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Plymouth State University

Analysis and Interpretation of J.S. Bachs Prelude and Fugue No. 19 in A Major

Alex Ager
History and Literature of Music I
Dr. Daniel R. Perkins
1 December 2015

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Analysis and Interpretation of J.S. Bachs Prelude and Fugue No. 19 in A Major
Prelude and Fugue No. 19 in A Major is proven a standout within The Well-Tempered
Clavier, Book 1. However, it is hardly analyzed or respected as such. A variety of reasons make
these pieces a standout, such as the compositional style of the pieces, the cheerful and lively
mood portrayed in the music, the strange nature of subjects versus countersubjects, the
exquisitness of the counterpoint within the prelude, and lastly the oddity of the fugue.
Completed in 1722, The Well-Tempered Clavier, Book 1 (German: Das Wohltemperierte
Clavier) was the first of two collections of twenty-four preludes and fugues under the title:
Das Wohltemperierte Clavier oder Praeludia und Fugen durch alle Tone und
Semitonia Sowohl tertiam majorem oder Ut Re Mi anlanged, als auch tertiam
minorem oder Re Mi Fa betreffend. Zum Nutzen und Gerbrauch der
Lehrbegierigen Musicalischen Jugend als auch derer in diesem studio schon habil
seyenden besondern Zeit Veitreib aufgesetzet und verfertiget von Johann
Sebastian Bach p.t. Hochfurstl. Anhalt. Cothenischen Capell-Meistern und
Directore derer Cammer-Musiquen. Anno 1722.
(The Well-Tempered Clavier, or preludes and fugues in all tones and
semitones, in major as well as minor, for the benefit and use of musical youth
desirous of knowledge as well as those who are already advanced in this study.
For the especial diversion, composed and prepared by Johann Sebastian Bach,
currently ducal chapelmaster in Anhalt-Cthen and director of chamber music, in
the year 1722.)

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The term well-tempered refers to a system of tuning that adjusts the natural intervals of
the harmonic series of overtones to a restricted twelve-note chromatic scale in a way that all of
the twelve major and minor keys are playable (Kirkpatrick 7, Lindley 660-674).
The Well-Tempered Clavier was a collection of works compiled with the intention of
teaching keyboard counterpoint. Prelude in A Major is the clearest example of fulfilling that
objective. The primary purpose of this piece was not to demonstrate triple counterpoint. Bachs
primary purpose for this composition was to lay out the triple counterpoint in the most
expressive, sonorous, and playable way on the keyboard (Ledbetter 213).
Prelude No. 19 in A Major Musical Analysis
Prelude No. 19 in A Major presents itself in a polyphonic style with a three-part texture
(Bruhn pp. 1). Rather than an opening motive, this piece has more of a subject that is two-and-ahalf measures long. The subject appears on the dominant and appears frequently throughout the
composition, in alternating voices. Because of this characteristic, one can refer to this prelude as
being in the style of a fugue (Bruhn pp. 1). Most others who have studied this prelude have
refered to it as a three-part invention (Keller 108, Schulenberg 189). The latter description of the
composition has been more commonly used throughout scholarly publications.Though this was
an interesting compositional style, other preludes from The Well-Tempered Clavier are
composed in this style as well.
Bach opens the piece with the subject in the soprano combined with two countersubjects
in the lower voices the first being in the lowest voice, the second in the middle voice. The
subject is two and a half measures long, divided into two subphrases. The first subphrase ends on
the sixteenth-note rest on the fourth beat of the first measure, while the second subphrase

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consisting of only sixteenth notes ends on the C# on the third beat of the third measure, as seen
in Example 1. The subject and first countersubject begin one beat apart, with the second
countersubject beginning after the subjects first subphrase. The subject recurs six times; with
only one major change in the fourth occurrence, where the first beat is [sounding] an octave
higher than the remainder of the phrase (Bruhn paragraph 9). Bach had to write this phrase in
that manner due to the limited range of the keyboard in his time, seen in Example 2.
Example 1: Bach, Prelude in A Major, m. 1-5 (Kroll 66).

Example 2: Bach, Prelude in A Major, m. 11-12 (Kroll 66).

The two countersubjects both appear throughout the entire prelude, in multiple voices and
variations. The first countersubject (CS1) begins on beat two of the first measure in the lower
voice. CS1 is also broken down into two sections. The first section is a chromatic descent
through four quarter-notes, and occurs often; the second section is a series of cadential intervals,

