Quick fun: Mozart’s Sonata K280, 3rd movement

Hello everybody!

Last time we saw one way of putting a piece together – namely by stitching different sections one after another, with each section having its own tempo ( = speed, for those who are joining us now), meter and character. This is sometimes called “Through-composed”, and is in fact not the most common way of constructing works, though you can encounter through-composed works ranging from the 15th to the 21st century.

Today I’d like to show you another way of building a musical composition, and this one will serve us for many guides to come. Please let me introduce the Sonata form. She’s Italian, about 250 years old*, but is very well preserved and has made numerous public appearances well into her 230s (and is still called upon today in times of need). Though she may appear slightly intimidating to those unacquainted with her (which adds to her air of mystery), she’s actually really nice, and a true and loyal companion to those who know her well.

Now, seriously, the Sonata form is a structure – a blueprint or a mold of a musical piece, into which the actual music (melodies, harmonies, rhythms) is poured. One would not necessarily be aware of its existence solely by listening (a bit like not being immediately aware of the skeleton of a human or an animal), but it is what holds together the many pieces written in Sonata form, and over the years it has proven itself to be one of the most reliably successful types of musical architecture.

So, what is it like? I’ll first do a dry breakdown (you don’t need to process all this information right now – it will be much easier when we apply it to an actual piece of music):

Outer structure:
A movement written in Sonata form will almost certainly** contain three basic sections:

    1. Exposition
    2. Development
    3. Recapitulation

The exposition, as its name suggests, will introduce the main themes of the work (usually two), those will be developed in the development (like, duh) and the recapitulation (often shortened by musicians and/or lazy bloggers to ‘recap’) will be a more-or-less straightforward repetition of the exposition. And that’s it. (There are two optional sections – an Introduction, to come before the exposition, and a Coda (‘tail’ in Italian), to come after the recap – but those are not obligatory and need not appear in every Sonata-form movement.)

Inner structure:
The exposition has an inner sub-division as well. Normally it will contain:

    1. A first subject section
    2. A connecting section (a.k.a. as a bridge or a transition, which leads into the ->)
    3. Second subject section
    4. Codetta (meaning ‘little coda’, acting as a closure to the exposition).

The first and the second subject are basically two melodies that will form most of the melodic material of the movement (the term melody might be misleading, as some of those ‘subjects’ are not melodies one could sing, really [though some of them are, certainly], so the more neutral ‘subject’ is usually used). The transition and the codetta might contain new melodic material as well, though they need not, and if they do, it will usually be less ‘melodic’ than that of the main subjects. 

The development has no prescribed structure, and can vary a lot between each work. With some composers/works it will contain the most interesting music in the movement, whereas with others it will be short and bear less musical weight. It’s something best approached on a per-development basis.

The recap is an altered repeat of the exposition. There is one inherent alteration that is almost always present (see 01:52 in the guide), and for the rest, the composer might include as many variations and deviations from the original material as he’d like – though usually all four sections of the exposition will be present.

So that’s the basic outline (of course, many many variations are possible, but this is a good place to start). Before we dig into the Mozart, I’d like to offer an additional way of looking into the structure of the sonata form – it doesn’t replace the one above, but rather co-exists with it, while possibly providing a better explanation of the driving force behind the form – and it requires looking at the relationship of the various keys inside the movement. This is a slightly more tricky concept to explain (we’ll need first to define what a musical key is), so feel free to jump from here to the guide itself – but it’s also quite a basic one, and I think might prove useful to us in the future (and I did end up using the key concept in the guide).

