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Modulations that have an emotional effect I: Bach’s Double Violin Concerto BWV 1043

This series of posts is going to focus on the specific points in music that are likely to have an emotional impact on an audience and seeks to understand what exactly the mechanism is that the composer is using.

NB: I realise there are many other factors involved in increasing the effect including orchestration, dynamics, instrumentation etc but the intention here is to reveal the underlying harmonic process that is behind the knot in our stomachs or the lumps in our throats. It is such a wonder that music can have this effect on us as listeners that I feel it is a worthy cause to understand explicitly what the musical reasons are so we can introduce this understanding into our own music making. (I have used the following sequence in one of my own pieces and it works beautifully.)

The first piece I am looking at is the second movement, the largo, from the double violin concerto in D minor, specifically bars 29 – 30. Such an achingly beautiful change, we should all know what is happening here and then use it. Here is a link to the recording, and the bars in question are from 3:48 to 4:03. I recommend listening to the whole movement first so as to hear the change in the context of the whole piece.

Below is the score for the two bars:

We are in the key of F Major. We start with chord I, F Major, then that becomes F7/Eb or a 3rd inversion which will lead to the chord or key of Bb Major (probably Bb Major/D or 1st inversion) but Bach interrupts this perfect cadence with a D7 chord creating a perfect cadence in the key on ii, G minor. So instead of resolving, he goes to the dominant of the relative minor. Remember that.

This idea is then repeated, G minor – G minor/F and then it is interrupted again. Instead of Eb Major (chord IV in Bb Major) the chord of E7 in played, creating a perfect cadence to A minor, which is the next key and point of resolution.

Now, I see this as one sequence, not a series of changes. It goes like this:

I Major – I Dom7 – VI Dom7 – iim – iim7 – VII Dom7 – iiim. Or:

F Major – F7 – D7 – G minor – Gminor7 – E7 – A minor

Its really just a nice way to go from F major, forward a fifth to C Major and then to its relative minor of A minor. One simple sequence. Lets say we are in C Major, then just follow the sequence:

C Major – C7 – A7 – D minor – D minor7 – B7 – E minor.

Now we can put it in a chord progression anywhere and play over it. Have fun with it, milk it for all its worth, and why not, its fabulous.

Thanks for reading, next I’ll look at the earth-shattering change from the Chaconne in D minor. Please do leave a comment if you enjoy this style of analysis, it makes a big difference. Feel free to mention a piece that gets you in the gut and I'll take a look, but try and be specific, bar numbers or times on a recording.

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