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reappearing in several variations, while keeping the cadential character. The second
countersubject (CS2) is first presented after the subjects first subphrase in the middle voice. Its
dominating feature is syncopation. The first two pieces have a falling perfect fifth, while the
remainder is cadential material. The falling perfect fifths recurs as a crucial part of CS2
throughout the piece, although the cadential material undergoes continuous variation. Both
countersubjects exhibit lowering tension as their primary design. (Bruhn pp. 10).
The prelude is divided into two sections, each being 12 measures long. The tonality of the
first section - measures 1 to 12 is from the tonic key of A Major, to the relative minor key of f#
minor. The first cadential point is in measure 3 on the third beat in A Major; but the piece
modulates into f# minor. The bass pattern in measure 11, combined with the E# in measure 11
form a typical cadential point into f# minor. The second section measures 12 to 24 the
tonality modulates from f# minor to the tonic key of A.
Each section in the prelude contatin three different arrangements of the subject and
counter subjects. Within the three arrangements, there is an episodic motive containing Bachs
well-known upbeat and appoggiatura-resolution figure (M1). In measures 6-8, M1 is accentuated
by adding a note a 3rd under, as well as sixteenth note figures in descending sequences; measures
14-17 have descending scales in sequences under M1. The second occurrence of M1 is longer
due to a difference between the harmonic progressions: the first episode links the dominant E
Major to the tonic in measure 8, the second episode modulates from the relative minor back to
A in measure 17. Example 3 shows the first occurrence of M1. The subjects and countersubjects
have six possible combinations, four of which are used by Bach; two of the four combinations
appear twice. Table 1 shows the structure of subject/countersubject arrangements.

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Example 3: Bach, Prelude in A Major, m. 6-8 (Kroll 66).

Table 1: Subject/countersubject arrangements in Prelude No. 19 in A Major (Bruhn pp. 12).


Measure
Upper
Middle
Lower

1
2
SUBJECT
CS2
CS1

4
5
CS2
CS1
SUBJECT

7
8
M1
episode

9
10
CS1
SUBJECT
CS2

11

12
cadential
close

Measure
Upper
Middle
Lower

12
13
SUBJECT
CS2
CS1

14

15
16
M1
episode

17

18
19
CS2
CS1
SUBJECT

20
21
SUBJECT
CS1
CS2

22

23
24
cadential
close

Prelude No. 19 in A Major Interpretation


The key of A Major has been referred to as a symbol of the Holy Trinity, with the key
signature of three sharps. Bach uses this key in a sacred manner, incorporating many symbols
(Lowrance pp. 29). These symbols are seen within the subject and countersubjects. The subject
has characteristics of a dance with a light rhythm; the leap of a sixth was a consistent symbol of
joy for Bach, and a rapid rising and falling melody, which Engels calls, a flight of angels
(153). CS1 is the descending chromatic scale; musically and historically, a descending chromatic
scale symbolizes feelings of pain and anguish. CS2 is the syncopated sigh motif sighs of
longing and weariness. Bach emphasizes the sighs in a series of descending steps (Engels 152-3).

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The modulation to f# minor at measure 12 is truly distressing with the partial inversion of
the subject, therefore affecting its character. This occurrence of the subject has a diminished third
as compared to a minor third in all other statements of the subject that intensifies the
downhearted mood produced by the inversion and the minor key.
The second section of the Prelude dissipates the darker motif of f# minor and brings back
the joy of A Major. Engels writes, The soprano soars heavenward, released from the other
voices which fall back to Earth. (154).
There are a few important aspects to consider when performing this prelude. Such aspects
include character, tempo, articulations, and ornamentation. The character of the Prelude should
be lively due to its pitch patterns with leaps, as well as the rhythm patterns with the impression
of simplicity and regularity. The ideal tempo would be allegretto grazioso with a quarter note
equalling 84 bpm, but can be performed faster or slower, at the performers discretion. In regards
to articulations, the sixteenth notes are legato, eighth notes and quarter notes are non legato.
Among the quarter notes with distinct melodic quality - like the chromatic steps in CS1 - are
slightly detached, while quarter notes of cadential purposes - descending perfect fifths in CS1 sound more separated. The eighth notes that serve as appoggiaturas, e.g. those used in measures
7-8 and 15-17 in M1, are to be played legato. As for ornamentation, Bach only writes one
cadential mordent in measure 3 on the G# on beat two. Since this mordent is approached
stepwise, it starts on G# and is only played with three notes (G#, A, G#). Several performers
include a mordent in measure 14 on the G# as a cadential close in f# minor.

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Fugue No. 19 in A Major Musical Analysis


The Fugue in A Major has a peculiarly strange subject: a lone eighth note on the
downbeat of measure 1, followed by three eighth rests, then a sequence of rising fourths then
ending with a modulation to the dominant E Major. Example 4 will show that in the beginning of
measure 3, Bach does not write an E in the upper voice because it would create a fourth with the
B in the lower voice. This subject is commonly referred to as the strangest and/or distinctive out
of the entire Well-Tempered Clavier, Book 1. Schulenberg wrote, The opening gesture of the
subject...is in effect a caricature of the rhetorical pauses in some of Bachs early fugue
subjects (189).
Example 4 Bach Fugue No. 19 in A Major, m. 1-3 (Kroll 68).

