Bach Flute Sonata in Eb Major

There are many works attributed to J.S. Bach that – present day – music historians unearth may not actually be written by Johann Sebastian; such is the case for BWV 1031 (or the Sonata in EbM) which is now more commonly linked to C.P.E. Bach, one of J.S. Bach’s sons. This is significant because of the differences in complex melodic, harmonic, and bass line material; as well as notation in the UrText edition. All of which become apparent the more one plays Baroque repertoire; however, at a first glance this work may seem to fit right in with the rest of the BWV catalogue.

In this analysis, I will primarily be focusing on the conversational element between the flute and harpsichord (piano). Additionally, referencing the structure of the flute line and recurring material.

I. Allegro moderato

Following a melismatic 8 bar introduction, the flute enters relatively independent. The steady eighths of the left hand provide stability as the right hand plays a contrary moving reduction of the flute line for the first several bars… with some similar motion (ie. stepwise vs. leaps). Generally, anytime the rhythm lines up the melodic material moves in the opposite direction.

By beat 3 in m. 11 there is a switch – marked by the sixteenths in the RH of the piano – to a conversation between the flute line and the RH. Of particular interest, m. 16-18 have contrasting material however the downbeats are moving in the same downward motion. With the flute playing C-Bb-A and the RH of the piano playing A-G-F (2 minor thirds, and the last an unexpected Major third). The use of 3s (a recurring motive) is common in Baroque and Classical music; generally, in performance practice, the structure of less, more, most is applied to vary each iteration.

Furthermore, the first time the LH of the piano breaks from it’s steady eighth notes is directly after this set of 3s in m. 18-20 where the eighth to quarter pickup is similar to the dance motive seen in movement 3.

The RH of the piano and flute are rhythmically similar again in m. 21-26 for a HC cadence on the downbeat of m. 26.

The flute entrance in m. 32 is transposed up a fifth from the original (now in the Dominant – BbM); and the role of the RH and flute are very similar to the introduction. This changes in the pickup to m. 40 where the RH is playing the inversion of the flute line (rather than a M6 of Bb down to Db, the piano is playing a m3 Db down to Bb).

The remainder of the movement is much more conversational; in the image below notice the annotations for how frequently the flute and RH are either playing in rhythmic unison or alternating to form a composite of steady sixteenth notes.

II. Siciliana

A siciliano is a dance performers of the Baroque era were familiar with; the dance is marked by a slow lilting rhythm (commonly the dotted sixteenth, eighth, sixteenth), and while in minor is not ‘sad’ rather evoking a pastorale setting. This movement is in g minor – however, the tonic is mainly reinforced in the LH of the piano and not in the lilting flute line.

In this movement notice how the RH of the piano is ‘mechanical’ with the steady sixteenths rolling for the majority of the movement.

And perpetuating the conversational idea, every time the flute plays sixteenth notes the piano takes over the lilting rhythmic line.

III. Allegro

Back to EbM, this movement combines dance motives from the 2nd movement with the conversational elements from the 1st movement. Aside from cadential points, the flute and piano create a composite of consistent sixteenth notes.

In m. 14-17 the piano prefaces the dance motive – which features a strong-weak relationship between the first and following notes; which the flute takes on in m. 24-27.

As far as the conversational elements: the sustained pitch in the flute on F5 in m. 33-35 is passed off the the piano 4 bars later m. 39-41 on Bb4. This sections the play with thirds/sixths inversions throughout; when the movement started the piano was above the flute (C6 above A6) while in this section the flute is now playing a 3rd above the piano.

What are your thoughts on this Sonata? Let me know in the comments below.

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