So, keys. If you imagine a piano keyboard (here’s a picture: )

…you will see that it is built from groups of seven white and five black keys which are repeated again and again (so for instance, one group could be all the notes from A to A, and no matter from which note you start, the interval (= distance) between it and its next occurrence is called an ‘octave’ [from ‘octava’, Latin for eighth – meaning that the upper A is the eighth white note one encounters starting from the lower A***])

In tonal music, which is most of the music written between 1600 and 1900 and a significant part of the music written after 1900, not all the notes inside any single octave are equally important. Instead there is a stable hierarchy of sounds, including one most important note (which is like a musical home base/center of gravity), two notes that are nearly as important (the fourth note and the fifth note above the base note – so D and E respectively, if one starts with A – each one with a different function), with the rest having their own places too. I won’t go too deeply into this, as it would then become long enough for a separate post (which would be quite boring, as it’s rather technical stuff), and the small details don’t matter so much to us. The one thing that is of interest is that within each key we have one supremely important ‘home’ note (called the Tonic – though there’s no gin anywhere), which defines the ‘sound’ of the key, and also its name – a key based on, say, C would be called C major or C minor.

Knowing this, one could look at the Sonata form the point of view of keys:

  • Exposition:
    • The first subject is (almost) always in the main key – the subject announces the key to the listeners, establishing the home base.
    • The transition, which wouldn’t be of much interest if we looked at it from a purely melodic point of view, suddenly becomes much more important, as it now has a crucial mission – to get us out of the home key as quickly as possible (like Gandalf having to get Bilbo out of his house by the second chapter of ‘The Hobbit’, otherwise we wouldn’t be having all the interesting and dangerous adventures). It moves (the musical term is ‘modulates’) to a new key and establishes it as the new home base. Generally, the new key will be based on the second most-important note of the scale – the fifth above the tonic (called the Dominant, as a noun).
    • The second subject will be then in the new key, establishing it even more,
    • as will be the codetta.
  • The development will usually be an area where one leaves the safe harbor of either key and goes exploring. Not necessarily – but most key-related drama will usually take place in the development (where it joins the melodic perturbations – so the development is quite often the area of least stability in a sonata movement). Towards the end of the development the composer would usually start to gravitate towards the first home key, stopping just one step short of getting there (a cliffhanger) —- and we go on to
  • The recapitulation
    • which would then start with a return both of the first subject and the main key (to give us as much as possible a feeling of a homecoming).
    • The transition in the recap is a curious thing. If the composer would just copy it from the exposition (something he may well do with the first subject), he would once again arrive at the key of the dominant – something which he really doesn’t want to do now. It is the main key of the work that is our area of interest in the recap (slightly like Bilbo who, after getting back to the Shire, had to deal with his furniture being sold at an auction and other such domestic affairs, but wouldn’t go adventuring again; at least no till the Lord of the Rings :P). So, the composer now has to write new music, in order to make the transition modulate from the home key into the… home key (which is sometimes more of a feat than it sounds).
    • The second subject would now appear in the home key (so, transposed from the exposition),
    • as would the codetta, firmly finishing the movement in the home key.

So there we are. We have two different looks at the sonata form, one from the melodic / structural point of view, one from the underlining point of view of keys. And in order to put this in practice (it’s high time, as the post is getting rather long), I’ve chosen the shortest, cleanest sonata-form movement I know of – the third movement of Mozart’s Sonata in F major, K.280 (ah, I forgot about this little conundrum – the word sonata has a double meaning – it is both the structure we just discussed, and a name for a work of several movements (= parts), at least one of which is written in sonata form. A standard sonata (as a work) would have three movements – fast, slow, fast – the first usually being in sonata form, the second and/or third only sometimes so).


Here it is, performed by Sviatoslav Richter in Prague,  in 1966:

00:00-00:41 is our exposition. The inner division would be:

00:00-00:08 – the first subject. It consist of two elements – a pointy, jumpy one, with a repeated-notes motif in the beginning (00:00-00:02) followed by a virtuoso passage (00:03-00:04) – these two forming the first half of the section; the first element is then repeated one octave lower (00:04-00:06) (this might demonstrate what I meant at the footnote below regarding octaves), and there’s another brilliant passage, upwards this time (00:06-00:07) with quick three chords forming the cadence (00:08). You could think of the two halves of the phrase as a question and an answer (the answer repeating the first half of the question, like we all sometimes do). All this is in our main key of F major, and as you see, fairly microscopic :]

