In this post I examine the first cello suite by Johann Sebastian Bach using Schenkerian methodology. My research continues the endeavor begun by Dr. David Beach in his "Aspects of Unity in J.S. Bach's Partitas and Suites" (2005) using the tools and methodology created and enhanced by Dr. David Damschroder, which are demonstrated in his "Harmony in Schubert" (2010) and following publications. I proceed movement by movement, providing in-depth graphical analyses and commentary in an effort to identify deeper unifying traits of the movements and present a deeper reading of the suite as a whole.
Note: Since Weebly cannot include superscript or subscript please consider the first number to be above the second number in the figured bass descriptions.
The forty-two measures of this movement are split into two parts by a fermata, but are still through-composed; the first part, measures 1 through 222, contains the main harmonic movement of the Prelude; the second part, measures 223 through 42, prolongs the dominant and contains the tonic’s final return. A third-progression underlies the movement; the Kopfton ^3 arrives in the first measure accompanied by the tonic, ^2 arrives in measure 22 with the dominant, and ^1 arrives in measure 42 with the tonic.
The Prelude begins simply with an arpeggiation of the tonic and a lower neighboring ornamentation of the Kopfton ^3. In measures 1 through 4, the arpeggiation is accompanied by an inner voice ascent from D to G. This is accomplished by a rising diatonic scalar motion paired with a neighboring motion, in the form of 3-4-3, over a pedal tonic root. (Ex.1) When we consider these facets together we find a prolongational technique, that of 53 – 64 – 74 – 83, which will be used elsewhere in the movement and suite in modified forms.
Measures 5 through 10 continue the harmonic movement barely begun in measures 1 through 4. In measures 5 and 8, we find the 6 phase of the tonic. Measures 6 and 9 contain a surging supertonic – an evolved form of the supertonic – which possesses a seventh and raised third. In measures 7 and 10, dominant chords complete the harmonic gesture begun in measure 1. This could be interpreted as a I6 – II#7 – V progression deployed twice in different configurations. (Ex. 2) But, in essence, what has been accomplished is a progression from the tonic through a surging supertonic to the dominant, and then a tonicization of the dominant by a similar progression. (Ex. 3)
Measures 11 through 14 seemingly forget the prior events and present a continuation of the tonic from measure 1 through 4 in the form of its 6 phase. There are two ways of perceiving these measures, which is essentially a composing-out of the tonic's 6 phase. The first interpretation is that measure 11 presents an evolved E chord, one possessing a raised third, a minor seventh, and a minor ninth. Measure 12 then is simply a IV chord of the tonic's 6 phase; measure 13 presents the dominant of the tonic's 6 phase with a seventh and resolves to the tonic's 6 phase in measure 14. (Ex. 4) The second interpretation is more fluid. The 6 phase of tonic is presented in measure 11, but only its seventh and raised third are potent; in measure 12 the raised third ascends and seventh descends. In measure 13, the fourth remains while the sixth ascends, by augmented second, to a raised seventh; in measure 14, the tension developed in the previous three measures is dispersed by an ascent of the raised seventh and descent of the fourth. What this reading entails is that measures 11 through 14 provide a second example of the prolongational effects of the 3-4-4-3 figuration found in measures 1 through 4; in this instance, the figuration being 7# - 64 - #74 – 83. (Ex. 5)
Following the tonic’s 6 phase prolongation is a return to the tonic’s 5 phase. The circled notes of Ex. 6a highlight the recurrence of the inner voice’s ascending fourth.
Note the similarities between measures 15 through 19 and measures 1 through 4. Measures 15 through 16 are constructed like measure 1 and contain the same important pitches; the same can be said of measure 2 as compared to 17, measure 3 as compared to 18, and measure 4 as compared to 19. Both passages are prolongations of the tonic by a scalar ascent of an inner voice from D to G, which is accompanied by a neighboring motion of 3-4-3 over the tonic. (Ex. 6b)
Following the restatement of the Kopfton ^3 Bach deploys a surging II as a quick means of movement to the dominant. (Ex. 7a) Nevertheless, this II is structurally important and is the deep structural II of the Prelude. It is peculiar that Bach chose to deploy the dominant in third inversion following this II; a possible explanation for this is that he chose to make use of the cello’s lowest string and have it resonate through the following composing-out of the dominant in measures 21 and 22. Also, because the dominant will last from measure 21 through measure 41, it is not necessary that its first appearance be firm. (Ex. 7b)
The second half of the Prelude could easily be considered an exercise in dominant prolongation. Measures 22 through 28 prolong the dominant through various voice leading configurations. In measures 22 through 24 the dominant is lead through its seventh to its minor ninth and back to its seventh before proceeding to a 64 configuration above the dominant pedal. Following the 64 is a dominant-like configuration which is highly dissonant, in that it possesses both a seventh and a ninth (the ninth here being volatile and quickly descending to the octave of the dominant).The dominant returns unadorned in measure 28.
