restricted access 4—The Improvisatory Movements
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24 In general, movements labeled “Adagio” in Baroque repertoire are an invitation to the performer to play with free expression, reacting to the various rhetorical stimuli in the music in a fluid, flexible way, unconstrained by considerations of metronomic precision, so that what results is as natural as speech. The two movements that I categorize as “improvisatory,” then, are, in my perception, written-out improvisations, highly ornamented examples of Bach’s skill at incorporating different stylistic elements into his compositions and blending them to produce a homogeneous whole.1 The German aesthetic concept of polyphony on a single stringed instrument pervades this set of six compositions; however, in these movements one also finds exquisite examples of spontaneous-sounding Italianate ornamentation interspersed with subtle and delicate French embellishment. The two improvisatory pieces have an irregular organization similar to blank verse, and beside the application of dynamics, there is a need for speech-like punctuation such as I indicate in the ensuing examples if the melodic line is to be logical and comprehensible. All kinds of punctuation, including silence, are suggested by the harmonic and melodic structure, and both movements provide the performer with ample opportunity for the use of rubato, an essential rhetorically expressive device in Baroque music.2 1. In my opinion, whereas Baroque composers, because of the limitation of our notational conventions, had no choice but to write out their ornamental gestures with mathematical precision, slavish reproduction of the note values was not their intention, but neither should rhythmic flexibility be exaggerated to the point of distortion but subtly applied to avoid unnatural stiffness. 2. This kind of reaction to the various stimuli woven into the musical fabric—accelerating, slowing down, hesitating, none of which were indicated verbally or symbolically—was already advocated by Frescobaldi in his Toccate e Partite d’intavolatura di cembalo . . . libro primo (Rome, 1615). chapter four The Improvisatory Movements 25 The Improvisatory Movements G-Minor Sonata: Adagio An interesting feature of the descending scale in the opening gesture is the final pair of sixty-fourth-notes, a device Bach frequently used in similar passages. In this case, as a descending third they act as a fork in the vocal road, the B-flat leading upward to the C in the following chord and the G pointing downward toward the F-sharp. This helps us in the organization of the scale, for we can then be thinking of its C as a pivotal point and subtly shape the scale: In the second measure, we encounter the slurring notation that I mentioned in chapter 1, which is different from common practice today in that a slur would begin from the second of a pair of tied notes, not the first. This particular slur, then, should be read as beginning from the tied C, not the D: this is generally misinterpreted for the sake of comfort, but changing bow direction after the tie spoils the effect of the elaborate 7–8 progression: In m. 3, the chord on the third beat, which is traditionally played with an E-flat as the bass note, probably because of the subsequent E-flats in the measure, has become the center of a controversy: did Bach accidentally omit the accidental, or is the notation deliberate? I confess that whereas I recorded the chord in the familiar way, I have come to regret having done so, and now believe that Bach’s notation was intentional. One piece of supporting evidence is the fact that Anna Magdalena, in her copy of the work, also wrote the chord without the flat. f ff f mp dim. p cresc. mf f &b ≤ ,≥ b # n # " &b , &bn n # Ÿ &b ∑ ∑ ∑ ∑ ∑ ∑ ∑ ∑ ∑ &b A combination of and ∑ ∑ &b ∑ ∑ ∑ ∑ ∑ ∑ ∑ ∑ ∑ ∑ &b ∑ ∑ ∑ ∑ ∑ ∑ ∑ ∑ ∑ ∑ &b ∑ ∑ ∑ ∑ ∑ ∑ ∑ ∑ ∑ ∑ J J J œ n œ #J œ œœœœœœ œ b œ œ œ b œœ œ b œ œ œ b œ œ œ œœ œ n œœ œ™ œœœœœœ œ R œ b œœœœœ œ b œ œ n œ œ œ œ œ œ # œ œ œ™ œ œ œ œ œ™ œ œ œ œ œ œ œ b œ œ b œ n œ œ b œ œœ œ œ # œ b œ œ n œœ œ œ j œ J œ™ œ b œ n œ œ n œ œœ œ œ œœ œ b œ # œœ œ # ™ œ w œ j w œ j w œ J w Œ Œ Ó œ œ œ œ œœ œ b œœœœœœ œ œ œ œ # œœœœœ œœœ™œœ œ # &b # Ÿ is an elaboration of # ∑ ∑ &b ∑ ∑ ∑ ∑ ∑ ∑ ∑ ∑ ∑ &b Ÿ U ∑ ∑ ∑ ∑ ∑ ∑ &b Ÿ U ∑ ∑ ∑ ∑ &b ∑ ∑ ∑ ∑ ∑ ∑ ∑ ∑ ∑ &b ∑ ∑ ∑ ∑ ∑ ∑ ∑ ∑ ∑ ∑ œ œ œœœœœœ™œœœœ œj œj œj œ™ œj œ j œœ œj œj œj ‰ œj ‰ œj ‰ œj ‰ Œ Œ Œ Œ œ™ œœœœ œ # œœ œ œ œœ œ b œœœœ™ œ w œj w w œ J w œ™ œœœœ œ # œœ œ œ œœ œ b œœœœ™œ w œj w w œ J w ≈ ≈ ≈ ≈ ≈ ≈ ≈ ≈ ‰ ‰ ‰ ‰ Œ Œ Œ Œ Ó Ó Ó Ó Œ Œ Ó 2 Excerpt from the Adagio of the Sonata in G-moll of Bach’s “Sei Solo a Violino senza Basso,” Mus. ms. Bach P 967, fol. 2r. Courtesy of Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin—Preußischer Kulturbesitz, Musikabteilung mit Mendelssohn-Archiv. 26 The Accompaniment in “Unaccompanied” Bach A possible explanation is that Bach was simply mirroring the bass-line progression in m. 1. D to E-natural is much stronger than D to E-flat, and, from the...


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