A level pupil. Made the mistake of learning Renaissance cadence voicing way before starting A-level harmony course. There's a conflict of interest between the cadential progressions of the renaissance (Cantizans, Altizans, Tenorizans and Bassizans) and the chordal nature of Bach's Chorales eg. Tenorizans in the Soprano line; unresolved Cantizans dropping to the fifth in the alto line; inability to cross parts. This (in my admittedly less-than-humble opinion) makes the individual voice lines clunky, while to rectify the clunkiness leaves final chords on a thin open 3rd. Are there any ways of settling this issue without just sucking up to the system?

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    The conflict is resolved by recognizing that Bach wasn't writing renaissance music. By the mid baroque it was standard practice to have the melody in the soprano instead of the tenor. This wasn't Bach's innovation; it was the hand he was dealt. Many other composers preferred to resolve the leading tone and omit the fifth from the final chord. But what exactly is your question? What needs settling?
    – phoog
    Sep 18, 2023 at 22:07
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    Why would one need to resolve any such conflict? Nobody in their right mind would claim that Bach's compositions are a strict implementation of Renaissance rule sets—they aren't even a strict implementation of Baroque rule sets. The rules do not have the absoluteness of formal logic rules, and Bach puts out a pretty impressive ratio of musical omelettes in relation to the number and size of eggs he breaks.
    – user94663
    Sep 19, 2023 at 0:58

1 Answer 1


Admittedly, the consequent downward jump of the cantizans into the fifth in Bach's final cadences bothers me too, because to me this sounds so unsatisfactory that it spoils (IMO) the cadence, and it is unpleasent to sing for the affected voice. Obviously, Bach thought otherwise, or, more precisely, considered a different aspect more important: full chords.

When writing polyphonic music, often a compromise is necessary between singability and chord completeness. In Renaissance music, which was primarily vocal, singability was the priority. At Bach's time, music already was primarily instrumental, and for an instrument, singability is not an issue. Not all baroque composers treated vocal parts like instruments (e.g. the music by Fux, Charpentier, or Mondonville has much more "singable" vocal parts), but apparently Bach had singers that could deal with his approach to vocal lines.

Another possible explanation especially for the evasion of the cantizans in Bach's cadences might be that Bach was a keyboard virtuoso. On the harpsichord or on the organ, voice leading is not such an issue in chord progressions because the individual parts are almost not distinguishable, and still today in figured bass accompaniment, it is often taught that only the outer parts must follow the rules of voice leading.

To "resolve" the issue: It is due to different priorities.

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    Are there examples where Bach does not resolve the leading-tone into the tonic, but jumps back to the dominant, for purely vocal pieces, i.e. without any instrument? For pieces with choir and instruments, it might be that one instrument is higher than the highest choir voice, and resolves to the tonic. Note: I am more troubled by the trumpet finishing the piece on the dominant, in one of the orchestral suites if I remember well. Sep 22, 2023 at 9:25
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    @jean-armand-moroni That is a good point. There are not much a capella 4 part pieces by Bach, I only am aware of three: "Lobet den Herrn alle Heiden", the final fugue of "Singet dem Herrn", and part 9 ("Gute Nacht o Wesen") from "Jesu meine Freude". I have just superficially checked these pieces and could not find an example of a leading tone jumping to the fifth. Actually in these pieces, Bach prefers "correct" voice leading over full chords: there are many cadences which end with chords without the fifth, without the third, or even in unisono.
    – cdalitz
    Sep 22, 2023 at 10:22
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    @Jean-ArmandMoroni nearly every one of Bach's four-voice chorales is written in five parts (soprano, alto, tenor, bass, basso continuo, with the last two usually being entirely in unison). The assignment of instrumental doubling is not indicated in the score but is determined by examining the parts. Nonetheless, with only s handful of exceptions there is no independent instrumental part, much less one sounding in a different octave from the vocal part it's doubling.
    – phoog
    Sep 23, 2023 at 8:28
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    @Jean-ArmandMoroni This is in contrast to festive concerted movements, where treble instruments often double the alto an octave higher, or, more usually, move fluidly between the alto and soprano. Details of voice leading therefore differ considerably. It seems that voice leading is held to the rules within the orchestra and within the chorus separately, but you can easily find forbidden parallels across the two groups. But the soprano is often cantizans at final cadences in such movements. One example where it is not is BWV 66.1. There, tenor and viola have ^7^5, and nobody has ^7^1.
    – phoog
    Sep 23, 2023 at 8:50
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    Just a general comment on Bach's vocal lines. I've sung Bach in many choirs for many years, and when it comes to a conflict between singability and harmonic architecture, Bach always decides in favor of the architecture. That's part of his genius, but at the cost of easy singability. So ist es. Sep 23, 2023 at 9:25

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