Following the circuitous voice leading that preceded measure 28, the following material of measures 29 through 31 falls effortlessly. Measures 29 through 31 contain a descending diatonic 7 - 64 sequence begun on D and descending diatonically to A. Measure 29 contains the model for the sequence; the D seventh chord, a major triad with a minor seventh, proceeds to its 64. Measure 30 contains two copies of this model; the first based on C and the second based on B. Measure 31 concludes the descent with a seventh chord based on A, which leads back to the dominant. At this point the dominant reasserts itself. (Ex. 8)
Measures 31 through 37 are much simpler. (Ex. 9) In measures 31 through 33, the dominant’s third, F#, is embellished by its upper and lower neighbors. In measures 33 through 37, alternation between varying presentations of the 64 and 53 figurations of the dominant are employed to ascend to and then descend from the D of measure 34. What is accomplished is a prolongation of the dominant in its 53 configuration.
Measures 37 through 42 present the two concluding gestures of the Prelude. The first gesture is a chromatic ascent, up the octave from the F at the beginning of measure 37 to the F# at the end of measure 38. The second gesture is the final iteration of the 3-4-4-3 figuration, here in the form of 53 – 64 – 54 – 73. This figuration is used to prepare the arrival of the final tonic and deep structural ^1. The arrival of ^1 and the tonic is enhanced by the dissonance of the 73 figuration which precedes it. (Ex. 10)
As has been shown, the 3-4-4-3 figuration plays an important role in the prolongation of tonic, the tonic’s 6 phase, and the dominant of this Prelude. It appears in measures 1 through 4 and measures 15 through 19, prolonging the tonic. It appears in a decidedly modified form in measures 11 through 14, prolonging the tonic’s 6 phase. At a lower middleground level, the dominant is held together by this figuration in measures 22 through 41.
To take a broad view of the entire movement, the tonic is prolonged by its 6 phase and a return to its 5 phase in measure 19. A surging II arrives in measure 20 and leads to the dominant in measure 21. The dominant is prolonged from measure 22 through measure 41. The tonic and the deep structural ^1 arrive in measure 42 and conclude the Prelude. (Ex. 11)
In this movement Bach employs a great amount of repetition and again makes use of the 3-4-4-3 figuration. Bach prolongs the tonic and Kopfton ^3 through repetition of a I–II–V progression that is adorned by the 3-4-4-3 figuration. The deep structural chords do not appear until late in the movement.
Ex. 1 shows four possible prototypes of the tonic prolongation used in this movement. Ex. 1a is an example of harmonic movement that serves to prolong the Kopfton ^3. It possesses the characteristics of what is commonly considered a I–II–V7–I progression but should be considered simply a means of embellishing the tonic and Kopfton. Ex. 1b is a modified version of Ex. 1a with a surging II chord. Ex. 1c is a shortened prototype showing the A and D of Ex. 1a occurring simultaneously rather than successively. Ex. 1d demonstrates the essence of the preceding prototypes. Simple neighboring motion is what underlies the tonic’s various prolongations and gives rise to their different appearances. As is shown in Ex. 2, the repetition of the I–II–V progression happens six times before giving way to deeper harmonic movement.
Ex. 3 shows the first iteration of the prolongation in measures 1 through 4. In this instance, I is adorned by its 6 phase, proceeds to II7 and V7, and returns to I.
Ex. 4 shows the prolongation in measures 5 through 8. This iteration is similar to measures 1 through 4 but certain features have been expanded. The progression from measure 4’s tonic 5 phase to its 6 phase in measure 6 is achieved through tonic’s upper-third chord in measure 5. Additionally, measure 7’s II now surges, creating a #4 in place of a diatonic 4 in the 3-4-4-3 figuration.
Measures 9 through 10 are shown in Ex. 5. The only modified essential component is the missing II chordal root.
Measures 12 through 14 is the first iteration without tonic’s 6 phase. (Ex. 6) I proceeds directly to a surging II, which in turn leads to V. Measure 13’s II#7 is emphasized by its breadth and inversion. It spans two octaves and is in second inversion. Also, the E and G at the beginning of the measure could be a 6 phase but with the addition of the rest of the measure we see that these tones are simply the fifth and seventh of a II chord.
