This comes from BWV 847 (the C minor fugue from the Well Tempered Clavier).

Look at the third beat from measure 28.

I can't help but hear an A flat minor chord here, that is Eb, Cb, Ab. Especially when playing with an "organ" sound on a synthesizer or something rich (because of the harmonics of the Eb at the bass, I suppose). Try to add the Eb above middle C to the chord to see what I mean.

I know that the harmony is supposed to be a G dominant over the Eb (that is a vanilla V/I movement over the Eb), and you can suppress any tentative to think otherwise by adding the D to the chord (I even have an edition at home which suggest that there is at least one manuscript where the copier added this D).

Am I the only one to hear this "C flat" ? Is there any actual example of chromatic mediant movement in Bach by the way ? Would you add the D to the chord ?

EDIT: here I can hear it a lot :

(at 3:28)

enter image description here

  • Did you mean an Abm chord? – Tim Nov 8 at 19:40
  • @Tim Yeah, of course. Fixed. – Alexandre C. Nov 8 at 19:50
  • What's the difference between Cb and B? Shouldn't they be the same with well temperament? – Eric Duminil Nov 9 at 9:25
  • @EricDuminil the question is whether you hear a G dominant over the Eb, or something stranger (Ab minor chord). In the second case, the B would have been noted CB instead. To hear the difference, play the circled chord adding respectively the D or the Eb above middle C. – Alexandre C. Nov 9 at 12:54
up vote 10 down vote accepted

Sure, if you listen to this chord out of context, it sounds like a 2nd inversion Ab minor chord. But in context, at least to me, the chord and its resolution on the second eighth note seem to be a perfectly straightforward, and typical for Bach, dominant to tonic motion, where the dominant is a dimished seventh chord (missing its third and fifth), and the tonic is in the first inversion and anticipated in the bass.

And there's no room for a D in the chord- this is a three voice fugue.

  • Yeah, it's a 3 voice fugue, but if I were to disambiguate, that's what I would do (adding F to the chord would imply resolving onto a doubled Eb -- not good). – Alexandre C. Nov 8 at 19:52
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    @AlexandreC. - yes, adding a D to the chord would strengthen the dominant feeling. But it would disrupt the fugue. – Scott Wallace Nov 8 at 20:11

The way you've phrased your question is a little strange, since the only possible answer would be "no, you are undoubtedly not the only one."

I hear it a little differently from Scott, but it doesn't really make sense as a full chord. I hear the B and the Ab as simple accented non-chord tones, with a chromatic rise (B-C) and descent (Ab-G) to the expected i6 chord.

That seems fairly clear to me on reading it, and is also how I hear it when performed:

  • It depends on the instrument. Eg. (at 3:28) – Alexandre C. Nov 8 at 19:50
  • Ben- I suspect I hear it pretty much the same as you. I hear the i6 chord with two accented non-chord tones as well. It's just that the non-chord tones imply a dominant to me. – Scott Wallace Nov 8 at 20:08
  • @ScottWallace: On the piano, I would agree that I have to force myself to hear it differently. On the organ though, (see link just above) those two notes imply something very different to me -- the B doesn't feel like a leading tone but rather as the third of the implied harmony (Cb). – Alexandre C. Nov 8 at 20:11
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    @AlexandreC. I just listened to your recording. If anything, it seems even more startling there. It feels too out of place to be a fundamental harmonic idea. That's NCT territory :) – Ben I. Nov 8 at 20:15
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    @ScottWallace Ah, I see. For some reason, I didn't catch that from your answer. Then we are in total agreement, because the two NCTs are certainly dominant-ish :) – Ben I. Nov 8 at 20:16

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