Bach And The Patterns Of Invention English Language Essay

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I will be highlighting the following points in this essay. As the essay-question contains a few terms which can be interpreted in different ways I will first briefly clarify what I believe to be the meaning of each term. The terms discussed will be; `rhetoric,` `disposition` `elaboration` and `invention.` I will also highlight the origins of these terms and how they relate to the Baroque compositional style. In relation to this I will then analyse the rhetorical disposition of musical material in J.S. Bach`s Invention No. 6 in E Major and the way in which this material is elaborated. In order to compare this piece to another of J.S. Bach`s compositions I will then analyse his Sinfonia No. 1, which is part of a collection of Bach`s 3-part piano pieces for his more advanced pupils. Through this second analysis I hope to find similarities and/or differences in the way these similarly-intended compositions were composed. Then, finally, I will be comparing both of these pieces to a short composition by another well-known Baroque composer, Franois Couperin.

The term `rhetoric,` the building-block of much Baroque composition, refers to the importance of the music appertaining to a particular style in order to convey an impression to its audience. In this essay I will discuss how much J.S. Bach relies on rhetoric in two of his compositions, his Invention no. 6 in E Major (BWV 777) and, in comparison, his Sinfonia No. 1 in C Major. The characteristics of the musical style with which he does this will be discussed in my analyses. When used in the context of musical composition, the definition of an invention reads as "a term borrowed from rhetoric…. to designate the essential thematic idea underlying a musical composition.2 So, essentially, an invention refers to a musical idea and Bach presents a collection of these musical ideas in his collection of Inventions. Each Invention consists of the `disposition`, which describes the initial way of placing or presenting the main musical idea(s), followed by the `elaboration` of the disposition, where the original idea is changed in some way to become more complex and therefore keep the audience interested.

The concept of rhetorical thinking originated in the French Classical tradition, and was an essential part of composition of many composers, whatever their nationality, in the Baroque era. This way of thinking, originating from ancient Roman and Greek philosophy was described by the French poet and critic, Nicolas Boileau as a `rational belief in their [French peoples`] own standards [which]gives to these [French] people their self-confidence,2 but is apparently then balanced out in Boileau`s following statement that, despite this self-confidence, the society in which he lives is not conceited, but, instead, humble, born of peoples` realisation of the minuteness of their own, personal existence in the context of the vastness of history. Classical philosophy was rooted in the importance of balance, as was the music of later composers, hence named Classical composers, such as Mozart and Haydn. However, the French Classical tradition certainly influenced Baroque music too and it is from this tradition that the Divisions of Rhetoric originate, a collection of important points to be considered when composing. Only the first three divisions of the five Divisions of Rhetoric will be discussed in this essay, as they focus on the method of Composition, whereas the final two refer to the performance of these compositions.. The first division, Invention, as described above, refers to the composition of a single musical idea(s). The second term, Arrangement, refers to how this musical material is presented in terms of orchestration, dynamics, articulation, etc. The next division asks for consideration of style, considering this to be an vital aspect of good composition, in order to add beauty to a bare idea.

Written around 1720, J.S. Bach`s Invention No. 6 in E Major (BMV 777) certainly adheres to some of the Divisions of Rhetoric in the treatment of its musical material. There seems to be a double disposition in this piece, the subjects of which are introduced together in Bars 1- 8 3, a separate musical idea being played in each hand, (see Examples 1a and 1b).I do not think that either hand is accompanying the other, thus giving that "other" more musical importance. The idea shown in Example 1 is slightly more prominent because of its sequential movement in Bar 4 and its rhythmic diversity but I do not think this is enough to treat the 3initial idea in the LH as material meant only for accompaniment. At the end of the longest musical idea both parts then immediately imitate the other`s previous material. Through this simple shift of octaves, 3


Bach shows how to really establish both musical ideas. before moving on to develop them as, in Bar 9,the ideas shown in Examples 1a) and 1b) return in the hand they were originally played in. I think Bach did this in order to make sure that the listener can definitely grasp both ideas before he goes on to elaborate on them. Even when he does move on to elaborate on his idea, he still ensures that, as at the beginning of the piece he wishes to ensure constant rhythmic stability; providing this stability in the left-hand part, while the right-hand plays a persistently syncopated line (refer again to Example 1a and 1b)