Ex. 7 shows measures 15 through 17. In this iteration II receives the most attention. II is embellished by a 3-4-3 figuration and a descent from the octave to the fifth.
Ex. 8 shows measures 18 through 20. This iteration differs the most from the others. V does not occur in this iteration and I is prolonged for the majority of this passage, only attaining its 6 phase in measure 20, and quickly followed by II. The movement from I to its 6 phase is accomplished by an elaborate I–IV –V progression, a welcome departure from the repetitions of the preceding measures.
Ex. 9 shows measures 21 through 22. This is the most elaborate iteration of the I–II–V progression. The tonic moves from its 5 phase to a surging 6 phase, followed by a tonicization of II, which eventually is followed by V. Interestingly enough, this tonicization contains the first of the suite’s two ♮II statements; the second is in measure 25 of the Courante.
Measures 25 through 28 show the departure from the I–II–V progression repetition. (Ex. 10) IV’s 5 phase moves to its 6 phase through a sequence of two common sequence models. To put this sequence in context, the C chord moves to the A chord by tenths, passing over a B chord. The C chord of measure 26 is proceeds to its 6 phase, preparing the listener for a continued 5 – 6 sequence. The B7 chord of measure 27 does not confound this expectation, but the following E chord does. This descending 5 – 6 sequence becomes a 7 - 64 sequence. Continuing downwards, the 6 phase of IV is reached, which then proceeds to V.
Finally, in measures 29 through 32, we reach the Allemande’s deep harmonic material and the movement’s end. (Ex. 11) The tonic’s octave falls to its seventh and proceeds to IV, IV moves from its 5 phase to its 6 phase, and V receives a final unfurling in measure 31, bringing the Allemande to its conclusion on the tonic in measure 32.
Ex. 12 shows a graph of the entire Allemande.
The Courante, one of the suite’s longer movements, spans 42 measures. The tonic is prolonged for 29 measures and is followed by a subdominant, which branches out, its octave descending through its seventh to its 6 phase. The subdominant’s 6 phase gains a seventh and is followed by the movement’s deep structural dominant, which is prolonged for six measures and resolves to the tonic. (Ex. 1)
Ex. 2 shows the first eight measures of the Courante’s tonic prolongation. The Kopfton ^5 of measure 1 gives way to a middleground third-progression in measure 2. ^2 arrives with the dominant, which is prolonged by a descending 5 – 6 sequence and a cadential 64 figuration.
Ex. 3 shows the tonic’s continued prolongation. The form and goal of the prolongation is now clarified. Measure 1’s tonic’s goal is to gain the seventh of measure 29. This transformation is achieved by raising the bass from G through A to B. Each scale degree is embellished through various means. G’s embellishment was shown in Ex. 2. A’s prolongation is shown in Ex. 3. As can be seen, A is embellished by 64 figurations and a single descending 5 – 6 sequence.
Ex. 4 shows the embellishment of B. Once the B is arrived at, a composing-out of the tonic chord in first inversion seems imminent. This is not the case because a dominant ninth-like chord initiates a tonicization of VI in measure 23. Note two facets of this passage. The first is that this tonicization contains the First Suite’s second statement of a supertonic with a lowered root (here a ♮II); the first occurred in measure 22 of the Allemande. The second is that the tonicization could serve as tonic’s 6 phase but, with C’s inclusion in measure 28, the passage is an unfurling of a 64 chord. This unfurling technique is used at a deeper level later in the suite in Minuet I.
Ex. 5 shows the tonic prolongation’s end and the material which ends the Courante. Following the arrival of the tonic’s seventh, the subdominant is stated and its prolongation and embellishment is begun. The octave of the subdominant descends to the seventh in measure 34. This prepares the passage for ^2’s arrival in measure 35. The deep structural dominant of the Courante follows shortly afterwards and is prolonged by a 64 figuration and a descending 5 – 6 sequence.
The tonic once again receives extensive prolongational treatment in this movement. Thrice the Kopfton ^3 is stated, ventured from, and returned to before the movement’s deeper harmonic material is reached. Ex. 1 shows the first statement to venture from the Kopfton. Bach uses the 3-4-4-3 figuration in the same form as he did in the first four measures of the Prelude. The surface-level figuration is different but the scalar ascent of the inner voice from D to G and the 3-4-4-3 adorning figuration are deployed in the exact same way. Also, to modern ears and certain modern forms of harmonic thought this example implies a I–IV–V–I progression.
Ex. 2 shows the second statement that departs the Kopfton. Here the implied harmonic progression of Ex. 1 is employed again. This time, each step of the figuration is embellished by a seventh.
