Last week violinist Gil Shaham shared with me an idea he has about the Preludio from Bach's Partita No. 3 in E major - and it's so interesting, I insisted that we find a way to share it!
His idea is that the movement can be viewed as one long chromatic ascent. Gil said that he imagines Bach, improvising at the organ, finding a way to get each chromatic step in there. And of course, the way Gil describes it, he makes something that could be a very boring harmonic treatise into a delightful revelation.
Gil described his concept to me over the phone, when we were talking about our Gilharmonic on Violinist.com Episode 5, which featured the Preludio, played by student Yugo Maeda, age 8. We could not really fit it into the show, and so we've created a little Gilharmonic Bonus Video, with Gil walking us through the entire Preludio and pointing out these chromatic steps along the way.
Just for background, a regular scale has eight notes (an "octave"). A chromatic scale is the 12-note scale that includes all the in-between notes. On a piano, you would play every key, black and white, between say, an E and an E. The Preludio is in E major, and here is the chromatic scale that Gil describes:
You'll notice some notational details, such as F double-sharp to describe the note that one might normally call a "G"- that is due to the role that the note is playing in the harmonic progression in this particular piece. (If you are inclined toward harmonic analysis, you can explain this to all of us in detail in the comments.) You don't need to know that to appreciate what Gil is describing, but it's another interesting layer. And with Bach, there is always another interesting layer!
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