00:08-00:19 – the transition. We have a new texture here – the left hand playing repeated notes, the right hand a slightly longer melodic element (the writing reminds very much of writing for woodwinds – the left hand imitating a bassoon and the right hand being two oboes). This element is played twice – 00:08-00:10, and then 00:10-00:12 an octave higher. We’re still in F major, but now comes the modulation: it is so light-footed and quick it’s really hard to catch, but the main part of it is the four short upward passages at 00:12-00:14, with the longer twirling passage at 00:15 already starting the cadence in the new key – C major (the dominant, or fifth note above the tonic, as expected). The cadence is then underlined by three repeats of the last two chords at 00:16-00:19, each one echoed by two imitating notes in the left hand (I find this sort of noteplay wonderful – as if the voices were calling to each other: “You’re there?” “I’m here!” “We’re here!” “You’re there?” “We’re here!” “I’m here!”)

00:20-00:35 – the second subject section. We’re now in the new key of C major, though the first, very rhythmical, element starts slightly off-key (00:20-00:22) lending a somewhat uncertain, questioning character to the otherwise very brave and energetic (and slightly woodpecker-ish) motif (note the same motif of three repeated notes we had in the beginning, here with an added rhythmical spice). But we’re getting into C major proper right away at 00:22, with a wonderful sense of resolution and stability (the very active left hand compensating for its 2 seconds of silence, and giving a solid support to the jumpy right hand). This lasts precisely 4 seconds, and at 00:26 the first motif of the second subject returns, now in both hands (you can just hear the second woodpecker joining in), but still with its slightly questioning character – and the resolution, when it comes now, is even fuller (and louder), the left hand playing in the lowest region of the keyboard (Mozart’s keyboard, this being 1774, was quite a bit shorter than that of the modern piano). Note the small variation in the right hand between 00:24 and 00:29. To close off the second subject section, we have yet another virtuoso passage going downward, repeated twice, at 00:31 and 00:33.

00:35-00:41 – the codetta. Note the complete change of texture between the mischievous fast runs of the last seconds and the relatively well-behaved first seconds of the codetta (00:35-00:38, where the texture again reminds of woodwinds, and we have the same sort of call-and-answer game between the two hands). This obviously cannot last for long, and at 00:38 he bursts again into short passages, finishing the exposition with a last, happy repeat of the repeated-notes motif we had both in the first and the second subjects.

00:41-01:22 – is a full repeat of the entire exposition. Those repeats are quite common in sonata form movements, and modern opinions divide – some say it’s an inherent part of the structure and not playing them is a blasphemy, while others take a more relaxed approach and say it should be left to the discretion of the performer (Brahms, who once conducting his first symphony in Germany (I think it was Hamburg, but I’m not certain), omitted the repeat of the exposition, was asked why, and calmly replied: “well, they have heard it this season already.” So there you go.) In a movement that lasts about a minute and forty-five seconds, repeating makes a lot of sense.

01:22-01:37 – is the development. I’m serious, it’s fifteen seconds long. And yet Mozart manages to pack a lot of various stuff into it. We begin with the second subject, which is now in minor (hear the change in mood?). The woodpecker motif is answered at 01:24 with quite a vehemence in the left hand passages. It is then repeated at 01:26, being even further off-key (more uncertainty), and at 01:28 Mozart bursts into a longer section of passages. He takes the fist half of what the left hand had just played (01:24), and repeats it four times, switching hands: r.h (02:28), l.h. (01:29), r.h. (01:30), l.h. (01:31). Harmonically, these four repeats form two groups (or sequences, again like a call and an answer, repeated twice, and passing though various keys on the way, without stopping in any). It is followed by more sequences – a short, imploring motif at the right hand, repeated four times (01:33-01:35), which is then repeated by the left hand (01:35-01:37). We have come a long way from the lightness and wit of the exposition, and the change in mood is almost palpable – we have righteous anger, supplication, defiance and whatnot.