The final statement to leave the Kopfton is shown in Ex. 3. This statement is different from the previous statements. The tonic proceeds to supertonic through its 6 phase. After reaching the supertonic, Bach embellishes it in the manner which often makes listeners mistakenly think that the dominant has been tonicized. Essentially, this embellishment is a descent of the octave to the fifth of the supertonic coupled with the ascent to and descent from the fifth by the third of the supertonic.
Once the Kopfton has been regained for the final time Bach aims elsewhere, for the prolonged tonic to gain a seventh. (Ex. 4)
Following the tonic’s attainment of its seventh, the subdominant appears and undergoes moderate embellishment. (Ex. 5) It is interesting to note that the progression implied by 3-4-4-3 earlier appears again, in much the same way as was shown in Ex. 2.
A graph of the entire movement is shown in Ex. 6.
Much like the Courante, the tonic prolongation in this movement ends with a descent to its seventh and is achieved through a scalar ascent at a deep structural level. Here again, the scalar ascent consists of G ascending through A to B. Adding to this, Bach uses a C in measure 16 to transform the E minor chord from a 6 phase chord into a component of an unfurled 64 chord, like he did in the Courante. Ex. 1 shows I’s prolongation by scalar ascent and 64-unfurling. Ex. 2 shows the manner of the 64’s unfurling. Ex. 3 shows the scalar ascension and 64 unfurling as they occur in measures 1 through 17.
Once the tonic gains its seventh, in measure 17, it proceeds directly to the subdominant and its 6 phase. These are adorned by their sevenths and followed by the dominant. The dominant of this movement, in a way which is increasingly becoming characteristic of dominants in the first suite, is embellished by a 5 – 6 sequence. This sequence begins on D and leads to F#. The movement ends with a cadential 64 motion that leads to the final tonic and deep structural ^1. A graph of the entire movement is shown in Ex. 4.
In this movement Bach demonstrates the unifying effect of sequences on a tonal structure. In measures 1 through 8 a descending 5 – 6 sequence moves I to IV. This IV in turn has a 6 phase that proceeds to V, which is back-relating. (Ex. 1) Ex. 2 shows the reader that Bach is utilizing parallel tenths (a), adorned by 5 – 6 motions (b).
The Kopfton ^3 is returned to in measure 10 and travels to its upper-third chord through a short circular progression. This upper-third chord, B♭ major, is tonicized through a normative I–IV–V–I progression with a third-progression (Ex. 3).
Ex. 4 shows the conclusion of the movement. A surging tonic falls to a subdominant that evolves in an interesting way. Rather than having the octave of the subdominant simply fall to a seventh, Bach employs an elaborate succession of harmonic events to achieve the seventh. From the C minor chord of measure 18 Bach proceeds downwards by a circle of fifths progression. The C and B♭ chords are embellished and reached in a similar fashion. (Ex. 5) The essence of measures 18 through 23 is shown in Ex. 6.
Ex. 7 shows a graph of the entire movement.
Broad gestures dominate this movement. The tonic, supertonic, and the dominant are all prolonged on a large scale. The tonic is embellished by neighboring motion, the supertonic by scalar thirds of a peculiar sort, and the dominant by both aforementioned techniques. The final tonic prolongation of measures 28 through 34 introduces parallel chord successions as a means of prolongation.
Ex. 1 shows an overview of the entire Gigue. As can be seen, the movement is, harmonically, a single progression without any embedded progressions. Measures 1 through 5 constitute an ascent to the Kopfton ^3. Tonic’s 6 phase appears in measure 7, gains a seventh, and falls to a surging II in measure 8. II’s prolongation in measures 8 through 11 is peculiar because of the F♮ and B♭. This is modal mixture, the F♮ and B♭ here evoke an Aeolian mode based on D. This becomes one of the gigue’s defining characteristics when it is later used for the dominant’s prolongation, in measures 24 through 27.
The dominant’s prolongation, shown in Ex. 2, begins with neighboring embellishment in measure 12 that continues until measure 14. Following this, circular and sequential motion takes over. In measures 16 through 20, it is embellished by a descending circle of fifths progression. At measure 21, the progression is abruptly modified into a descending 5 – 6 sequence.
Ex. 3 shows the prolongation of the tonic after the deep structural ^1 has been reached. A succession of chords in their 63 figuration move diatonically from a G chord through a D chord to an E chord. This E chord promptly falls to a D chord in 53 figuration, which is embellished by its 64. Following this is the final statement of the tonic and the deep structural ^1.