Something interesting: I've read the other day that Bach when he wrote his WTC there he didn't know the terms *major" and "minor".

I can't find the source again but may be someone can help me. May be we'll find it in the comment of the Bach society or even in the faksimile.

I was wondering about this remark as I've also read that since Zarlino the modes have been reduced to this two kinds of tonics - even we know that Bach still was using church chorals in different modes.

  • 1
    He may not have known the terms major and minor, but he used Tierce de Picardie a few times, so must have been aware of the effect made by raising the m3.
    – Tim
    Feb 12, 2020 at 16:51
  • 1
    I must have been unclear: I didn't mean the minor 3rd or major 3rd but the term for the scales in minor or major. Probably there doesn't exist an equivalent expression for the category as we have in German: Tongeschlecht. I have probably to clear this point before. Feb 12, 2020 at 18:25

1 Answer 1


The Well-Tempered Clavier, or Preludes and Fugues through all the tones and semitones both as regards the tertia major or Ut Re Mi and as concerns the tertia minor or Re Mi Fa. For the Use and Profit of the Musical Youth Desirous of Learning as well as for the Pastime of those Already Skilled in this Study drawn up and written by Johann Sebastian Bach. p.t. Capellmeister to His Serene Highness the Prince of Anhalt-C�then, etc. and Director of His Chamber Music. Anno 1722."

Translation from here: https://www.qub.ac.uk/~tomita/essay/wtc1.html

  • this must have been the source I was reading but in German it means not exactly the same. Minor and major are surely concerning the thirds but as Bach writes: Re Mi Fa this indicates he didn't have a concept of the minor tonality based on A-minor as relative key like we he have today. Feb 12, 2020 at 20:04
  • 1
    Re Mi Fa identifies which octave a note lies in. It's a hexachordal-derived notation. However Bach (and several others around his time) did write in 24 "keys" even if these keys were not exactly what people think of now. Note that they are arranged in C-c, D-d, E-d, ETC-etc. parallel rather than in C-a, D-b, E-c#... indicating the relative key (which terms are used differently in other languages.) I'd have to check but I think Bach did use the C-G and a-C them relations in overtures. Whats clear is that these are neither the church modes nor the Greek modes nor the modern concept.
    – ttw
    Feb 12, 2020 at 23:44
  • Isn't the point of only give the first three tones to show that is the main distinction between major and minor? The fourth and fifth being perfect in all modes needs no mention. The sixth and seventh being variable - indefinite - aren't convenient for a simple definition of major/minor tonality. The statement assumes a certain knowledge of those conventions. Feb 13, 2020 at 13:51
  • It's not the first three tones rather where the key note lands in a solfege-hexachordal naming. Bah uses this elsewhere. books.google.com/…
    – ttw
    Feb 13, 2020 at 13:57
  • As your other answer with the title page has been deleted I'd like to add that it is also to find in the Wiki site about the WTC. As it is very pale on the right site I had overseen this faksimile. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Well-Tempered_Clavier Feb 14, 2020 at 15:04

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.