Which all evaporate without a trace at 01:38, as we’re back at the first subject and back to F major- meaning we’re already at the recap! Wait, but wasn’t he supposed to prepare the return or something, make a smoother transition and so on? Well, yes, he was supposed to, I guess, but, you know, he probably just wasn’t in the mood! – and him being the composer he can basically do whatever his muse/genius/intuition/sense of humor suggests him to do. And, as we said, the movement is really tiny, so many things can be done away with.

The recap is really really simple. We have a full repeat of the first subject section (01:38-01:46) and then just a small change in the transition (if you remember, that’s the one required alteration, as he doesn’t want to modulate into C major now, but rather stay in F major, the home key). The change comes at 01:52, when he takes the four short passages in the right hand (01:50-01:52) and repeats them again, only higher (but not an octave higher – that wouldn’t help – just a fourth higher, a fourth being an interval encompassing four notes, which is exactly what he needs in order to get from the fifth note of the scale (C), where he arrived at after the first four passages, to the eighth (F). [That’s a very technical point, so you needn’t spend too much thought on it, but if you’d like, just go to the keyboard picture above and count the notes – from F to C and from C upwards to F – including every time the C and the F in your calculations]).

The rest of the movement is a repeat of the exposition, just transposed to the home key of F major. Second subject is at 01:59 and the codetta at 02:14 (but wait, there’s one interesting thing there – when the woodpecker motif is repeated in both hands at 02:06, he moves to a lower region of the keyboard instead of moving to an even higher one, like he did in the exposition. The reason is purely technical/mechanical – you might remember me saying his keyboard was shorter than ours. Well, he simply didn’t have any higher! so by necessity he had to jump down – which gives that entire sections a darker color (especially at 02:13-02:14, when he goes really low). He then recoups the lost altitude by jumping up an octave and a half in the transition to the codetta at 02:14, as opposed to just a half-octave jump at the exposition, at 00:35). The movement ends at 02:21 (the last bar being a slightly prolonged version of the last bar of the exposition, which was really quite abrupt, and would probably not do for a proper ending; compare 00:39-00:40 with 02:19-02:21).

The rest is a full repeat of the development and the recap – those were less common than repeats of the exposition, but not rare by any means in Mozart’s or Haydn’s sonatas (much rarer in Beethoven’s, as Beethoven often added mighty codas after the recap, which would not work well combined with a repeat),

And that’s it! It’s a wonderful, quirky movement, full of energy, joy-of-life and humor (and a small portion of drama), and to think that it is firmly rooted in a nearly perfect example of the sonata-form blueprint makes it, to me, even more marvelous. But that could just be me, dunno :]

Till next week. And if you liked it and think any of your non-musicians friends might enjoy it – please feel very free to forward the link (this is half a blatant solicitation, half a very earnest wish to spread this very cool music).


*Lest I be accused of serious ignorance in all things History-of-Music-al, I’ll add that the Sonata existed in the Baroque period as well (so we should be adding about 100-120 years to her already venerable age), but back then it meant several different types of compositions, none of which could truly be considered an ancestor of the Sonata form we discussed today (which emerged in the Classical period, formally counted from 1750), so for our needs we might safely say she’s 250, and not make her blush even more.

** In truth, I don’t know of any sonata-form movements that don’t contain these three sections, but then again, there’s a huge lot of music out there and a I don’t know a very large part of it, so I’m leaving myself an escape path just in case.

*** The upper A and the lower A (and all the A’s on the keyboard) are to our ears one sound, just repeated at different pitches (higher/lower). This relationship between the various notes on the keyboard is based on a physical phenomenon, without which, I would wager a guess, music as we know it would not exist. The phenomenon is that if you take two strings, one exactly twice as long (or as short) as the other, and make them vibrate, they would produce what to our ears would seem as the same sound, a perfect consonance, just with the shorter string sounding higher than the longer one. You can produce other musical intervals with different lengths of strings: the one between A and E (the middle of the octave +1 note) is based on a 2:3 length ratio, for example. It’s a fascinating and/but huge subject; so I’ll leave it here for now. Let me know if you’d like me to write more about this.

