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I am planning a performance of the second movement of Bach's violin sonata BWV 1014 in B Minor. The beginning of second mvt, Allegro is shown below.

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As you can see there are some figured bass below the first 4 bars. This causes me a lot of trouble, because of the following.

  1. If I fill the right hand of bar 1-4 with notes according to the figures, I will weaken the effect of the entrance of theme in bar 5.
  2. Should I write my own right hand line in bar 1-4, or can I just copy the counter subject in bar 5-8 violin into bar 1-4 piano right hand?

I would be glad if someone can explain how to overcome those issues. Also, are there any existing examples of realization of this figured bass?

  • Is the figured bass in the original, or editorial? My first thought is given the parentheses it must be an editorial addition. – Dean Ransevycz Jan 18 at 0:19
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It might seem like you'd weaken the effect of the entrance in m. 5, but that's somewhat of a "presentist" viewpoint. Bach didn't seem to think it would weaken it (because that's how he wrote it), and the countless performers who have recorded it don't seem to think it did, either. One reason might be because of the rhythmic activity: since m. 5 is the first time eighth notes appear, that's enough to highlight the re-entrance of the subject.

Although transposing the countersubject in mm. 5–8 would fit with the progression given in mm. 1–4, the fact is that that's not what Bach notated. So no one is stopping you from doing that, but it would go against performance practice. The better option would be to realize the figured bass in the first four measures. (It's also not as common to start with the subject and countersubject at the time same, although it does happen occasionally.)

Fortunately, the Peters edition edited by Ferdinand David has a realization; it's available at IMSLP.

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  • Thank you for the answer. But why do you say that the countersubject b 5-8 causes some terrible dissonances? If it is OK in 5-8, it should be right in b 1-4, because nothing is really different except the upper two voices are swapped. (I know it doesn't match the figures, but it should not be dissonant) – Ma Joad Jan 17 at 11:52
  • Great question! In m. 5, the subject is played at the level of the dominant, whereas the subject in m. 1 is played at the level of tonic. Notice how the subject starts on F♯ in m. 1 but on C♯ in m. 2. These different levels of transposition prevent the countersubject in m. 5 from being consonant with the subject in m. 1. – Richard Jan 17 at 11:55
  • I still cannot understand. The answer in b 4 is an EXACT transposition of the subject in b 1. Consonance and dissonance doesn't change after transposition. (As far as I know, of course) The counterpoint also seems invertible. – Ma Joad Jan 17 at 12:31
  • It is an exact transposition. But because it's transposed to F♯, it no longer fits above the B-major progression of the first bars. This is evident from the very first pitch of the answer in m. 5: this C♯ does not fit above the B-major chord on the downbeat of m. 1. – Richard Jan 17 at 12:56
  • I also just spotted an error in my earlier comment that may have been confusing: the last sentence should read "These different levels of transposition prevent the countersubject in m. 5 from being consonant with the harmonic progression in m. 1." – Richard Jan 17 at 12:58
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Both of your reflections are right, it might depend a little bit from the instrument you do accompany. As the example of the Peters edition shows the counterpoint is needless otherwise Bach had used it.

Did you notice there's also a transcription for organ in the IMSLP? I think you just can't ignore the figured bass. I wouldn't break my head or fingers. I starts so fast that hardly someone will realize that the differences.

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