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Bach Theme



Bach Theme

Aryeh Oron wrote (January 3, 2006):
A short while ago I received the following message off-list:

For many years I have been trying to identify a piece of music (which I heard as an organ transcription) which I believe is by Bach and which I believe comes from one of his cantatas (I could be wrong on both counts but it certainlty sounds like Bach!). In view of your obvious interest in and knowledge of Bach's cantatas, I am contacting you in the hope that you may be able to help me identify this mysterious piece of music. To this end, I attach a MIDI file of the melodic line of part of this composition, which I hope is familiar to you.

Thanking you in advance for any help you can give me.

Thomas Braatz was very kind to convert the MIDI file into notation using Capella software.

You can listen to the MIDI file and see the score at:

Midi File: Bach Theme [midi]


Can you identify the theme?

Bradley Lehman wrote (January 4, 2006):
[To Aryeh Oron] It does not seem like a Bach subject, to me.

The musical fingerprints arguing against Bach on this one would be the rhythm (too downbeat-oriented and it doesn't really get going in the first three bars with the metric repetition), and the overall squareness/symmetry of the phrase structure. It loses energy in its second half, too, again being primarily a rhythmic problem here. And the downward leap of a major 7th from bars 6 to 7 argues against it being a vocal piece.

This type of subject could have been written by just about any mediocre or pedantic composer from about 1700 to 1850, for keyboard: sequencing on an unremarkable harmonic outline. It seems formulaic to go halfway through, then wander into the predictable dominant, and end on the downbeat of bar 9; Bach's fugal subjects tended to be quirkier and more playful than this.

Furthermore, a quick flip through all the vocal works in the BWV didn't reveal it.

How long does this piece go on, after this first statement? What happens next? Does it follow the predictable four-voiced pattern of tonic, dominant, a bar or two modulating back, tonic, dominant, and then lapsing into homophony for a while...i.e. a formulaic fugato based on regular eight-bar phrases, or is it a fully worked-out contrapuntal composition with some more clever craft to it?

And is there a bass line harmonizing it (as a vocal piece or an orchestral fugue/fugato typically would have) or is it an unaccompanied statement?

Sorry not to like the piece! :)

Richard wrote (January 4, 2006):
[To Aryeh Oron] This theme is very similar to BWV 205 Aeolus aria "Wie will ich lustig lachen". It reminds me a piece from Anna Magdalena Nötenbüchlein, but I' not sure...

Richard wrote (January 4, 2006):
Yes I have just heard it again, it is BWV 205, aria N° 3 !

Bradley Lehman wrote (January 4, 2006):
[To Richard] Good point, that's likely the source. Start with the ritornello of that bass aria from BWV 205. Chop off the pickup note, and convert the other repeated notes to a long-held note--but of the wrong length--reducing some of the melody's rhythmic energy. Then halve the speed of some of the other notes, to compensate. Delete some of the notes from the ends of later bars. Then transpose the whole thing from a key of three sharps, to none. What remains is pretty much the outline of that MIDI melody...having lost most or all of the rhythmic features and other distinctiveness that (to me) would make it sound recognizably like Bach.

As I remarked yesterday:
that MIDI version is too square, symmetrical, and un-quirky to be much like a Bachian subject. Bach's ritornello is much more interesting, with its more irregular structure shifting across the meter.

A good presentation of Bach's compositional process, as to this sort of asymmetries and rhythmic quirks, is Laurence Dreyfus's book Bach and the Patterns of Invention.

Thomas Braatz wrote (January 4, 2006):
[To Aryeh Oron] Would you add the attached solution to the question about the Bach theme to the already existing page and announce its existence with thanks to Richard (Richard who?) for providing the solution?


Score of the query:

Score of the solution:

David Atkinson wrote (January 6, 2006):
[To Aryeh Oron] Very many thanks for your note and for your success in identifying my mystery J S Bach piece. This piece has been bugging me for over 50 years! I appreciate the input you received from your mailing group, particularly that from Richard who hit the nail right on the head! Please pass on my heartfelt thanks to him. I have just been listening to a track from a CD at the Amazon US site which I plan to order ASAP. That is definitely the piece!

Again, many thanks for all your help.

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Last update: ýJanuary 7, 2006 ý09:42:37