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Thread: Need Help with Figured Bass

  1. #1
    Senior Member gardibolt's Avatar
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    Default Need Help with Figured Bass

    My figured bass is plenty rusty. I am working on reconstructing a performing edition of a lost Beethoven piece that has quite a bit of figured bass, and while I can handle most of it from what I remember and Albrechtsberger's treatise on thoroughbass, there are a few spots that I'm unsure about since my best guesses at them sound quite nasty, to be charitable.

    The piece is in B-flat major (two flats), though it involves wild if not outrageous harmonies. There is a piano playing the figured bass, against a tenor vocal. Here are the problem chords, if anyone can help me out--the interaction of the key signature with the vocal line and the figures is what's giving me the most trouble:

    1) Bass note is an A-sharp. The figure is a 5# and a 6 with a line through it pointing down to the right, so in effect 6#. Vocal note is a D.
    2) Bass is a G. The figure is a 7#. Vocal note is a D.
    3) Bass is a C-flat. Figure is a 7-flat. Vocal note is once again a D.

    How would you translate these, in the key of B-flat major? Maybe someone should make this an exam question in music theory. Thanks in advance for any assistance you can provide on this harmonic puzzler.
    Hours of unrecorded, unpublished and unknown Beethoven works at The Unheard Beethoven

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    Senior Member EdwardBast's Avatar
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    Answering your question will require a score, or at least a lot more context because without knowing whence those chords came and where they are going analysis will be impossible — A# and E# occurring with a two-flat signature must be part of a strange "story." Could you post a piano reduction of the passages in which the three chords occur? Are they consecutive or from different places in the piece? Are you reconstructing the piece from a more or less complete score or from sketches?
    Last edited by EdwardBast; Sep-05-2018 at 12:55.

    'Ere I am J.H., the ghost in the machine.

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    Senior Member gardibolt's Avatar
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    It's a reconstruction from sketches, which are fragmented and more or less complete but scattered all over one large sheet of paper like a half-assembled jigsaw puzzle. I'll try to post the relevant segments from the bass lines for you this evening.

    Much of the point of it is Beethoven trying out as many harmonies against a repeated D in the voice as possible, in an effort to throw the tenor off. It's loosely modeled after a theoretical work by Kirnberger, but it doesn't track his example beyond the form.
    Last edited by gardibolt; Sep-05-2018 at 20:01.
    Hours of unrecorded, unpublished and unknown Beethoven works at The Unheard Beethoven

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    Senior Member Torkelburger's Avatar
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    2) looks like a G7 chord (a G dominant 7 chord in root position) which is a V7/ii secondary dominant in the key of Bb Major. I take it the # means a raised third (b natural). Does it resolve to C Minor in the score? I guess we'll find out. Roman Numerals, while not completely necessary, are also a big help in realization.

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    Senior Member gardibolt's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Torkelburger View Post
    2) looks like a G7 chord (a G dominant 7 chord in root position) which is a V7/ii secondary dominant in the key of Bb Major. I take it the # means a raised third (b natural). Does it resolve to C Minor in the score? I guess we'll find out. Roman Numerals, while not completely necessary, are also a big help in realization.
    Beethoven offers no Roman numerals. #2 resolves to G minor, not C minor. The figure is 7# (sharp next to the 7), not 7 over #, which would make the third a B natural. So I think we have an F-sharp against the G, and I guess a B-flat. But against the D it's pretty ghastly.

    Until I get home, perhaps this will tide you over. The first two chords I'm asking about are part of one sequence:

    1) preceding chords are A-flat 7th and then D minor; [mystery chord of A#-5#-6#-D] following chord is a G7
    2) this chord follows the G7 in #1. [mystery chord of G-7#-D] The chords after that are G minor, G minor 7 and then D minor 7.

    The third chord is from a separate fragment. The preceding chord is a B-flat major, as is the following chord. So, B-flat - [mystery chord of C-flat, 7-flat, D] - B-flat.

    Do with that what you can, recalling that the point of the exercise is not necessarily to follow harmonies logically, though that does happen in spots (especially at the ends of phrases, but the accompaniment set against these repeated Ds is all over the place).

    There is indeed an anecdote that goes with this piece. The young Beethoven asked the tenor whether or not he could try to throw him off. The tenor, full of himself, waved Beethoven off and said something to the effect of, "Do your worst, my boy." The tenor was almost immediately utterly lost, even though Beethoven doubled the tenor line on the piano; the tenor exploded with rage at Beethoven's antics.
    Last edited by gardibolt; Sep-05-2018 at 18:25.
    Hours of unrecorded, unpublished and unknown Beethoven works at The Unheard Beethoven

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    Senior Member EdwardBast's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Torkelburger View Post
    2) looks like a G7 chord (a G dominant 7 chord in root position) which is a V7/ii secondary dominant in the key of Bb Major. I take it the # means a raised third (b natural). Does it resolve to C Minor in the score? I guess we'll find out. Roman Numerals, while not completely necessary, are also a big help in realization.
    I concur. And your hint clued me into the game Beethoven seems to be playing:

    1) This one is F##- A#- C## - E# In effect, spelling a Gm7 chord (in first inversion) in the most ridiculous enharmonic fashion possible.

