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The hidden complexity of Bach's flute partita in A minor BWV 1013


This little piece for flute is rarely heard and often dismissed as a mere trifle, being six pages in length and comprised of four movements. I hope to dispel that view as it is a piece rich in harmonic variation.

Allemande: This movement uses Major, Harmonic minor, Melodic, Harmonic Major, Neapolitan Major, Hungarian minor, Locrian natural 7 and Harmonic minor b5 scales. The sequence of modulations at the end of the first half is particularly striking: Bars 16 - 19: A Harmonic minor - G Major - B Neapolitan minor - E Hungarian minor - B Melodic - A Major - A Melodic - G Major - G Melodic - F Major - E Locrian natural 7 - E Harmonic minor b5 - E Harmonic minor. Notice the the Major/Melodic interplay in the middle of the sequence.

Corrente: This uses Major, Melodic, Harmonic minor, Hungarian minor, Harmonic Major, Harmonic minor b5, Melodic b5 and Neapolitan minor. Notice that Bach has substituted the Locrian Melodic b5 scale for the Locrian natural 7 in this movement.

Sarabande: Bach opts for simplicity in this movement after the complexities of the first two and only uses Major, Harmonic minor and Melodic.

Bourrée Angloise: The complexity is reinstated, Major, Harmonic minor, Melodic, Harmonic Major, Neapolitan minor and Neapolitan Major. In this final movement, the scales with the b5 are dropped and replaced with the Neapolitan Major.

Such subtle variations in an otherwise complex scale choice in three of the movements keeps the music fresh, while the simpler Sarabande gives a moment of brief respite from the intensity. If you haven't listened to it yet, it is well worth the few minutes investment.


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