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? about key sig of JSB Sonata #1 for solo violin


Cedar
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I'm working away on the Presto movement when it dawns on me that there is a difference between the written key signature for the piece and the actual played key signature. Unless my music theory knowledge is completely deficient the written key signature is one flat on b, which is F Major or d minor. Yet the title of the sonata is g minor and at least in the Presto movement the chords and arpgeggios are in g minor. What is going on? How can they call this the g minor sonata when it is clearly indicated on the music that the key is not g minor. I'm so confused.

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Bach sometimes used just B flat for the key signature of G minor. The first two movements of the G minor sonata are also notated in the same way. I believe this was a practice that was already somewhat old-fashioned in Bach's day. Sometimes this notation for G minor is referred to as "Dorian" because the scale G A B flat C D E F G is the scale of the "Dorian" mode that was used in medieval and renaissance music, even though Bach's music is very much in G minor, not the Dorian mode. (If I'm not mistaken there's an organ fugue by Bach that is called the "Dorian" fugue because it is also in G minor but the key signature is notated with just B flat.) Much of the time E natural occurs in the music instead of E flat anyway, as a leading tone to F sharp and then G, so not using an E flat in the key signature obviates the need to write a natural sign before every E when E natural is intended.

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It is odd, but the first chord of the Adagio is a g minor chord, and there are a good many e flat accidentals throughout- so the feeling is one of g minor, not of F Major or d minor. My Barenreiter edition says something interesting on accidentals:

"The main divergence from the original notation is in the placing of accidentals, and here modern usage has been adopted. As against Bach's practice, accidentals are valid for the whole bar; non-essential ones have not been repeated within a bar, and only where confusion could arise (e.g. because of the melodic line or octave relationships) have such accidentals been kept."

Also, maybe the rules weren't so finalized then as they are now.

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There is probably some simple or otherwise horridly complicated explanation to do with modes, but the 1st Sonata is indeed in G minor, every movement (save the Major one) ends on a G minor chord, the Adagio also opening with one. The key is G minor, that you needn't worry. I also noticed that there is only one flat in the key signature and wondered about this, so I would also appreciate a theory or Bach pro to shed some light on the matter.

Carlo.

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"If Bach says it is in g minor than thats good enough for me."

Bach never said the first sonata was in g minor. He just wrote one flat in the key signature--an instruction to play every b as b flat and all other notes as naturals, unless otherwise indicated--and ended the piece with a g minor chord.

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"No, the facsimile manuscript in the back of the Galamian/IMC edition says "Sonata G ma a Violino Solo senza Basso," which means "Sonata in g minor for violin solo without accompaniment," right?"

I think that the character you are interpreting as a "G" is a fancy "1" (one) and the figure "1/ma" stands for "prima, or "first." Compare it with the heading of the first "Partia" (in b minor, not g minor) and the first minuet of the third partita ("1/re" for "premiere" though "menuet" is masculine, so it should be "premier," but Bach wasn't French even if the E-major partita is very French). Also, compare it with the "G" in "Gavotte en rondeaux" of the third partita. The headings on the other sonatas and partitas also refer to the number of the work in the series, not the key: "1/ma," "2/da" for "seconda," "second," and "3/za" for "terza," "third."

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I think Bach writes a dotted "i" for "1" and then puts a stroke above the symbol to indicate that it's a number (or maybe that it's an ordinal number), as he does above other numbers in the sonatas and partitas. The dot and the stroke above the "i" at the beginning of the first sonata are written with a calligraphic flourish and the stroke looks a little like a "G." There is a less elaborate flourish above the "a" in "a Violino Solo," which stands for a grave accent perhaps.

By the way, the title page designates the set of sonatas and partitas as "Libro Primo," "Book One." What a pity there's no Book Two.

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It is believed by many that Book Two is the Cello Suites (although without an autograph manuscript we will never know for sure). Bach also wrote at least one partita for unaccompnaied flute, leading some to believe that Book Three, if contemplated, was intended to be a series of pieces for unaccompanied flute, and Book Four, if contemplated, would probably have been for some other instrument. So, it seems probable that Bach never intended to write more pieces for solo violin. In any case, I think any violinist can easily spend a lifetime trying to master the sonatas and partitas that do exist. And, if you want to go to Book Two, get the transcription of the Cello Suites for violin published by Ricordi.

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I disagree that they sound ludicrous on violin. Of course, it's hard to sound like Casals when you are playing them on violin (although I believe Szeryng could have gotten close), but you can still sound quite good and learn a great deal by studying them. I would not discourage anyone from trying them on violin. I am currrently studying them and enjoying it.

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i see arrive mostly too late for this discussion. all those that say the bach first violin sonata is in dorian mode are correct. this is true for bach's cello suites....some movements are in dorian mode. if i may start a bit of a debate about the adagio of the 1st violin sonata, though--

beat 3 of measure 3, you will find a three-note chord spelled (from the bottom) E-D-G. the flat placed in front of the E in the galamian edition is NOT found in the manuscript and, indeed, EVERYONE who performs this piece performs it with an e-flat. however, not only is this not in the manuscript, but bach goes to the trouble of placing flat accidentals in front of BOTH of the remaining E's for the remainder of the measure. to me, this indicates that bach intended for the E-natural, and this is how i currently perform it. needless to say, i get quite a few looks when i do....everyone thinks i'm playing a wrong note on accident, rather than that note being played intentionally after much thought and debate with my colleagues!

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I don't think the works in question are actually in the Dorian mode--I believe it's more accurate to say that they are tonal, not modal, and in the minor mode, that is, they modulate and cadence like tonal compositions in the minor mode and have a strong sense of propulsion towards a tonic. The key signature with one flat omitted, however, is sometimes referred to as "Dorian" because the scale that results from beginning on the tonic and playing without accidentals is the Dorian scale.

As for the e without a flat symbol in the third measure of the first movement of the g minor sonata, the editors seem to assume it's just an error, as there are apparently a number of clear errors in Bach's manuscript, which is to be expected in a music manuscript. The Henle edition, for example, prints e flat without comment; in the preface the editor states that "obvious orthographical oversights and inaccuracies have been corrected without comment." Certainly the clash between an e natural and the e flat in the upper voice during the course of the same beat would produce a striking asperity even in a composer as comfortable with dissonance as Bach. Could someone familiar with Bach's harmonic practice and with a better handle on music theory than I weigh in? Where is Christoph Wolff when we need him?

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