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  • rbedwell3

Bach's Prelude and Fugue in B minor

I was recently asked to analyse this piece from the WTC I as it had been mistifying a pianist friend of mine for years. I thought it might be of interest to some of you Bach enthusiasts out there.

Scales used in the Prelude and Fugue in B minor

There are sixteen scales used in the fugue and nine in the prelude. These are listed below in the order that they appear, along with their formulae:

Prelude

1) Major (1 2 3 4 5 6 7)

2) Melodic (1 2 b3 4 5 6 7)

3) Harmonic minor (1 2 b3 4 5 b6 7)

4) Neapolitan minor (1 b2 b3 4 5 b6 7)

5) Melodic b5 (1 2 b3 4 b5 6 7)

6) Neapolitan Major b5 (1 b2 b3 4 b5 6 7)

7) Harmonic Major (1 2 3 4 5 b6 7)

Neapolitan Major (1 b2 b3 4 5 6 7)

9) Hungarian minor (1 2 b3 #4 5 b6 7)

Fugue

1) Major (1 2 3 4 5 6 7)

2) Harmonic minor (1 2 b3 4 5 b6 7)

3) Harmonic Major (1 2 3 4 5 b6 7)

4) Hungarian minor (1 2 b3 #4 5 b6 7)

5) Persian natural 6 (1 b2 3 4 b5 6 7)

6) Locrian natural 7 (1 b2 b3 4 b5 b6 7)

7) Persian (1 b2 3 4 b5 b6 7)

Harmonic minor b5 (1 2 b3 4 b5 b6 7)

9) Melodic (1 2 b3 4 5 6 7)

10) Melodic b5 (1 2 b3 4 b5 6 7)

11) Neapolitan minor (1 b2 b3 4 5 b6 7)

12) Neapolitan Major b5 (1 b2 b3 4 b5 6 7)

13) Harmonic Major #4 (1 2 3 #4 5 b6 7)

14) Ionian b5 (1 2 3 4 b5 6 7)

15) Neapolitan Major (1 b2 b3 4 5 6 7)

16) Harmonic Major b5 (1 2 3 4 b5 b6 7)

Prelude Sequences

Although the key signature is D Major/B minor, the movement modulates to A Major in the first bar, setting the scene for the first sequence.

1) Bars 1 – 2: D Major – A Major – B Melodic – A Major – D Major

This introduces the sequence of altered notes G#, A#, A, G.

2) Bars 3 – 5: D Major – B Harmonic minor – B Melodic – A Major – D Major

This sequence has the altered notes of A#, G#, A, G.

It is easy to see that the two sequences above are variations of the same idea, the first two alterations of the first sequence being reversed in the second.

3) Bars 9 – 13: D Major – A Major – F# Harmonic minor – A Major - D Major

This sequence is another variation on the first, with F# Harmonic minor taking the place of B Melodic before the same in reverse, pivoting off the Harmonic minor scale.

In the second half of the Prelude, the sequencies become more complex and the scales more interesting, which is expected for the second half of a piece.

4) Bars 21- 25: A Major – F# Harmonic minor – F# Neapolitan minor – F# Harmonic minor – A Major

The piece now centres on the Key of A Major, forward through the circle of fifths. The altered notes are E#, G, G#, E. The pattern for the sequences so far is two alterations followed by the reverse order of scales.

5) Bars 26 – 31: A Major – F# Harmonic minor – F# Melodic b5 -

F# Neapolitan Major b5 – E Harmonic minor - E Melodic b5 –

D Harmonic Major – D Major

The sequence above uses the alterations of Harmonic minor – Melodic b5 – Neapolitan Major b5, which then repeats a tone below, except that Harmonic Major replaces Harmonic minor.

The Prelude now starts its journey back to the key of D Major:

6) Bars 36 – 39: D Major – A Major – B Melodic – B Neapolitan

Major – B Neapolitan minor - E Harmonic minor – G Major – D Major

The move to E Harmonic minor and then G Major means the music is now moving from one side of D Major, the key of A Major, to the other, the key of G Major, settling in the middle in D Major, a good technique for creating balance in complex music.

The final sequence ends with a flourish, making use of six scales:

7) Bars 44 – 47: D Major – E Melodic – B Harmonic Major – B Harmonic minor – B Neapolitan minor – B Harmonic minor – B Hungarian minor – B Neapolitan minor – E Hungarian minor – B Neapolitan minor – B Harmonic minor – E Melodic – B Harmonic Major

This final sequence uses another variation on the first sequence, this time using Harmonic Major, Harmonic minor, Neapolitan minor and back to Harmonic minor. Then the variation of Hungarian minor, Neapolitan minor, Hungarian minor, Neapolitan minor before finally resolving to a major chord via the Harmonic Major scale. A masterclass in using scales for modulation.

Then there is the Fugue, now that is complicated..


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