Every once in a while, we get interesting questions from our community hoping to get more insights about music from the ANAM family. Jessica Donohue, ANAM's Development Programs Coordinator, recently received such an enquiry from one of our supporters, which she then forwarded to ANAM pianist Oscar Wong (QLD). Oscar generously gave a very informative reply which brought smiles to our faces.

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Hi Oscar,

I received an unexpected question from a member of our community today, so just wondered if you might have the answer?

Chris is learning the Bach 48 Preludes and Fugues at home. He is stuck on Prelude No. 8, bar 26. There is an Fb at the start of the bar, and so it would follow that the second F in the bar is also flat as the accidental carries for the whole bar. However it sounds incorrect to him, he feels the second Fb in the right hand should be a different note (I think he said F natural?) He doesn’t seem to have the internet so unable to look this up himself (and libraries are closed).

He’s hoping someone at ANAM might be a Bach expert and able to explain what the correct notes are. Since I expect the music he has is correct, I guess the second question is why does it sound incorrect to him? Is something musically unexpected happening in that part of the piece?

Chris has been puzzling over this for two days and on a whim wondered if someone at ANAM might know!


Oscar Wong

Dear Chris and Jess,

So I’m guessing this is from the first book of the WTC, not the second.

That chord in b. 26 is a Neapolitan 6th chord, labelled as N6. It is a first inversion chord built on the flatted second degree of the key and this is a chord used by composers to build tension at cadence points. In this case we are in Eb minor, the flattened second degree is Fb, and when put into first inversion, the notes are Ab, Cb, Fb.

So in this case, the progression is N6 - V7 - i (b. 26, b. 27, b. 28).

So why Bach hasn’t put an F natural in bar 26 is because he wants to keep the tension for the whole bar and resolve to an F natural in the next bar together with the left hand, in order to fully experience the harmonic progression as above. So yes, the Fb is correct but Chris your ears aren’t incorrect either; it would make sense as an F natural too. Just Bach wanted the tension to remain as appropriate without clashes and to not ‘weaken’ the effect of the build of that section.

Hope this helps!


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