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Tierce di Picardie

 

 

Tierce di Picardie

Anne Smith wrote (February 7, 2004):
Carol wrote: < but I've always wondered why Bach's choruses in the minor key often end with the last few measures in the major. >
This is called a Tierce di Picardie or Picardy third. This practice originated around 1500 and continued to be used until the end of the baroque period. Many composers used it.

Carol wrote (February 7, 2004):
[To Anne Smith] Thanks, Anne,

It's a big relief to know I don't have to assume Bach may not have written something I like (except for Cantata BWV 143), and now I do remember other baroque composers using the Picardy third practice. I hardly pay attention to any of the others; especially Bach's relatives. In my opinion, he didn't pass on a bit of his compositional genius to his children, though they may have been wonderful musicians.

I just looked up the term in my Grout "A History of Western Music", and it's not there. You taught music history, didn't you? Do you like Tierce di Picardie? I think it's a disappointing and homely end to an otherwise wonderful work. Bach must have liked it, because he didn't use it all the time, so there must not have been any rule that it be played that way. Can't figure it out.

Anne Smith wrote (February 7, 2004):
[To Carol] Yes, I like the Tierce di Picardie. Guess I am used to it. I don't know if this is acceptable practice - sometimes performers use the Picardy Third even if the composer did not.

Fumitaka Sato wrote (February 8, 2004):
[To Carol] In The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, second edition, edited by Stanley Sadie and John Tyrrell (London, 2001), an article is included about Tierce de Picardie.

"Tierce de Picardie [Picardy 3rd].

The raised third degree of the tonic chord, when it is used for the ending of a movement or composition in a minor mode in order to give the ending a greater sense of finality. The term was introduced by Rousseau in his Dictionnaire de musique (1767); its etymology is unknown. It was commonly used in the 16th century and throughout the Baroque era and was regarded by some writers as standard. In the Classical period it was used much less frequently, though an analogy may be drawn with the practice of ending a minor-key work with a short section in the parallel major, found for example in the string quartets of Haydn (op.64 no.2, op.74 no.3 and op.76 no.2) and Beethoven (opp.95 and 132). by JULIAN RUSHTON"

(I hope my citation of the dictionary is legitimate.)

Jack Botelho wrote (February 9, 2004):
[To Fumitaka Sato] Thanks for this information!

Bradley Lehman wrote (February 9, 2004):
There is also a direct musical reason for the "tierce de picardie" from acoustics, from the harmonic series. In the common tuning systems from the 16th century into much of the 18th century, the major third was better in tune than the minor third. It was pure, or nearly so. (Still is, on surviving organs from the time.) Minor thirds were, and are, more restless.

Therefore, to use the major third in the final chord--instead of the minor third--gives a better effect of repose, relaxation, being the end of the piece...ending on a chord that is as well in tune as possible. That's the way it is/was for all music that had a keyboard instrument involved in it.

Unfortunately, this is all flipped on its head if people play that music now with keyboard instruments tuned in equal temperament: the major third is more tense and unresolved than minor thirds are. The effect now is a brightening of the end, instead of a relaxation of it. The extremely high major thirds in equal temperament give the sound a constant tremolo (resembling a vibrato), where the chord never really settles down to repose. People are accustomed to that, now, but that familiarity doesn't make it "right"....

Carol wrote (February 21, 2004):
[To Fumitaka Sato] I don't believe I ever thanked you for this information. It's very much appreciated. I need to figure out how to clear some of these messages quickly. It causes me not to return people's posts.

Fumitaka Sato wrote (February 21, 2004):
[To Carol] Actually, until you asked the question I didn't know about Tierce de Picardie. I could learn through your inquiry about the subject. I should be grateful to you.

Tony wrote (February 21, 2004):
[To Carol] Can I be bold enough to say that I sometimes wish Bach had not used the tierce? I'm referring multi-movement works in minor modes where he inserts a tierce at the end of a pre-final movement. It can have the effect of weakening the tension in such a context. An example is the Prelude and Fugue in C minor for organ (sorry, don't have the BWV at hand).

Fumitaka Sato wrote (February 21, 2004):
[To Tony] You mean BWV 549?
(No comments for the moment.)

Tony wrote (February 21, 2004):
[To Fumitaka Sato] No, I mean BWV 546. To me, the E-natural in the very last chord of the prelude partially undermines the tension of the fugal opening, which is steadfastly back in the minor mode. Try it without the tierce-isn't the link between prelude and fugue now more logical, both technically and emotionally?

Carol wrote (February 22, 2004):
Tony, (glad to know your first name), With regard to your opinion that Tierce di Picardie "..can have the effect of weakening the tension in such a context." !!!!!!!!! My words, exactly! Seriously, in my layman's vernacular, I said to Ann last month, "I think it's a disappointing and homely end to an otherwise wonderful work. Bach must have liked it, because he didn't use it all the time, so there must not have been any rule that it be played that way. Can't figure it out."

Tony wrote (February 23, 2004):
To Carol] Carol-One explanation might be that in some cases a non-final movement with tierce was used alone. In the example I gave (BWV549), I can imagine its stand-alone use in a church service.

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Last update: ýMarch 22, 2004 ý00:27:35