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The Prelude from Bach's Suite No.4 for Violoncello Solo: The Submerged Urlinie

Schachter, Carl

The contrapuntal texture of the Prelude from Bach's Suite No.4 for Solo Violoncello involves a quick-moving and active bass line above which all three factors of the tonic triad initiate important linear strands: ̂8 forms a cover tone that begins and ends the Prelude; ̂5 is the first note of a rising fourth-progression that culminates in the final ̂8; ̂3 descends to ̂1 at the structural cadence before the coda. These three strands interact with each other and with the bass in complex ways; among the complexities is a carefully elaborated introduction of chromatic elements, centering on a contradiction between D♭ and D♮ whose resolution helps to direct the Prelude's large-scale harmonic structure. In the opening tonic arpeggio, ̂3 lies below ̂8 and ̂5, and a disposition that characterizes the Prelude as a whole. Thus the descent from ̂3 to ̂1 occurs in the middle of the texture rather than at the top. This structural line is embedded within a contrapuntal complex in a way that gives it a somewhat unusual character. The "melodic" foreground sounds less like the exfoliation of the Urlinie than like the composite of elements from the three primary strands, the Urlinie being first among equals rather than the governing upper voice. This suggests that the inference of a two part outer-voice counterpoint has less explanatory power for the Prelude
than it does for most of the tonal repertory.

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Current Musicology

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Academic Units
Music
Publisher
Columbia University
Published Here
January 26, 2015
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