169.

[17]Harold Gleason and Warren Becker, Music in the Baroque, Music Literature Outlines, Series II, 3d ed. (Frangipani Press, Alfred Publishing Co., Inc., 1987), 56.

[18]Claude V. Palisca, Baroque Music, 3d ed. (Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1991), pp. 186-187.

[19]Claude V. Palisca, Baroque Music, 3d ed. (Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1991), 187.

[20]The Norton/Grove Concise Encyclopedia of Music (1988), s.v. “Lute-harpsichord.”

[21]A description of this instrument and an account by Bach’s pupil Johann Friedrich Agricola of a particular lute-harpsichord owned J.S. Bach are included in Jacob Adlung’s Musica Mechanica Organoedi (Berlin, 1768.) This work has been reprinted in facsimile by Bärenreiter-Verlag (Kassel, 1961). Howard Ferguson also describes the instrument in his article “Bach’s ‘Lauten Werck’ “ in Music and Letters (1967.)

[22]Palisca, 204.

[23]Amelia Hollins, “Information to Aid the Marimbist in the Transcription of Music Written for the Guitar”, [ca. 1980], collection, Leigh Howard Stevens, Asbury Park, New Jersey, 1.

[24]Jacob Adlung, Musica mechanica II, 1768, pp. 144 and 152, as quoted in Albert Schweitzer, J.S. Bach Volume I, trans. Ernest Newman, Dover Publications, Inc. New York, 204.

[25]Ibid., 204.

[26]The Norton/Grove Concise Encyclopedia of Music (1988), s.v. “Lute.”

[27]Jacob Adlung, Musica mechanica II, 1768, pp. 144 and 152, as quoted in Albert Schweitzer, J.S. Bach Volume I, trans. Ernest Newman, Dover Publications, Inc. New York, 202.

[28] Forkel, Über Johann Sabastian Bachs Leben, Kunst und Kunstwerke, Leipzig, 1802, p. 17, quoted in Albert Schweitzer, J.S. Bach Volume I, trans. Ernest Newman, Dover Publications, Inc. New York, p. 203.

[29]Jacob Adlung, Musica mechanica II, 1768, pp. 144 and 152, as quoted in Albert Schweitzer, J.S. Bach Volume I, trans. Ernest Newman, Dover Publications, Inc. New York, 203.

[30]Perhaps the most ironic accusation of twentieth century musicians is the accusation that baroque lute music is “tonal” and non-dissonant and/or spicy, when in fact this is almost always due to musicians’ lack of knowledge of how to ornament baroque lute music. The agréments are what make the music “spicy”, ad taking the intended ornaments away reduces the music to a tonal skeleton.

[31]Claude V. Palisca, Baroque Music, 3d ed. (Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1991), 184.

[32]Johann Sebastian Bach, Cello Suite III (BWV 1009), guitar trans. Michael Lorimer (New York: Shattinger-International Music Corp., 1977), 2.

[33]Claude V. Palisca, Baroque Music, 3d ed. (Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1991), 166.

[34]Claude V. Palisca, Baroque Music, 3d ed. (Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1991), 165.

[35]John Gingerich, “Music of the Baroque Period, M653” Class Notes, Fall 1996, Indiana University.

[36]Perhaps the most ironic accusation of twentieth century musicians that Baroque lute music is “tonal” and non-dissonant and/or spicy, when in fact this is almost always due to musicians’ lack of knowledge of how to ornament Baroque lute music. The agrémentsare what make the music “spicy”. Taking the intended ornaments away reduces the music to a tonal skeleton.

[37]Johann Sebastian Bach, Cello Suite III (BWV 1009), guitar trans. Michael Lorimer (New York: Shattinger-International Music Corp., 1977), 2.

[38]Claude V. Palisca, Baroque Music, 3d ed. (Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1991), 167.

[39]Author and title unknown. Extracted from note pack of Leigh Howard Stevens.

[40]The Baroque Guitar, selected and trans. Frederick Noad, (New York: Ariel Music Publications, Inc., 1974), 13.

[41]Johann Sebastian Bach, Cello Suite III (BWV 1009), guitar trans. Michael Lorimer (New York: Shattinger-International Music Corp., 1977), 2.

[42]Johann Sebastian Bach, Cello Suite V (BWV 1011)/Lute Suite III (BWV 995), guitar trans. Michael Lorimer (New York: Shattinger-International Music Corp., 1977), 2.

[43]Ibid., 2.

[44]Ibid., 2.

[45]Amelia Hollins, “Information to Aid the Marimbist in the Transcription of Music Written for the Guitar”, [ca. 1980], collection, Leigh Howard Stevens, Asbury Park, New Jersey, 1.

[46]The difficulties this suite presents to a lutenist are discussed in Hans Radke’s article “War Johann Sebastian Bach Lautenspieler?” in Festschrift Hans Engle zum siebzigsten Geburtstag, edited by Horst Heussner (Kassel, 1964),  281ff.

[47]Johann Sebastian Bach, Cello Suite V (BWV 1011)/Lute Suite III (BWV 995), guitar trans. Michael Lorimer (New York: Shattinger-International Music Corp., 1977), 2.

[48]The surprising aspect of this intabulation is that Bach was probably inspired by the lute; he then probably wrote Lute Suite III on his lute-harpsichord, and then the anonymous intabulation was made for the regular lute. Thus, a cycle was made.

[49]Johann Sebastian Bach, Cello Suite V (BWV 1011)/Lute Suite III (BWV 995), guitar trans. Michael Lorimer (New York: Shattinger-International Music Corp., 1977), 2.

[50]J.S. Bach’s original autograph score is in the Brussels Biblioteque Royale. The cello version is in the Oeffentliche Wissenschaftliche Bibliothek, Berlin. The tablature version is in the Leipzig Stadtbibliothek.

[51]Johann Sebastian Bach, Prelude [, Fugue and Allegro], BWV 998, guitar trans. Michael Lorimer (New York: Shattinger-International Music Corp., 1977), 2.

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