«THE NEUMEISTER COLLECTION OF CHORALE PRELUDES OF THE BACH CIRCLE: AN EXAMINATION OF THE CHORALE PRELUDES OF J. S. BACH AND THEIR USAGE AS SERVICE ...»
Tussler classifies as “free” present only a portion of the melody and include chorale fugues and chorale fantasias. He further adds that in this latter classification, the melody may be treated in various ways: a single phrase or part of a phrase may furnish the thematic material for part or all of the composition (chorale fugue); the phrases may be presented incompletely or out of order (chorale fantasy).30 Using Tussler’s categories, an explanation to the organ student of the various formal designs found in chorale preludes and the characteristics of each form is a good starting point for teaching these chorale preludes. The most commonly found form and perhaps the most easily identifiable, is the melody chorale. This is essentially a four-part harmonization of the chorale in which the melody is presented intact and unadorned in a single voice, usually the soprano, with all phrases stated in order. Melody chorales are therefore short, consisting only of a single strophe, and because of their limitations, they are not virtuosic. Although their texture is polyphonic, they appear homophonic; the counterpoint adds strength and interest.31 An excellent example of a melody chorale is BWV 1100, Allein zu dir, Herr Jesu Christ, mm. 15-31.
The second most frequently found type of chorale prelude is the cantus firmus chorale prelude. In this form, the chorale melody is usually presented unadorned in longer note values, quite frequently in the bass voice. The chorale phrases are generally Tussler, 25-26.
Oswald Ragatz, Organ Techniques: A Basic Course of Study (Bloomington:
Indiana University Press, 1979), 71.
separated by interludes of one to ten measures in length and there are fewer restrictions with regard to contrapuntal writing in the accompaniment.32 The ornamented melody chorale is essentially a melody chorale with the chorale tune embellished; the melody is almost always in the soprano voice, but may be almost unrecognizable because of the ornamentation. This is the most expressive of the chorale forms, with accompanimental material often based on motives and rhythmic patterns found in the chorale.33 There are only two of this type of chorale prelude in The Neumeister Collection, but both are excellent representations of the form: BWV 742, Ach Herr, mich Armen Sünder, and BWV 639, Ich ruf zu dir, Herr Jesu Christ.
The chorale canon is the form most bound by the chorale melody according to Tussler. Its distinctive feature is the canonic presentation of the chorale, usually by the two outer voices, at intervals of fifths and octaves. Motivic material found in the accompanimental voices is very often derived from the chorale itself.34 The chorale fugue (or fughetta, if the composition is under thirty-five measures
in length) resembles fugues of secular compositions, but differs in two important ways:
the subject is a portion of the chorale melody, usually the first phrase; the fugal writing is considerably more relaxed and may vary greatly from textbook formats. Oswald Ragatz states that the chorale fugue is found very infrequently among the music of Baroque
composers. However, the chorale fughetta was used many times by J. S. Bach.35 It featured a section of thematic material, called the Exposition, in which the subject (usually the first chorale phrase) is stated by all the voices in the tonic and dominant key areas. This Exposition is followed by a developmental section which may be lengthy and highly complex. The chorale fughetta differs in that its development is short, frequently the same length as the Exposition, and embryonic in its contrapuntal writing. Secondary thematic material is called the countersubject, and may assume a role equal in importance and complexity to the subject. Chorale fugues or fughettas which use two subjects, commonly called double fugues, usually derive the second fugal subject from the last phrase of the chorale.36 BWV 1097, Ehre sei dir, Christe, der du leidest Not, illustrates both of the two aforementioned forms: mm. 1-27 is a chorale fughetta based on the first chorale phrase; mm. 28-53 is written as a chorale canon with the melody occurring between the two outer voices at the interval of an octave.
