WWJD 1.2

It is, I suppose, time to ‘put up or shut up.’

Reader thrig, of the blog Anthropocene Daze—and what a delicious title that is, by the way—is the sole respondent so far to the challenge of “What Would Johann Do?”  I need to emulate him, and ‘show my work.’

Thrig posted the following harmonization of the melody given in the first post in this series:


It’s got a few modern features—notably the way the bass and alto step away from the dominant at the final cadence, creating what ‘looks like’ a vii half-diminished four-three.  But as the realization posted at AD serves to document, it’s musically quite serviceable, and the ‘modernisms’ come across as relatively subtle alterations of, or departures from, a predominantly 18th-century style.

There are one or two things a little out of the ordinary in my stab at this, too.  Probably the most notable is the use of a ‘retardation’—an inverted (that is, upward-resolving) suspension—in the 3rd complete measure.  While this is an idiom that’s taught in theory class, I don’t personally recall noticing it in an actual Bach chorale.

WWJD I 1.2

The musical strategy is relatively simple to describe:  the first five beats prolong tonic, using a IV-V progression in first inversion.  This is followed by a bass arpeggiation of the subdominant, leading to the structural dominant at the fermata in measure 4.  The bass then recapitulates the descent from tonic to dominant, the dominant being prolonged by a textbook cadential six-four chord in measure 6.

I’ll admit to having been a bit proud of this, as I contemplated it when ‘freshly pressed.’  The bass seemed to me well-designed and coherent, with the arrival of the dominant caesura effective, and the following descent logical, even compelling.

And actually, I still think it’s pretty good.  If you’d like to check out a musical realization, you can hear a faux organ version here:

But–you should see what Johann did!

And you will, with the final post in this installment of WWJD I.  (That’ll be coming your way in a week or so, right here in this space.)

In the mean time, would anyone care to join thrig and I in the “WWJD challenge?”  If so, just post your harmonization in a comment or an email.  You could even email me a cell phone shot of a napkin jotting, if you really want to go all Schoenberg on me.  Just go to my website, ispeakmusic.com.

7 thoughts on “WWJD 1.2

  1. Having the text being set to music might be handy, as I’ve seen composers use specific techniques to match the prose. For example using minor or diminished chords only where the text switches to talking about humans or sinners from more sublime topics. As to why I weakened the ending, that was mostly guesswork on “well, I don’t want a stock cadence, as the fermata in the middle is the important bit, so C is the top of the dominant seventh or also V-IV-I in reverse or also yay! tritone! so what goes well with C, oh E is serviceable (among other experiments that created too much texture or so forth).” Advantages and disadvantages of being self-taught.

    • Your point about the text is a good one, thrig. Albert Riemenschneider, who made the definitive modern edition of the 371 Chorales, emphasizes that some of Bach’s harmonizations are clearly driven by word setting criteria–I think he goes so far as to say that some are ‘incomprehensible’ without taking text into account.

      The rub, though, is that for many of the chorales–including, IIRC, this one–the original text has been lost.

      And I’m not worried about your ending. Bach wouldn’t have done (and didn’t do) it that way, but as I said, there was nothing saying you necessarily had to follow WWJD. It works on its own terms.

      By the way, I think you are, according to the terms of the original post, a prize-winner. How does a small credit at my sheet music store sound?

      • Okay, the original chorale was fairly easy to find in the book of 371, and it appears that someone had scribbled roman numerals all over it many moons ago, all of which I appear to have forgotten (except maybe that IV6 would be good to use somewhere in that first measure, except not where I put it).

        I now have a rendering of all three versions on a Baroque Plenum organ using Handel fork 422.5 (1740) tuning, along with Victor Ferdinand Bossart’s Modified meantone (1743/44, organ in Klosterkirche Muri) as the scala (centered on G5). Which sounds much more pleasant than equal temperament.

        More sheet music? Given that I’m not really studying the Bach I already have :/ I really need job with less hours for more time for music…

      • Um, have you posted any of those awesome realizations yet? I’ll put up a realization of the original when I do WWJD 1.3, but you can darn well bet it will be in plain old equal temperament.

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