The Prelude in C# major (BWV 848) with 7 sharps looks quite difficult for reading. Is there an easier way to decipher and analyse this piece and understand what's happening, especially the secondary dominants.

How could this be explained to a beginner who is not so skilled with reading and has no great idea of secondary dominants.

Let's assume she/he knows: The dominant chord of C is G, and as the dominant of G is D7 this dominant of G is a secondary dominant, while C can become as C7 a secondary dominant of F (the subdominant of C).

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  • This question is related and referring to music.stackexchange.com/questions/95223/…, and answers are meant to help reading a tricky composition full of sharps and to help and understand the wired functions of secondary dominant (like ii-V7/ V or V7/ii and V7/V etc.) I have a waste one in preparation. Others - shorter - are welcome. Feb 11 '20 at 15:19
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    Why is the key signature done like that, it is the first time I saw that.
    – Neil Meyer
    Feb 11 '20 at 15:38
  • I think I've seen something similar by Bartok. This edition is of Franz Kroll - Bach-Gesellschaft Ausgabe, Band 14 (pp.10-13) Leipzig: Breitkopf und Härtel, 1866. Plate B.W. XIV. Btw. I didn't think about the signature like that might make it easier for reading. ;) But there's also an edition by Franz Kroll in Db which I mean to poste. Feb 11 '20 at 16:06
  • Publisher should not have the right to rewrite a piece. If it is written in C# exactly what is the publishers qualifications to say it should be in DB?
    – Neil Meyer
    Feb 11 '20 at 16:09
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    @Neil Meyer: and as we know ... Bach notated it in C-clef ... I don't know that a modern editor would publish it this way. Notating an F# in the lower octave is less "rewriting" than editing in treble-clef, don'r you think? Feb 11 '20 at 17:00

If you find it easier to visualise in C major, you could ignore the key signature and read accidental double sharps as sharps, naturals as flats.

But why choose this piece to teach secondary dominants? PLAY this one, if it's at a suitable technical level for this student. I agree, the harmony might be clearer in C major. But this piece ISN'T in C major! Surely the aim is to play THIS piece?

  • Laurence, I agree! I want to show that this piece is much easier to read if you analyse the secondary dominants. (Of course many others would be suitable too, but I wtc 848 or the Prelude in D major are most useful in a special way!) or putting the cart before the horse: I mean understanding this function V7/ is most useful to read this piece. Btw. this question should help OP of the other question (s. link above) to better understand the problem ... Feb 11 '20 at 15:28
  • I can't see that it's going to sound much different in C to C#. The big difference will be fingering. But merely using it as an exercise for theorising, your solution is what I would have done.
    – Tim
    Feb 11 '20 at 17:54
  • @ Tim: sometimes I think the it is easier to play in C# than in C (may be just because the fingerings of the two different keys don't fit together) while it is much more difficult to "read" it in C# (regarding the double sharps). By reading I mean analyzing the chords and understanding the functions. Feb 12 '20 at 9:10

When I tried to play this prelude some decades ago there was no internet and no way to google and I also had access to music libraries. So I came to same conclusion as Laurence and Tim are advising: I've read it in C, ignoring the 7 sharps.

But what could I read the other day?

Bach recycled some of the preludes and fugues from earlier sources: the 1720 Klavierbüchlein für Wilhelm Friedemann Bach, for instance, contains versions of eleven of the preludes of the first book of the Well-Tempered Clavier.

The C♯ major prelude and fugue in book one was originally in C major – Bach added a key signature of seven sharps and adjusted some accidentals to convert it to the required key.

That's what we are going to do now and writing the harmony (secondary fifths!)

I didn't add the the Roman Numbers of the 4 bars in line 1-4 (it is obvious that it is 1,2,3,4,3,2,1 in the degrees tonic, dominant, supertonic, relative key).

This transcription in C:

enter image description here

In bar 32 he starts with a chain of secondary dominants

B7 -> Em, A7 -> Dm, E7 -> Am, D7 -> G, A7 -> Dm, G7 -> C, D7 - Gm, D7 -> F we can even extend this secondary chord progressions considering always 2 chords together as "secondary" of the next degree: (iv-V7/) or (ii-V7) mind that the chords are in 1st (or 3rd) inversion: the 3rd in bass respectively the 7th).

The role and function of secondary dominants is explained here:

What is a secondary dominant chord?

Now it's quite easier to read and understand the progression in C# major:

enter image description here

And if we look at the transcription of Franz Kroll in Db we will understand even better the functions of the secondary dominants. That's why I believe it is easier to read it in Db major: look at the 1st chord of the V7/X (secondary dominants)! We read C7 -> F ... etc. this is much easier to read and analyse than B double sharp -> E#

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