Find the Parallel 5ths in Bach Choral

Here’s a music theory puzzle for today’s post.  This one comes from J.S. Bach’s setting of Freuet euich, ihr Christen alle.  The workbook assignment I gave my music theory students asked them to write a roman numeral analysis of the harmony (in F minor, not according to the key signature) and spot and label the non-chord-tones.  What tripped me up was finding the parallel 5ths that Bach uses in this excerpt.  It took me quite a while to find them.  See you can can spot them.  The answer after the break.

This was tricky, because Bach hides them aurally by using an anticipation non-chord tone.  Visually it’s also disguised, since the soprano is holding out a G before the tenor moves to the C a perfect 5th below.  When the tenor and soprano move to the perfect 5th interval of Bb and F Bach used parallel 5ths, usually avoided in Common Practice harmonic language.  Bach used this particular method of disguising parallel 5ths with an anticipation non-chord-tone several times in his music, although he usually avoided them.

Did you spot it?  Did I make any mistakes in my analysis?

Extra credit to any of my Music Theory students who read this!  I’ll give you +5 points on this homework assignment if you post your comment on this page before I hand back your homework on Tuesday.

aos jimzaw

Those are everything you want to call them, but surely no perfecth consecutive fifths, as in the common avoided form. They’re just the result of a beautiful melodic movement, more than an armonic one: the f is an anticipation of the following chord, and the Bb a passing dissonance, so neither of the two notes get an harmonically important role here.

do i get the 5 extra points? 😀

(ps, sorry for my english)


10 extra points for you for replying in a language that isn’t your native one! Did you turn in your homework already? 😛

I like your explanation of the Bb as a passing tone, but it could also be considered a chord tone in the V7, so there is more than one way to think about this. You are correct, though, this isn’t consecutive 5ths in the form that we avoid in traditional part writing.


Which one? Strictly speaking, I don’t think Bach wrote any pieces for pianoforte as it was something of a novelty and not really a widely used instrument then. His harpsichord and organ pieces are played by pianists a lot today, though.

To be honest, I’m not entirely certain about parallel tritones. I couldn’t find anything in any theory texts about parallel tritones being objectionable but I suspect they were quite rare in Bach’s day simply because most chords that contained a tritone would resolve to a triad directly afterwards. That said, in instrumental music composers were less strict about objectionable parallel motion than in vocal music so it’s probably not impossible to find them.

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