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I did some analysis of the chorale 'Wie wunderbarlich ist doch diese Strafe' (from Matthew Passion BWV 244 no.46), see below. But how would I analyse the first chord in measure 2? Obviously, it's an E major chord (1st inversion), but what is its function? You could say it's an altered subdominant, IV♯3, but I think such things are very rare in Bach's music. It could be a secondary dominant, but the following chord is F♯65, of which E major is neither the V nor the VII. So, any help?

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Nice example! I'll have to remember this one.

The G♯ here is actually a product of voice leading and only a byproduct of functional harmony. Since beat 2 of m. 2 is a V65 chord that necessitates the A♯ leading tone, Bach has chosen to raise the downbeat of m. 2 from a G to a G♯ to prevent the augmented second from G♮ to A♯.

To put it more simply, Bach is just using the melodic minor scale in the bass, and that raised sixth scale degree creates a major IV6 chord.

Also interesting is that this IV6 chord comes after the previous V chord. This is a deceptive progression that's a bit different than the more common V–vi progression. It also seems to break the modern rule against moving from V to IV, but this V–IV6 deceptive motion was very common in the Baroque. Handel did it all the time, too.


One final comment: this chorale may be best understood historically as being in E.

Bach often used modal melodies to write these chorales. Dorian was especially common, and this is why we often see (for instance) chorales written in G with only a one-flat key signature. It's possible this chorale is really in E Dorian, since that "extra" C♯ in the key signature would be the characteristic Dorian scale degree. This would also mean the chorale begins with V65–i, which is maybe a bit more common an opening than V65/iv–iv.

  • Thanks for the answer! You convinced me about the chord in m.2, but I'm confused about the E Dorian claim. Firstly, what about all the A♯s? Surely that's characteristic of B harmonic minor, not E Dorian. Secondly, the cadences, especially the final one, also point to B minor. – Minethlos Sep 15 '18 at 23:47
  • @Minethlos If the entire chorale ends in B (and not on a half cadence in E, which would be a B chord), then I'd say it's in B. But not knowing the rest of the chorale, I thought I'd share that bit about Bach's use of Dorian. – Richard Sep 16 '18 at 15:10
  • Oh, yea, it ends with V7 - I (Picardy third) in B. But even the cadence shown in m.3 I think is characteristic of B since E Dorian doesn't have an A♯... But thanks for the info anyway :) – Minethlos Sep 16 '18 at 18:31
  • @Minethlos Oh, of course. But Bach moves around and cadences in lots of different keys, so it was possible that it just cadence in the dominant briefly. – Richard Sep 16 '18 at 18:32
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    @Minethlos I just happened to come across this chorale in my Riemenschneider book (it's chorale 105). This is definitely in B! – Richard Sep 24 '18 at 23:52
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You wouldn't worry about IV, V7, I in B major. Well, just as it's common to use iv in a major key, it's common to use IV in a minor one, particularly when it's a by-product of a rising melodic minor scale. The 'function' of this whole passage is the rising bass line.

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