The letters, by the way, (A, B and so on) are not arbitrary designations, but are the actual names of the different notes in English; the black ones are called ‘flats’, if below the white note, or ‘sharps’ if above (those are also the terms used by musicians to describe notes that are out-of-tune – a flat note is too low, a sharp one is too high) – so the black note above D would be D-sharp, and the one below G would be G-flat, and as you might guess, a D-sharp can also be defined as E-flat and a G-flat as F-sharp – depending on the key we’re in. Slightly mind-warping at first, but one gets used to it fairly quickly :]

Bach for starters: “Brich dem Hungrigen dein Brot” from Cantata No. 39

Hello everybody,

It took me longer than I hoped, but the first guide is finally here. I decided to start with the one that has seen some success in the past, and translated it from its original Hebrew to English. I have Grand Plans for the next ones, so if you enjoy this guide, stay tuned. And now without further ado –

(The recording is by the English Baroque Soloists and the Monteverdi Choir, conducted by John Eliot Gardiner, one of the greatest Bach conductors of our time, and a big musical hero of mine.)

The piece is from a larger work by Bach, a Cantata – those were liturgical works, performed each Sunday in the church, before and after the sermon. The Kapellmeister – the composer-on-duty/head-of-music at the local court – was in charge of composing or procuring one for each Sunday. The text (those are works for singers and/or a chorus accompanied by an orchestra) had to relate to the text of the sermon, and the text of the sermon would fit the time of the liturgical year.

We do not know for sure how many cantatas Bach wrote, but more than 200 survive (and we’re quite certain there were more than 300). Each one is at least 20 minutes long (and there are longer ones, up to 35 minutes), and Bach, as opposed to most other Kapellmeisters who would usually write one cantata a month and use other composers’ works for the rest of the time (18th century outsourcing), at least during two years wrote all of them himself. That would mean 3-4 days to write a masterpiece (and those are masterpieces), another day to copy the musicians’ parts, two days to rehearse, and then the performance – and repeat, week after week. Genius alone would never suffice – we’re speaking of an incredible work ethic.

A note on the text: it’s Isaiah 58:7-8, which in the King James Version reads as follows:

 – (7) Is it not to deal thy bread to the hungry, and that thou bring the poor that are cast out to thy house? when thou seest the naked, that thou cover him; and that thou hide not thyself from thine own flesh?

– (8) Then shall thy light break forth as the morning, and thine health shall spring forth speedily: and thy righteousness shall go before thee; the glory of the LORD shall be thy reward.

Bach used the Martin Luther translation which differs from the above in several points (of importance to us, for as we shall see, Bach treated the text with utmost attention, and the music often references the words). A literal translation of the German text would read:

Break to the hungry your bread, and those who are in misery lead into the house; when you see one naked, so clothe him, and do not avoid your own flesh. (Verse 8 is nearly identical between the two.)


So, here we go. (By the way, feel free either to read the following first and listen afterwards, or read while listening, to go back if something is unclear, or to do it in any other way that feels right to you. My only suggestion would be, after you have gone through this with the guide, to listen to the music once again, without the notes – I’m going to break this down into small pieces and details, and a second listening would help put the work back together).