The last form of chorale prelude which Tussler classifies as “bound by the chorale melody” is the chorale motet. This is the form which Schweitzer labeled the “Pachelbelstyle” and Spitta, the “pure organ chorale prelude.” Its distinguishing feature is that all chorale phrases are treated imitatively and that these chorale phrases are treated in the order in which they occur. This imitative treatment often extends to accompanimental voices in interludes preceding each chorale phrase entry. This technique of imitative writing using anticipatory thematic material is called Vorimitation, and is recognizable as
it systematically preceeds and finally extends into each chorale phrase. The melody in chorale motets usually occurs as a cantus firmus treatment in the soprano voice; the writing resembles a series of fugal expositions based on each chorale phrase.37 It may be noted that the chorale motet resembles a combination of two forms: the melody chorale and the chorale fugue. Like the melody chorale, the melody is presented in its entirety in the top voice, with all chorale phrases intact and in order; like the chorale fugue, a fugal subject derived from the chorale phrases serves as the basic unit of construction, including the accompanimental voices. However, there are two major differences between the chorale fugue and the chorale motet: each chorale phrase is present in the chorale motet, while only one, or at most two, is present in the chorale fugue.
Vorimitation is used consistently in chorale motets; if it is present in chorale fugues, it is confined to imitation of only the first chorale phrase.38 A valuable insight into the chorale preludes exhibiting Vorimitation at the beginning, but later discarding it and proceeding as a simple melody chorale, a frequent occurrence in the Bach Neumeister chorale preludes, is offered by Ragatz; he states that quite frequently Baroque composers began their works with imitative writing using thematic material, but later conformed to the style of a melody chorale, abandoning any anticipatory counterpoint.39 In this study, subsequent cataloging of this type of chorale prelude will include the formal
classification of “melody chorale,” and the label “chorale motet” will be listed in parentheses, signifying that only the initial entry of Vorimitation is written.
The two forms which Tussler describes as “free” are those not under melodic restrictions and include the chorale fugue and the chorale fantasy. The chorale fugue was discussed above as a basis of comparison to the chorale motet; the second of these types is the chorale fantasy, which exhibits the most freedom of all the forms of the chorale prelude. This freedom is perhaps its only consistent characteristic; the writing may use the entire chorale melody or only a portion of it, phrases may be presented in any order, and a multiplicity of forms, textures, and contrapuntal techniques may occur in any voice. The chorale fantasy has an improvisatory quality due to its lack of restrictions. It is perhaps the most experimental and complex of all the forms.40 The chorale prelude Ich hab’ mein Sach Gott heimgestellt, BWV 1113, illustrates an evolving form of the chorale fantasy; the writing is less complex than in standardized forms, but the chorale phrases are incomplete and presented out of order with no Vorimitation.
The final form which will be mentioned here is the chorale partita. It is not included in either those forms restricted by the melody or the “free” classifications of Tussler. This type of chorale prelude is usually a chorale setting consisting of one or more short paraphrases of the chorale melody and can display any of the forms discussed here.41 The various forms of the chorale prelude are compared in the following table.
The student should be encouraged to study and understand these forms.
Chorale Fantasy 1 or more phrases any order any voice varies varies (whole or fragmented) ____________________________________________________________________________________________________
Source: Kent Kennan, Counterpoint: Based on Eighteenth-Century Practice, 3rd ed. (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1987), 250-256.
The majority of the J. S. Bach chorale preludes in the Neumeister Collection, however, do not conform solely to one form or style of chorale prelude. This is further evidence of the early chronology of these works in Bach’s compositional output; many are clearly evolving styles displaying elements of more than one form and/or technique.
Of these works, a dichotomy can be ascertained: those whose formal design indicates clearly the use of a composite or two-part form; and those which exhibit elements of one or more chorale forms, but no consistent usage of these elements. The first category is the easier of the two to determine; in the Neumeister Collection, these works are all twopart compositions with each part (“A” or “B”) having its own form.42 Table 8 lists the Bach chorale preludes exhibiting composite or two-part forms. A wide variety can be seen here, with the exception of the ornamented melody chorale. It is interesting to note that the forms occurring most frequently within this group are the melody chorale and the chorale fugue. Again, several melody chorales here begin with Vorimitation, only to abandon it later.
