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Motif

Above is the opening subject and counter subject.

My two questions are about the transformed counter subject in bar 5. When restating the counter subject why does Bach:

  1. Displace the circled D by an octave?
  2. Extend the following C with a dot?

Question

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There are two especially important implications of Bach's choices here:

  • The lower D in the right hand (labeled [1]), serves to provide a continuation of the stepwise motion initiated in the previous measure's left hand. Harmonically, the C is being transferred to the right hand (beat 2) for resolution downward to B (beat 3).
  • The dotted C is because Bach wants a sixteenth note D to follow, continuing the rhythmic pattern of the previous bars, in which the downward, six-note scale pattern begins on the fourth sixteenth of the beat. (Note also that the left hand contains an upward-moving augmentation of that right hand downward pattern.)

In addition, the D (1) gives a sense of a cadence, with the remainder of the countersubject sounding interrupted. This is another reason to prolong the C – it draws attention back to the countersubject.


For a more precise explanation of the A-D descending fifth in m. 5, see Michael Curtis's answer below.

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  • I found your answer satisfying and interesting. Thank you. Is there any book that you can recommend that expands on your explanation of the harmonic transfer? ("Harmonically, the C is being transferred to the right hand"). I also wanted to ask about the dissonant fourth between the F in the right hand and the C in the left in Bar 2 if you don't mind. Doesn't the fourth need to resolve to E? – CuriousSam Apr 5 at 11:19
  • "The dotted C is because Bach wants a sixteenth note D to follow, continuing the rhythmic pattern of the previous bars, in which the downward, six-note scale pattern begins on the fourth sixteenth of the beat. " From a perceptual stand point, why is it important to continue the pattern on a preceding bar? Why not leave the C and D as an eighth, and then just continue the pattern on the following bar? – CuriousSam Apr 5 at 11:32
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    @CuriousSam Regarding transferred resolution, an undergraduate theory textbook would be a likely source, or an internet search for "transferred resolution" or "transferred seventh". This answer provides a specific reference. – Aaron Apr 5 at 12:18
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    @CuriousSam The scale pattern starting on the final sixteenth of a beat is already well established – it occurs three times in bars 3 and 4. Continuing the pattern exactly gives it audible primacy over the countersubject. Had Bach given priority to the countersubject, it would not be as clear that the (eighth note) D is the beginning of the scale pattern. – Aaron Apr 5 at 12:21
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    @CuriousSam That's an outstanding question, but not one that lends itself to a simple or single answer. There's immense research and debate in the area of musical perception. But for discussion purposes, pose the question in our [chat room], which allows for expanded discussion of questions like this and may be of interest to others on the site. I'm glad my answer was helpful to you. – Aaron Apr 5 at 13:48
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When the motif is sequenced in mm. 3-4 the joinings result in a descent of a fifth between beats...

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...one way to explain the countersubject descending a fifth instead of ascending a fourth in m. 5 is it reflects the descending fifths of the preceeding sequential line.

For the dotted rhythm you can look at it like this...

enter image description here

...the main motif starts with an anacrusis rhythm. The dotted rhythm and sixteenth just extend the line back. You can think of the countersubject rhythm as the down beat eighth notes and the main subject as sixteenths with an anacrusis.

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  • This is a much more precise explanation of the A-D descending 5th in m. 5 than I gave. – Aaron Apr 7 at 19:19
  • Thanks! ...But, I do think there is something going on with the ascending bass passing through C to D (played in RH). It's like the C in the bass doesn't act harmonically as FA expected to resolve down to MI, it's sort of passing motion up to D. The real harmonic C as FA resolving to MI is in the treble. Your description of that "transfer" helps make sense of the passage. – Michael Curtis Apr 7 at 19:41
  • If you haven't already seen it, you might be interested in the continuing chat on this question. – Aaron Apr 7 at 19:48

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