Classical music analysis: Voicing in Bach Partita №3, Movement 2

In this post I will discuss the first part of the 2nd movement (Loure) from Bach’s Partita No 3 for solo violin. In particular, I’ll share some thoughts on the use of secondary voices to help achieve the emotional structure of the piece. This informs how I give shape to the music when practicing and performing.

Manuscript as copied by Anna Magdalena Bach (c. 1725–34)

Introduction: I hear the first half of the Loure in three sections: the first in the tonic key of E Major (bars 1–4), the second in the relative minor key of C# minor (bars 5–8), and the third in the dominant key of B Major (bars 9–11). This progression reflects the map of moods expressed. The first section is idyllic and peaceful, the second introduces some tension and worry, and the third returns to a positive mood with a renewed confidence and strength to continue onwards (either to the repeat or onto the second half of the piece). Throughout the piece, the top voice provides melody while the secondary voices provide bass line accompaniment and richness of harmonic texture. Let’s take a look section by section.

Section 1:, 0:00–0:18.

Section 1: E Major (idyllic, peaceful)

The first section, in E Major, is idyllic and peaceful. The secondary voice mirrors the lovely main melody in a relaxing downward motion, with only a few embellishments on the line and a comforting 5–1 finish. It is almost entirely written in 3rd and 6ths against the top line (easy on the ear), with only two 7ths which both occur as a B dominant-7 chord.

Section 2:, 0:18–0:35.

Section 2: C# minor (tense, worried)

The second section, in C# minor, introduces tension and worry. The secondary voice is now written in a tense upward chromatic scale that ends on an uneasy F# — this will eventually resolve into B Major. Unlike the first section, the secondary line does not join the melody in peaceful harmony, and instead is written in a series of tritones and 4th/5ths against the top voice.

Section 3:, 0:35–0:50.

Section 3: Renewed strength, confident

The third and final section, which has resolved to B Major from the preceding F#7 chord, displays a renewed strength and confidence following the tense C# minor portion. Notably, the secondary voice now expresses itself in full three-note chords. I sometimes imagine that the secondary voices have taken the pure 3rd and 6th from the first section and incorporated the tritones from the second section — but now in the service of a more triumphant sounding quality.

Conclusion: Having this model of the development and role of the secondary voices informs the shape and technique I use when performing the piece. For example, I like to use a soft tone during the initial section (peaceful harmonies), then allow the tritones to take a sharper edge in the second section (tension building), and then use broader strokes in the chords of the third section (renewed strength).

Full movement. Edition: Schirmer’s Library (E. Herrmann)

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(About this post: After a few years away from serious practice, I’ve picked back up my violin and am making my way through the Bach Sonatas and Partitas. I am planning to write up thoughts whenever I come across fascinating aspects of the work.)

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