Another Mozart Centered Beam

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John Ruggero
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Re: Another Mozart Centered Beam

Post by John Ruggero »

You are both very welcome!

OCTO., the analytical example for the Mozart was done in Dorico, which I am now using exclusively. The last Bach example was done in Finale many years ago. The second Bach example is from the NBA.
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harpsi
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Re: Another Mozart Centered Beam

Post by harpsi »

What would be the reason for Bach to use a centered beam in bar 1 and not in bar 2? The music is the same.
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John Ruggero
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Re: Another Mozart Centered Beam

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When I first encountered this centered beam, I asked myself the same question. The issue is complicated.

A simple answer might be that Bach (and other composers and engravers of his time) avoided centered beams when ledger lines were involved to avoid reading difficulties. This is clearer in the original manuscript than when the clefs are modernized and the ledger lines disappear.

When one looks through the rest of the piece in the manuscript there are many more cases where Bach uses centered beams in accordance with the subject and counter-subject. But he is not completely consistent in doing so. In many cases he seems to be simply maintaining normal stem direction by means of the beaming. But all of the centered beams that are used are so evocative of the correct phrasing that I think that they are best preserved when the music is engraved. If one doesn't then it becomes very complicated as one must decide what to modernize and what not to.

The most amazing centered beam of all occurs at the very end of the piece, a spot that always reminds me of a Euclidian Q. E. D:
Bach Invention 1.png
Bach Invention 1.png (524.54 KiB) Viewed 575 times
Here the first three notes of the subject C- D- E appear in augmentation, the next three F-D-E in normal motion to provide the bass part of the cadence. To show this, Bach uses centered beam within the interval of a third, quite a difficult thing to draw by hand or engrave.

However, there is possibly a more profound reason why it shouldn't bother us that he didn't use a centered beam in m. 2. It has to do with the linear structure of the upper voice in measure 1-3. Note that the first notes in measures 1-3 are C (measure 1) D (measure 2) and E ( measure 3). This is the structural line controlling these three measures, The higher C in measure 1 is the one that is pointed out by the centered beam. This higher C is very important in that it is in the proper register to lead clearly to the D in the next measure and then to the E in measure 3. The G-F-G in measure 3 that starts the second statement of the countersubject is not on the same level of importance and decorates the D which is the controlling note in m. 2. For this reason a centered beam might actually place too much emphasis on these notes that, while melodically significant, are structurally of a decorative nature.

And one should not miss that the notes C- D-E that control the first three measures are the first three notes of the subject!
Bach Invention 1 analysis.png
Bach Invention 1 analysis.png (418.54 KiB) Viewed 575 times
Last edited by John Ruggero on 04 Feb 2024, 20:18, edited 12 times in total.
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John Ruggero
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Re: Another Mozart Centered Beam

Post by John Ruggero »

Continuing regarding apparent inconsistency in the use of centered beams:

Many centered beams seem to be a manifestation of a tendency to avoid changes of stem direction in the middle of a musical unit, be it a motive, sub-phrase or even a whole phrase. I have seen this tendency in the works of Bach, Mozart, Beethoven and mentioned it in previous posts

Thus in measure 1 of the Invention 1 the centered beam allows the subject to consist entirely of up-stem notes and the counter-subject to consist entirely of down-stem notes. In measure two, no centered beam was necessary to achieve consistency of stem direction both for the subject and counter-subject.

But one could argue that Bach was simply beaming to keep "normal" stem direction (the middle line note was normally an up stem note at that time). Yet at times, the stem direction is not in accordance with the normal rules and maintaining consistent stem direction while at the same time showing the countersubject seems to be the controlling factor:
Stem direction 2.png
Stem direction 2.png (169.67 KiB) Viewed 541 times

At the end of the Invention in the bass the countersubject is presented three times: at A the stem direction could be maintained without a centered beam, at C, a centered beam was required. At B the first note would normally be a down-stem note but a centered beam was NOT used so that the motive could remain all up-stems.
Stem direction.png
Stem direction.png (349.17 KiB) Viewed 551 times
But the first Mozart example is an outlier in that it involves ledger lines. That is one reason that I find it and the engravers reaction to it significant.
Last edited by John Ruggero on 05 Feb 2024, 13:26, edited 1 time in total.
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harpsi
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Re: Another Mozart Centered Beam

Post by harpsi »

Yes indeed, very tricky questions. I guess the conclusion is that we really do not know, and that probably goes for beaming patterns in general as well. Working on old sources one might believe a certain beaming pattern really is important, just to see the exact same passage repeated later with a completely different beaming pattern. I remember one heated debate about Bach beaming in a Facebook group, where it turned out that the "authentic" beaming actually was not from Bach but from some modern editor -- Bach's beaming in this particular case was similar to modern practice.

One interesting source for the c major invention is also the Klavierbüchlein for WF Bach, which is not in the same hand but around the same time and probably by someone close to the Bach family:
wfb.png
wfb.png (724.79 KiB) Viewed 493 times
The centered beam did not make it to this copy.

I get your point about the Mozart example though. I guess this is not a generally understood and accepted device, but something that lives on a more personal individual plane?
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John Ruggero
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Re: Another Mozart Centered Beam

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Yes, the early version in the WF Bach Notebook shows a completely different and what seems to me to be a somewhat disorganized usage. The subject in the bass in measure 1 has inconsistent stem direction and the subject in measure 2 is set off with a centered beam that results both in inconsistent and "abnormal" stem direction. Someone seems to be following their own drummer.

The copies by B. C. Kayser and J. P Kellner, however, preserve Bach's usage:
Kayser.png
Kayser.png (483.15 KiB) Viewed 484 times
Kellner.png
Kellner.png (617.39 KiB) Viewed 484 times
Of the composers and situations that I have now dealt with in editing, Bach's beaming has been the most difficult. The only solution that seemed possible was to engrave the beaming as it stands in the final version. One is then spared impossible decision-making and assured of not falsifying the text.

And even if Bach were only following a mechanical system of beaming and intended nothing special by it, I find that system to be so much more revealing of the phrasing and the voice leading than the modernization that I would preserve it simply for that reason.
Last edited by John Ruggero on 05 Feb 2024, 14:02, edited 4 times in total.
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John Ruggero
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Re: Another Mozart Centered Beam

Post by John Ruggero »

harpsi wrote: 05 Feb 2024, 09:55
I get your point about the Mozart example though. I guess this is not a generally understood and accepted device, but something that lives on a more personal individual plane?
I think that the centered beam, like so many aspects of music notation, is capable of many different meanings. While generally used for mundane matters during that time, it sometimes offered an opportunity to a great musician to express something special. It is those special uses of music notation that I attempt to preserve as I edit.
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