00:00–01:13 – the orchestral opening. There is a very short motif here, consisting of two repeated notes, that gets passed between three groups of instruments (one could imagine them playing Catch): two notes in the flutes, two notes in the oboes, two notes in the violins, and repeat. A sort of a steady, unending dribble. Beneath them is the harmony – the basso continuo; celli and a chamber organ. The harmony changes from bar to bar – but this entire section is one musical phrase. The rules of harmony don’t matter so much to us; you will feel, I think, the directionality of the phrase, the sense that it’s going somewhere; there are harsher, more dissonant harmonies that want to resolve into calmer, less tense ones, and from a series of these small progressions the larger line is created. One noteworthy change will come at 00:44: the two-note motif disappears, replaced by a longer, more elaborate one, and a new, metallic color is added to the orchestra. The metallic color is the cembalo and the motif does not disappear – rather, it passes to the bass line: to the cello and the organ. Listen to this – how the bass that was just the back rest for the flutes, oboes and violins now becomes melodic and would itself repeat the main motif. There is a mounting tension starting from 0:56 and at 01:06–01:13 comes the cadence. In musical language the harmonies say – we’re nearly done, here comes the full stop. And on we go.

01:14 – the entrance of the chorus. The standard chorus consists of four groups: Soprano (high female voice), Alto (low female voices), Tenor (high male voices) and Bass (low male voices) (sorry if that’s self-evident). Here, in the beginning, the division is into two larger groups – the women and the men. The women open with a single word: “Break”, and immediately, as an echo, the men answer: “Break”; the women continue: “to the hungry”, but the men would not wait until they finish but enter in the middle: “to the hungry”, and then the two unite: “thy bread”. Beautiful polyphony.

Break……………..to the hu ————-ngry……………….thy bread.
…………..Break……………..to the hu————-ngry……thy bread.

Here we can see right away why it was important that Bach’s text said “break” rather than “deal” – Bach interprets the text literally, or rather lets the text manifest itself in the musical composition – and to correspond to the “break” in the text, Bach made two breaks here: breaking the chorus into two distinct groups and breaking the sentence into short pieces. In musical terminology this kind of text illustration via the music is called word-painting, and Bach was a great master of it.

Following that, at 01:29, is the same bit, only reversed – the men start and the women answer. And then, at 01:34, all come together: “and those who are in misery…”, a long, winding phrase, nearly 30 seconds long. Again and again, when one of the voices would finish, the rest would immediately pick up the line. And only at 02:03 comes the end of the phrase: “… lead into the house”. Again, word-painting: after the short, split “breaking of the bread”, we have the long, never-ending distress of misery that comes and goes in waves, and when you’d think it’s over, there comes yet another voice and carries it forward.

02:03-02:13: “…lead into the house”. Bach illustrates the text once again with the big prolongation of the word “lead” (führe) that can seem to demonstrate the walk home, followed just at the very end by the two short words “ins Haus”.

02:14-02:31: it’s a repeat of the last portion of the text (“and those… “), but there is a wonderful moment there, a short one, just 4 seconds long (short?), at 02:14, when the voices enter one straight after another in descending order.

And those—
…………….And those—
……………………………And those—
…………………………………………..And those—

This is called ‘stretto’, meaning narrow, tight. It’s a musical means of increasing the tension and it’s used here to do so before the cadence that follows (that’s standard phrase construction in Bach’s music – and not only Bach’s – building the phrase from the bottom up, with the climax arriving just a few notes before the end, immediately followed by a cadence, repose).

And what is the orchestra doing all that time? Go back to 01:13 and try listening just to the orchestral accompaniment behind the voices. Do you recognize it? That’s the section that came before it, 00:00-01:13, and it gets repeated here in its entirety. What previously was all the music there was and lacked nothing, becomes a backdrop, a counterpoint to the chorus – like two strata uniting to form something bigger.

02:31-03:45: in the beginning we are only left with the tenors, who sing the same text, from “and those…” to “… the house.” It’s a new motif, but with same principle of text illustration – prolongations of “misery” and “lead”:

Und die, so in E-e-e-e-e-le-end sind… fü-ü-ühre ins Haus.

