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What are some of the acceptable ways to harmonize the first one and a half bars of BWV 565? In particular, what are some of the chords that would fit on the the opening A? Neither i nor V seems to fit the movement of the opening gesture.

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  • I hear this as all Dm with brief dominants on the C#s, but I'm voting to close as opinion based because there is no 'correct' answer.
    – PiedPiper
    Dec 25, 2020 at 9:54
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    @user45266 The philosophy of Stack Exchange is to answer questions rather than provide a discussion forum.
    – PiedPiper
    Dec 25, 2020 at 10:49
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    @PiedPiper Right, which is why I ask that OP rewrite the question such that the relevant information to be provided would answer the question. I'm just saying that this question has depth to it, it's just not being asked in the right way. "Discussion" may have been a poor choice of wording.
    – user45266
    Dec 25, 2020 at 10:54
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    @Tim This is relatively common for music of this time; check out the notion of "Dorian key signatures."
    – Richard
    Dec 25, 2020 at 17:52
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    @Tim, the Dorian key signature for BWV 565 is discussed in the Wikipedia entry. See the second paragraph of this section.
    – Aaron
    Dec 25, 2020 at 18:45

3 Answers 3

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This passage would be harmonized primarily with alternating V and i as shown below. However, while V is the "correct" harmonization of the A octaves, it ruins the effect. Part of what makes this passage so effective is the harmonic ambiguity of the A octave.

Bach Toccata and Fugue opening with Roman numerals

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If you want a harmonic analysis: there's an element of dominant on the first main note, tonic on the second. That's repeated twice more. Then there's a definite C♯dim7 (acting as a dominant) to a Dsus4 then D major, all over a tonic pedal.

But no-one in their right mind would add chords to this. It's all about the gesture. Complete in itself.

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There are many ways to harmonize these motifs: As this is always named the toccata in dm I tend to hear a minor chord on the first note. But I also could imagine the dominant: both will work!

a) i - V - i (first half bar)

or

b) V - V7 - i

but you could also hear a) and b) combined.

In a slower tempo you could even hear a more differentiated harmonization by underlaying tonic and dominant chords to the descending scale tones.

The pedal note may be the key: the dominant (VII°7) is set over the tonic.

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