It seems obvious here that Bach is challenging the meaning of elaboration. In the definition of the Collins English Dictionary the term `elaborate` is defined as `To make more complicated.` Bach seems to be defying this assumption by bringing back his initial musical idea in a simpler musical format. The complex rhythms of the original musical subject of Example 1a is, in some ways, simplified when it re-appears in Bar 9. Example 2 shows that the demi-semiquavers which were part of the original musical idea, have now largely been replaced by semiquavers. Here, it seems that Bach is playing with the very ideas that provide a foundation for himself and his contempories and asking whether development always means to complicate. He also seems to be providing interest for the listener by constantly wrong-footing them. As soon as they have heard and accepted an unconventional treatment of compositional development and have hopefully accepted this unusual return to simplicity, Bach suddenly re-introduces the rhythmically complex version of his musical idea, a mixture of semiquavers and demi-semiquavers with which the piece began. Despite this attempt at keeping his listeners` interest by presenting the unexpected, Bach still seems to attempt to provide a point where his audience can return to stability at the end of the first section of this binary composition.

At the beginning, of the second section of the piece, however, Bach seems keen to compose with two different intentions at the same time. The first is the intention to surprise. The musical material used seems familiar, being simply a different arrangement of Example 1b). This time, though, the musical idea appears in the right-hand-part, not in the left as it did in its first entry at the beginning of the composition. However, now it is the left-hand which is syncopated, whereas the right-hand part is now the one to provide rhythmic stability, entering steadily on the first beat of each bar. The second intention that Bach seems to be composing with, in complete contrast to his first, is the wish to steady his piece with Baroque conventions. The importance of predictable harmonic progression is, I think, one of the main characteristics of Baroque music, the sub-dominant and dominant major keys and the relative minor in relation to the Tonic being the modulations employed most frequently when dictating harmonic progression in a Baroque composition. The composition`s modulation to B Major, the Dominant Major of E Major, indicated by the appearances of A# from Bar 10 firmly establish this key until the piece modulates its way through the sub-dominant key of A Major, as noted in Bars 47 and 48. The composition then ends firmly back in the Tonic key of E Major, so the usual harmonic pattern of modulation to closely-related keys before modulating back to the Tonic key by the end of the piece is certainly observed here.

Bach`s collection of Inventions were written as 2-part pieces for beginner pianists but he later also wrote a collection of sinfonias for more advanced pianists which, comparing one example - Bach`s Sinfonia 1 (BWV 787) will, I suspect, reveal, both similarities to and differences from Bach`s Invention in E Major. Both pieces begin with a strong rhythmic foundation but, in comparison to the unpredictability of the left-hand part in Invention No 6, the LH part in Sinfonia No.1 provides a constant rhythmic foundation the right-hand part which providing the melodic interest. One thing that stands out in Bach`s Invention No. 6 is its complete lack of ornamentation which, as ornamentation characterises the majority of Baroque music, seems unusual. The consideration of the stylistic characteristics of the period from which composition derives comprises the 3rd division of rhetoric. As rhetoric is an essential influence of Baroque composition I think, therefore, that Bach`s lack of any ornamentation here was almost certainly deliberate. Perhaps, just as he experimented with an unexpected manner of developing his musical ideas in this composition, he also wanted to achieve the unexpected by simply not providing one of the most notable characteristics of Baroque music. However, in Bach`s Sinfonia 1, ornamentation does exist, although sparsely and without variation. In an era, where music was often heavily ornamented with frequent trills, mordents, turns, appogiaturas and acciacaturas, I find it surprising that the repetitive ornamentation of Bar 6, (see Example