The altos join in at 02:43, repeating the same motif the tenors just sang. Later they will be joined by the sopranos (03:04) and the basses (03:20). Each time a new voice joins in it becomes the main melodic voice, and the rest continue accompanying it with a counterpoint. This sort of writing – voices joining-in one by one, with a gradual thickening of the musical texture – is called ‘fugal writing’, from ‘fugue’ (which comes itself from ‘fugare’ in Latin, meaning ‘to chase’, as if the voices were chasing each other, but not quite catching). When a fugue is just a part of the work and not the work itself, it’s called ‘fugato’. Very effective (I remember my counterpoint textbook stating that “whatever beauty can be achieved by a single voice [this comes after endless single-voice drills – BG], its effect can be doubled by a second voice and further enhanced by every additional one. – Well, it can, definitely).

There is a rather strange thing here – all voices except the tenors (the first ones to enter the chase) start their lines not from “and those…” but rather from before that: “Break to the hungry…”. How so? Normally, in a fugue or a fugato the voices are supposed to repeat each other faithfully, at least in the beginning. The trick Bach’s using here is really neat: at the end of the previous section, 02:25-02:31, when the rest of the chorus was singing “lead into the house”, the tenors were already starting with “Break to the hungry…”. That’s quite incredible – four voices singing together, in full harmony, but one voice is singing a completely different text! In this recording JE Gardiner chose not only not to show this but to hide it away completely, so much that even knowing it’s there, I can hardly hear it. If you’re interested, you can hear it very clearly here, 01:50-01:55 (a rather less exciting recording overall, but very clear in this spot.)

During all that time the orchestra goes on with the same two-note motif, accompanying the chorus – though the harmonic progression is different from the one at the beginning, as the harmonies follow whatever direction the voices take (and the voices follow whatever direction in which the fugal writing leads them – it’s a rather strictly regulated form of composition, and the seeming ease with which Bach can handle four [and at times five, six or eight voices], is, well, seeming; it’s rather the result of years-long experience and a complete mastery). Another small difference – the cembalo, which was mostly absent up to here, now strikes a short chord on every beat with hypnotic clock-like regularity, giving the entire section a measured, slightly relentless feel – and all this contrasts nicely with the very smooth singing in the voices.

03:45-05:01: after all the voices unite in one last “lead into the house” (where the ticking of the clock in the orchestra stops, and we heave an internal sigh of relief, as the music finally lets go of the steady tension it maintained during the last minute – it will return in a few seconds, but without the cembalo – and what a difference this makes) we have a full repeat of the section from 01:13 till 02:31, but with the voices reversed. Thus, in the initial “Break”, the men will start first and the women will answer, and in the short stretto, 04:44-04:49, the voices will enter in ascending order, from bass to soprano (“and those—, and those—, and those—, and those—”). Bach truly squeezes whatever polyphonic potential and variety there is (a common trait for him – he is very economic in his use of melodic material, and can often write a rich and varied movement of some 10 minutes based on a short phrase. The counterweight to this is his incredible overall output – more than 1100 works, and also, I would say, the richness of inspiration of so many of his melodies).

We are also in a different key here than the one we were in at the beginning, but that really doesn’t matter so much (it’s a technical issue, related to the construction of the whole movement, and while crucial for composition, it’s not crucial at all for listening; especially as various researches have shown that those of us who don’t have absolute pitch cannot know whether a musical work started and ended in the same key. If you would like to hear it, just jump from 03:45 to 00:00, and you’ll hear the difference right away).

05:02-05:36 – a new section, on the text of clothing the naked and not avoiding your flesh. There is a new, slightly faster tempo (‘tempo’ = speed) and a new meter – we had three beats in a bar and now we have two (all the musical changes are to underline the changes in the text). Bach divides the section into two connected phrases:

05:02-05:19 – the clothing. First the motif appears in the basses only (05:02), and then it’s answered in the full chorus (05:04); then for the second time it comes in the altos accompanied by the sopranos (05:07), answered by the full chorus (05:10), and for the third time in the tenors accompanied by the altos and the sopranos (05:13), again answered by the full chorus (05:16). (Three times is the standard number of repetitions of a phrase in any section, both for theological and aesthetic reasons – a fourth repeat was considered superfluous and bad taste [one can find it sometimes in Beethoven’s works, mostly because of harmonic constraints, and then some people would say triumphantly that Schubert wouldn’t have had those constraints. Musicians.]). Notice the variety of voice combinations in such a short section – basses only, full chorus, soprano and alto, full chorus, soprano alto and tenor, full chorus. We could also possibly see word-painting here – the gradual “clothing” of the bare motif that was first found in one voice only, later appeared in two voices (S+A) and then in three (S+A+T). (<– that’s a cool way of looking at it. I haven’t thought of this when I first wrote the guide.)