Table 9 lists the chorale preludes which do not conform, even in part, to a standardized or composite form. These works are clearly experimental with regard to form, and cannot be categorized easily. Parentheses are used here to indicate the forms whose characteristics are displayed by each of these chorale preludes.
Lastly, Table 10 catalogs the chorale preludes which do conform to a standardized format. Note: These tables represent only a portion of the Bach Neumeister chorale preludes; Appendix Table F. offers a more complete overview of forms.
Although many excellent books have been written on the subject of Bach’s harmonic style, the approach taken by Tussler is the most pertinent to this study. He begins with a statement that Bach’s harmonic language is richer and more complex than that of other Baroque composers. He attributes this to the masterful amalgamation of church modes, in which many chorales were written, with major/minor modes. His discussion of the uniqueness of Bach’s harmonic syle is very succinct and valuable as pedagogical material. Tussler lists the limitations of this style as threefold: standard Table 9 J. S. Bach Chorale Preludes in The Neumeister Collection Exhibiting Elements of One or More Forms
chord vocabulary; constant chord changes, particularly in the “bound” category of chorale preludes; limited key usage. The constant changing of chords can be seen most clearly in the melody chorale, cantus firmus chorale, ornamented melody chorale, chorale canon, and chorale motet (i.e., the chorale forms under melodic restrictions).
But it is in the chorale fantasy and the chorale fughetta or fugue that Bach begins his use of longer harmonic rhythms resulting in fewer chord changes. In these forms, changing harmonies are much more systematic and attuned to the basic rhythm of the chorale.44 Bach’s limited use of keys, particularly in his organ music, is understandable if one reflects upon the organs of the time. In the early Baroque Era, pedalboards were not as accommodating as those of the late Baroque and subsequent periods; the majority had a straight, flat symmetry in which the heel was difficult to use. But more importantly, tuning systems used at that time were not of equal temperament, so intervals between scale tones were not consistent in the amount of consonance or dissonance they possessed.45 Bach exhibits a preference for those keys containing fewer than four sharps or flats.46 Likewise, his usage of contrasting key areas within a composition is limited to that of the relative major or minor, dominant, and subdominant. However, the distinction between Bach’s use of harmonies and keys and that of other composers of the time is that Bach uses these elements to support the counterpoint, not to obscure it. In addition, they also provide a foundation of support Tussler, 40-44.
Sandra Soderland, Organ Technique: An Historical Approach, 2nd ed. (Chapel Hill, NC: Hinshaw Music, 1986), 25.
for the melody without the homophonic treatment so often found in chorales.47 Cadence types can be discussed with the student in conjunction with the topic of harmonies found in Bach’s music. The thirty-eight chorale preludes contain all of the standard cadences including perfect and imperfect authentic cadences, half cadences, plagal cadences, and deceptive cadences.
The chorale preludes in The Neumeister Collection offer many opportunities for instruction in non-harmonic tones. One of the major innovations of Bach’s style is his treatment of dissonance. Although he uses the same vocabulary of non-harmonic tones as other Baroque composers, he employs dissonance much more frequently and treats it differently from others. The two types of non-harmonic tones which are ideally suited to the organ are the suspension and the pedal point, both of which rely upon prolongation of pitch to effect the dissonance. Chains of suspensions occur frequently in the works of J. S. Bach, however, Bach differs from his contemporaries by using suspensions in inner voices and resolving them much more freely than other composers of the time.48 An example of this occurrence can be found in BWV 1091, Das alte Jahr vergangen ist, m.
3, where the suspension in the alto voice on beat three descends to an “a” before resolving on beat four. Another instance of this in the same chorale prelude can be seen in m.7; the suspension in the tenor voice on beat one resolves upward to the octave, rather than downward as expected. Another device Bach uses frequently with suspensions is the insertion of escape tones and appoggiaturas before the resolutions.
Pedal points are used sparingly here; however, their usage is also innovative.
Unlike his predecessors, Bach employs pedal points in voices other than the bass voice.