    3) This one is Cb - Ebb - Gb - Bb

    Thus a mM7 chord, in effect a minor/major 7 chord on B in a ridiculous enharmonic spelling.

    The vocal line stays on D then, while in the harmony it is spelled as:

    1) C##
    2) D
    3) Ebb

    In all cases consonant with the chord but with two silly spellings. Beethoven is having a bit of fun I think.

    Quote Originally Posted by gardibolt View Post
    Beethoven offers no Roman numerals. #2 resolves to G minor, not C minor. The figure is 7# (sharp next to the 7), not 7 over #, which would make the third a B natural. So I think we have an F-sharp against the G.
    If one intends the 7 to be sharped, then the proper notation (modern understanding and practice) would be #7, not 7#. This is why I interpreted the chords as shown above.
    Last edited by EdwardBast; Sep-05-2018 at 18:06.

    'Ere I am J.H., the ghost in the machine.

    Terry Gilliam, Brazil

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  10. #7
    Senior Member gardibolt's Avatar
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    Ridiculous enharmonics would be right in line with this piece. Thanks for your insights.

    If one intends the 7 to be sharped, then the proper notation (modern understanding and practice) would be #7, not 7#. This is why I interpreted the chords as shown above.
    The old contemporary treatises that I was looking at indicated the # could either go before or after the figure to raise it half a step. But I need to take a closer look at the manuscript; it's entirely possible that the # is meant to be read as underneath the 7 rather than next to it, and that would match your reading correctly. Your solutions certainly make more sense than mine, so I am most grateful.
    Last edited by gardibolt; Sep-05-2018 at 19:50.
    Hours of unrecorded, unpublished and unknown Beethoven works at The Unheard Beethoven

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    Senior Member gardibolt's Avatar
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    Okay, I have a couple more that I'd like to check with you, if you would be so kind. The mystery chords that I'm unsure of are in brackets.

    1) bar 108: chord sequence: E-flat chord & voice on B-flat, A-flat chord & voice on C, [E-flat in bass, figures of 7/4-flat/2 & voice on D], B-flat chord & voice on D.
    This one is especially questionable because looking at the manuscript the bass note of the mystery chord could also plausibly be an F rather than an E-flat. The transcriber, Joseph Kerman, thought it was an E-flat but that seems dubious to me against the D in the voice. The location of the flat in the figure is a bit ambiguous---it could possibly also be read 7-flat/4/2, but it is closer to the 4 than the 7.

    lamex1.jpg

    2) bar 140: Voice all on D. chord sequence: G minor, [A in bass, figure of 6#/4/2], G minor, G major. Then voice to C over C minor chord and then voice to D over D major chord.

    lamex2.jpg


    Otherwise, I am pretty confident in my reading of the rest of it. Thanks in advance for whatever you can do with these two.
    Last edited by gardibolt; Sep-06-2018 at 05:34.
    Hours of unrecorded, unpublished and unknown Beethoven works at The Unheard Beethoven

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    Senior Member EdwardBast's Avatar
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    Here is a realization of the two passages. I added the quarter note on A because the Bb suspension needs to resolve (Beethoven would have taken this as obvious), and the quarter note F because otherwise the voice-leading is lame and it continues the pattern of the preceding measure.

    Attachment 107547
    Last edited by EdwardBast; Sep-06-2018 at 15:46.

    'Ere I am J.H., the ghost in the machine.

    Terry Gilliam, Brazil

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  14. #10
    Senior Member gardibolt's Avatar
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    Many thanks!! I greatly appreciate the assistance on this. I was close on one of the two, but not on the other so very glad I asked.
    Last edited by gardibolt; Sep-06-2018 at 18:10.
    Hours of unrecorded, unpublished and unknown Beethoven works at The Unheard Beethoven

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    Senior Member gardibolt's Avatar
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    I've figured out the mystery of the C-flat, by the way, if anyone cares. There's a footnote from Kerman indicating in another spot where Beethoven has a C-flat in the bass that Beethoven appears to be counting the figures there as if C-flat were B-natural. I was reading it as just applying to that one instance, but everything falls into place more naturally if we apply that rule across the board to all the C-flats throughout. So the C-flat chord with a 7-flat figure ends up C-flat-D-F-A-flat, and there's no problem with that not being consonant with the vocal line.
    Hours of unrecorded, unpublished and unknown Beethoven works at The Unheard Beethoven

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