[Smt-talk] Addendum on Bach

Dmitri Tymoczko dmitri at Princeton.EDU
Thu Jan 21 18:39:56 PST 2010

Two quick notes on Olli's investigation of passing 6/4 chords in Bach  

1. I think it is important to distinguish quarter-note chords (which  
are almost certainly "genuine" harmonies, at least in a superficial  
foreground sense) from those on weak eighths.  In my view, a lot of  
the stuff on weak eighths is just the byproduct of passing motion.   
See, for instance, Riemenschneider Chorale #14, "O Herre Gott, dein  
gottlich Wort" (available on IMSLP), measure 12, beat 3.  You could  
argue for a "passing IV4/3" here, but I think that would be stretching  
it -- this is garden-variety passing motion in the inner voices that  
happens to produce a chord we can label.
	Now, what about the "passing 6/4" chords in the same chorale, in m. 8  
(beat 4.5) and 11 (beat 3.5)?  I wouldn't label them, personally.   
When investigating passing 6/4 chords in the chorales, I'd probably  
restrict myself to passing chords of quarter-note duration, since  
these are more likely to be harmonic -- at least in the superficial  
foreground sense.  (I might also allow eighth-note chords where at  
least one voice is clearly not passing or neighboring, for instance  
because it leaps.)  If you do this, you find many fewer passing 6/4  
chords than Olli does, and they almost all conform to the standard type.

2. It's also important to remember that Bach chorales have a lot of  
genuinely weird stuff in them, stuff you don't find in Mozart or  
elsewhere.  The same chorale has vi-iii and V-iii progressions  (m. 2,  
m. 11-12).  Are these "syntactical?"  Are you going to teach your  
students that V and vi chords can go to iii?  I would be inclined to  
say: "it's the sort of thing that Bach periodically does, especially  
in the chorales, but it is very rare in Mozart and in the music of  
other classical composers."
	I guess part of the problem is that if we insist that there's a  
single "syntax" that applies to all functionally harmonic music, from  
Bach chorales to Brahms, we have to allow for an incredibly broad  
range of possibilities.  Composers like Mozart typically use only a  
small fraction of these possibilities, which I consider the "core" of  
functional harmony.  When teaching the style, I would be much more  
likely to focus on the "core" possibilities, and to leave the rest for  
more advanced, style-specific investigations into particular  
composers' languages.  This "core" syntax is actually fairly easy to  
describe, and doesn't include a lot of weird possibilities.

So, having looked again at the chorales for a bit, I would say the  

	1. It could well be that, in Bach, IV6->I6/4->ii6/5 is more common  
than IV6->I6/4->ii6.
	2. If you restrict yourself to quarter-note "passing 6/4" chords,  
there are not many of them, and they are almost all standard,  
connecting IV6 to ii6 or IV or ii6/5.

To get quantitative: looking carefully through 11 chorales, I find two  
passing I6/4 chords, one connecting IV6 to ii6/5, and the other  
connecting IV6 to IV7.


Dmitri Tymoczko
Associate Professor of Music
310 Woolworth Center
Princeton, NJ 08544-1007
(609) 258-4255 (ph), (609) 258-6793 (fax)

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