Two seconds in Bach (quiz of the day)

Chords with a second (sometimes a passing note, others an inverted seventh or ninth) are common fare in Baroque keyboard music.

Chords with two seconds are instead much more infrequent.
When we find them we are quite surprised.

F. Couperin gives a remarkable example in his Passacaille (Neuvième Ordre), 7e. Couplet, especially in the chords that include the signs “x” instead of notes, where two consecutive seconds are to be played, in the style of “tierces coulèes”.

The use of two seconds in a chord (especially “unprepared” ones) meant as “acciaccature” for a striking dissonant percussive example, is best exemplified in many Sonatas by D. Scarlatti, famously all over the place in the Allegro in a minor K. 175.

In J.S. Bach these effects are far from frequent. Indeed, we find two seconds in some organ works. For example, in the Fantasia et Fuga in g minor BWV 542, in bar 37, the first chord features, among other notes, A, f#’ and g’. The Praeludium et Fuga in b minor BWV BWV 544, at the end of bar 14 has F#, g and e’. A well known harpsichord example is found in the Harpsichord Partita 6 in e minor, Toccata, for example in bar 102. These are, however, mostly the results of retardations rather than tierces coulées or even acciaccature and, most importantly, are not strictly “seconds” but rather sevenths or ninths…
In Bach two “strict” seconds in a chord are very rare, and even rarer in his non-organ keyboard works, but there are a few remarkable examples in a well-known piece, however …
:thinking:

This is a really interesting topic Claudio. But either everyone is hibernating or nobody knows the answer. I certainly don’t. You may have to tell us!

Thanks Andrew!
The chords occur in the Praeludium und Fuge BWV 894, composed not later than 1717, left hand, bars 11 and 12. These effects are rarely found in his later works.

Needless to clarify, this is the work that was later (after 1730) transcribed into the Triple Concerto BW 1044. Some scholars find this Concerto authentic, but others, including Leonhardt (with very interesting evidence) find it unlikely to be Bach’s own work (Leonhardt suggests Bach’s pupil Müthel, others Wilhelm Friedemann Bach).

Le 27/06/2022 12:24, Claudio Di Veroli via The Jackrail écrit :

The chords occur in the Praeludium und Fuge BWV 894, composed not
later than 1717, left hand, bars 11 and 12.

I’m afraid I don’t where these “two seconds” are in the bars you
mention. Unless you count a seventh as a second?? This would be
something new.

There are sevenths that can count as seconds as I clarified below.

But there are true seconds as well: bar 11, left hand, first chord:
c-d-f-g-b .
Both c-d and f-g are seconds.

Le 27/06/2022 13:37, Claudio Di Veroli via The Jackrail écrit :

But there are true seconds as well: bar 11, left hand, first chord:
c-d-f-g-b .
Both c-d and f-g are seconds.

In the BGA edition there is no g.

Dennis

You are correct. I am using Henle 1970.
The Kritischer Bericht lists six sources dating from JSBach’s life, and only one, attributed to Johann Ernst Bach, dated c1740, carries the g: therefore, prima facie, the “normal” version has no g.
Nevertheless, Henle’s editor found fit to print it, although with no explanation why.

Here is my explanation: the g is also found in the Triple Concerto version, where the passage is now in bar 28. And it is agreed that the Triple Concerto dates about 20 years later than the Prelude and Fugue. Therefore, it is likely that the g represents JSBach’s final version.

However, there is an alternative explanation: the g was added by Joh. Ernst Bach and he also produced the Triple Concerto!

Is it permissible to expand Claudio’s quiz subject?

He has excluded organ works, but if we may include them, I suspect there are many more examples of stacked seconds. Here are a few:

  • BWV539, prelude in d, measure 40, downbeat g-a-b𝄮 in the closest possible proximity;
  • BWV672, Kyrie, Gott Vater in Ewigkeit, measure 5, 3rd beat c-d-(g)-e;
  • BWV672, Kyrie, Gott Vater in Ewigkeit, measure 7, downbeat b-(f#)-c-d#;
  • BWV673, Christe, aller Welt Trost, measure 9, last 𝅘𝅥𝅮, a-f-g#-(d);
  • BWV674, Kyrie, Gott heiliger Geist, measure 6, last beat, c-e-b-d;
  • BWV674, Kyrie, Gott heiliger Geist, measure 12, downbeat, c-d-e-b.

I found these pretty fast, so I think there may be quite a few more, especially if we may also count 7ths & 9ths, which generally function harmonically in the same way as 2nds. (My notes in () are not contributors to the stacked 2nds.)

Dale

You are welcome, Dale!

I limited the quiz to the keyboard because this is a harpsichord forum, but I wrote “and even rarer in his non-organ keyboard works,” therefore suggesting that they were indeed more frequent in his organ works, as Dale correctly observes.

However, Dennis would object to Dale’s list stating that he is counting as seconds also sevenths and ninths.

Let me therefore agree with both Dale and Dennis, extending the search to the organ but using “strict” seconds!

In this case, as I see it, only the first item of Dale’s list is still valid:
BWV539, prelude in d, measure 40, downbeat g-a-bflat

I find it difficult to spot other examples. Found two in Die Kunst der Fuge (there may be a few more):

  • Contr. 1, bar 55, d-e-f : a nice example: just very audible two stacked seconds! Pity lasting just a quaver!
  • Contr. 9, bar 117, 2nd quaver, f-g-d’-e’ : pity this is a faster piece and some are just passing notes.

Thanks for the contributions!

If you count 7ths as 2nds, than you should also count 9ths. And if you
start counting all the 9/7 chords in Bach, you’ll be a busy man.