The rising fourths pattern is interrupted in measure 2 and is reflected on each of the three
entrances of the subject. Rhythmically, the D on the sixth eighth note suspends the regularity and
tedium of the steady eighth note pulse with syncopation. On the melodic spectrum, the
descending D to C# in measure 2 creates the first sign of tension. Harmonically, the suspension
created by the syncopation creates an appoggiatura, requiring resoultion. This resoultion is found
in the beginning of measure 3.
The fugue is arranged in three near-symmetrical sections. However, these sections are
organized differently than in the prelude. The first section (measures 1-23) is a sort of

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rhythmically perverse gigue, while the second section (measures 23-42) introduces the
countersubject of running sixteenth notes (Schulenberg 189). The last section (measures 42-54)
serves somewhat like a recapitulation of the first. (189).
The first section of the fugue introduces the atypical subject and restates it eight times.
The first exposition contains four entries: one in the upper voice, one in the middle, and two in
the lower. A second exposition contains three entrances: the first in the upper voice of measure 9,
second in lower voice of measure 13, and lastly the lower voice of measure 16. There is no
countersubject throughout the entirety of the first section (Keller 109).
The second section introduces the sixteenth-note countersubject, bringing forth a feeling
of new life and release from the relentless fourths. The countersubjet begins in measure 23, as
seen in Example 5. This section also houses the subject, in which the intervals change from
fourths to sixths, as a symbol of joy (Engels 154). The countersubject remains through the
second section, dropping at the beginning of the final section and reappears in fragments at the
end of the fugue [while] both [previous] sections are recapitulated (Schulenberg 191).
Example 5 Bach, Fugue No. 19 in A Major, m. 23-24 (Kroll 68).

The final section serves as a recapitulation including a restatement of the closing phrase
from the first section. However, this is slightly altered by a running bass figure, recaping the
second section.

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Fugue No. 19 in A Major Interpretation


The pitch pattern of leaping fourths, with the rhythmic pattern of regular eighth notes
accompanied in the center sections of the fugue by the sixteenth notes both suggest a lively
character. Most commonly, the tempo of the fugue would be faily swift. The nine-eight time
signature given by Bach should be interpreted as a choice of notation rather than pulse, and be
rendered with the idea of a compound triple time... (Bruhn pp. 38).
Articulations need to be carefully executed in order to keep the essential musical details.
The eighth notes are non legato, almost with a staccato-like crispness. The quarter notes are non
legato with a more extended duration. The sixteenth notes are almost legato similar to a Classical
era leggiero quality (Bruhn pp. 39).
As for ornamentation, Bach only included two in this fugue. The first is a trill in measure
8, serving as a cadential ornament. The second ornament is in measure 26, also as a cadential
ornament to the dominant key of E Major. Both of these measures can be seen in Example 6.
Example 6 Bach, Fugue No. 19 in A Major, m. 8 & 23

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Conclusion
Prelude and Fugue No. 19 in A Major is a exquisite pair within The Well-Tempered
Clavier, Book 1, for a multitude of reasons, and proves that Bach was a prime composer during
his era. All of the preludes and fugues within The Well-Tempered Clavier fit the intention as
listed in Bachs original title, for use by young students who wished to learn the art of playing in
every major and minor key, as well as those who are currently advanced in the study as well.

Works Cited

Bach, Johann Sebastian. Das Wohltemperierte Klavier (The Well-Tempered Clavier) 48 Preludes
and Fugues Vol. 1. New York City: Edwin F. Kalmus. Print.
Bruhn, Siglund. "WTC I/19 in A Major - Prelude." J.S. Bach's Well-Tempered Clavier In-depth
Analysis and Interpretation. Hong Kong: Mainer International, 1993. N. pag. WTC I/19
in A Major Prelude and Fugue. University of Michigan. Web. 29 Nov. 2015.
Engels, Marjorie Wornell. Bach's Well-tempered Clavier: An Exploration of the 48 Preludes and
Fugues. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2006. Print.
Keller, Hermann. The Well-tempered Clavier by Johann Sebastian Bach. London: G. Allen &
Unwin, 1976. Print.
Kirkpatrick, Ralph. Interpreting Bach's Well-tempered Clavier: A Performer's Discourse of
Method. New Haven: Yale UP, 1984. Print.
Ledbetter, David. Bach's Well-tempered Clavier: The 48 Preludes and Fugues. New Haven:
Yale UP, 2002. Print.
Lindley, Mark. "Temperaments." The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians. Vol. 18.
London: Macmillan, 1980. 660-74. Print.
Lowrance, Rachel A. "Musical Offerings." "Instruction, Devotion, and Affection: Three Roles of

Bach's Well-Tempered Clavier" by Rachel A. Lowrance. Musical Offerings, 2013. Web.


01 Oct. 2015.
"Prelude and Fugue in A Major, BWV 864 (Bach, Johann Sebastian)." - IMSLP/Petrucci Music
Library: Free Public Domain Sheet Music. Ed. Franz Kroll. IMSLP.org, 26 Nov. 2006.
Web. 30 Nov. 2015.
Schulenberg, David. The Keyboard Music of J.S. Bach. New York: Schirmer, 1992. Print.