5) is as good as it gets. In terms of the elaboration of its theme, Bach`s disposition of his musical idea at the beginning of the Sinfonia is clear, as its ascending scale (see Example 4) races up the piano over the left-hand`s quavers which are clearly intended only for accompaniment. This is unlike the virtually equal importance of parts in Bach`s Invention No. 6. Imitation, the compositional method which helped to enforce musical material in Bach Invention No. 6, also appears at this point in the left-hand part of his Sinfonia 1. However, it seems less noticeable because of the later frequent semiquaver passages in the accompanying LH part which make it seem merely more like musical accompaniment, rather than the important musical idea upon which the entire piece is based. Although both compositions modulate fairly infrequently, Bach again chooses to surprise his audience with an inexpected modulation from tng it contrast hugely to the effort Bach makes to highlight both of his main musical ideas in Invention No.6. The patterns of modulation in both BMV 777 and BMV 786 also differ. Although Bach still remains faithful, in BMV 777, to the expected Baroque convention of modulating only to closely-related keys when developing an idea, he chooses to again test these conventions in his Sinfonia 1. Beginning in the key of C Major, he next modulates to the sub-dominant key of G Major; an unremarkable modulation in itself as it comfortably fits with expected Baroque pattern of modulation. but even here Bach is pushing convention as he modulates in an unusual way. He briefly hints right at the beginning of the piece in the second bar, at the up-coming modulation he intends to make later, by introducing an F#. However, he then returns immediately to the Tonic key at the beginning of Bar 3 and does not modulate properly to the Dominant key of G Major until Bar 7, .Even here, the music pretends to modulate back to the Tonic key of C Major by introducing a single F natural in the LH part of Bar 8 before sharpening it again a beat later.

At this point, having examined both the similar and the different ways in which Bach`s musical ideas have been expressed and developed in both his Invention No. 6 in E Major, I will briefly compare both these works with Franois Couperin`s La noble fierte - `Sarabande.

As in Bach`s BMV 777, but unlike his Sinfonia 1, the disposition in Couperin`s composition stands out clearly, although the theme clearly appears here in the RH only, the LH providing only accompaniment, and not the disposition of further melodic material, as I believe is featured in Bach`s Invention 6. The treatment of the main musical idea here is much more similar to the clear-cut distribution of melody in one part and accompaniment in the other, as displayed in Bach`s Sinfonia No. 1. It seems that the treatment of the main musical themes in both compositions are treated vastly differently in some ways, but similarly in others. When Couperin`s main musical idea is elaborated on in the Reprise of his composition it is inverted, a technique of elaboration not used in either of the cpmpositions by Bach that I have analysed in this essay Returning to the divisions of rhetoric mentioned earlier, it seems that Couperin`s composition lays much more importance on the third division of style, where great importance is laid on the consideration of the stylistic demands of a composition, urging composers to focus, when writing, on "the adornments of style 3……" As is fitting for a piece composed in the French Baroque style, it is quite heavily ornamented, although the ornamentation is not greatly varied, as it is in a lot of French music written in the Baroque era. It consists only of mordants, inverted mordants and acciacaturas. These appear frequently and sometimes in quick succession, as shown in Example 8.

In conclusion, I can see that J.S Bach produced compositions which rely somewhat on the concept of rhetoric, thus providing the disposition of at least one clear, musical idea at the beginning of both works analysed. However, Bach seems eager to experiment with the conventions of the period in which he writes. He seems to thrive on the element of surprise, challenging his listener with unconventional tonality and his challenge to the term "to elaborate." In his Invention No. 6,he seems to question whether a piece should become more complex when its musical idea is elaborated on or whether it should be simply changed in order to maintain the listeners` interest He also seems to adhere less to the rhetorical idea that it is extremely important to stick rigidly to style, whereas Couperin does. It seems that, when all aspects of his compositional methods are considered and compared with others,` J.S. Bach, while in some ways builds his compositions on a firm rhetorical base, he also seems confident enough in his own abilities to experiment with its conventions.



1 Definition taken from the Collins English Dictionary (Millenium Edition)

2 Taken from "Francois Couperin and the French Classical Tradition" - New Version

3 Taken from "Francois Couperin and the French Classical Tradition" - New Version