05:19-05:36: the non-avoidance. It’s a free polyphonic section – all the voices participate, there are a few motifs jumping from voice to voice, but no particular points of interest or word-painting.

05:36 to the end: that’s my favorite part. The text is the whole of verse 8, but we’ll once again have a division into sections. The meter has changed again and we’re back to triple, though the length of the base beat is now twice as short as in the beginning, resulting in a lighter, more dance-like feeling, as befits the much brighter text of this verse.

05:36-06:08 – a beautiful fugato on “Then shall thy light break forth as the morning”. The entries are as follows: the tenors start, then the altos (05:43), the sopranos (05:52) and the basses (05:59). If the order sounds familiar to you, that’s because this is the same one we had in the first fugato (02:31-03:45). Bach does this often – holds the basses back until all the other voices have entered, as the bass entry is usually the most effective (in this case the entire orchestra – the flutes, the oboes and the violins [prior to 05:59 we only had the basso continuo] – enters together with the basses, which only intensifies the effect).

06:08-06:14 – “and thine health shall spring forth speedily”. A homophonic section (meaning the chorus works as a single unit, all four voices singing together). Two points of interest: the quick, impatient repetition of “schnell” (‘quickly’) at 06:11-06:13 and the ending. This is slightly tricky to hear, but in 06:14 one of the voices, the tenors, finishes just a tiny bit after the rest. This has no textual meaning – it’s just one of the many available polyphonic devices, and quite common. (You might hear this through the double ‘ks’ sound at 06:14, coming from the superimposition of the differently timed “wachsen”s (“grow”):


06:14-06:18 – a short orchestral interlude.

06:19-06:33 – “and thy righteousness shall go before thee”. Another free polyphonic section (meaning the voices work independently – as opposed to homophony – but not in a fugato or anything else with strict rules). The many “Eh” sounds you will hear come from a prolongation of the word “herge-e-e-e-hen” (to go) in all voices. Again, word-painting, not unlike “fü-ü-ü-hre” (lead) which we had before. It’s interesting to note that Bach does not choose to illustrate the much more significant word “righteousness”, but rather the word that he can illustrate – “go”. One can also illustrate “righteousness”, and Bach does it a few times in chorales by certain harmonic progression that lack dissonances. But not in a section like this – the harmonies here change too quickly for that.

06:34-06:36 – another short orchestral interlude. These serve as musical buffers/breaths of air, separating the various sections.

06:36 to the end – one last fugato, on “the glory of the LORD shall be thy reward.” It uses the same motif (the official term in a fugue or a fugato is ‘subject’, but I think motif is clearer) as the fugato at 05:36, with just the first entry being slightly different, in order to make the transition from major to minor smoother. The second entry – the tenors at 06:43 – is already identical to the original motif. Then comes the alto entry at 06:50, and then suddenly something cool – instead of a last entry in the sopranos and there we are, Bach expands the section – he adds a fourth entry in the flute at 07:01 – then a short interlude in major, and only then the fifth entry in the sopranos (07:07) – the flute now functioning as a fully independent fifth voice.

07:15-07:19 – one last orchestral interlude. The music is already making cadence sounds, as my late counterpoint teacher used to say; there is a sense of a mounting tension, and then in the very end, the climax – one last glorious entry in the sopranos at 07:19, with all the other voices joining in right away, and that’s it, the end. Fugues and fugatos should always end in a spectacular last entry of the motif.


So, that’s it for today. Hope you enjoyed it, and I will post again soon(er).