This essay discusses tonal ambiguity in the chorale melody “Das alte Jahr” and suggests a poetic interpretation of Bach's chorale. Expressive elements such as the passus duriusculus, the sospiro, and pervasive chromaticism are woven into a radical tonal plan that reflects a multifaceted perspective on time suggested by the change of year. In particular, the chromatic fourth becomes a tonality-defining element that contrasts the essentially diatonic melody. I suggest that the tonal and motivic balances in the piece reflect the duality of regret for the past and hope for the future, as well as a cyclic harmonic plan that reflects the yearly cycle and the notion of spiritual transformation.
William Renwick; Of Time and Eternity: Reflections on “Das alte Jahr vergangen ist”. Journal of Music Theory 1 April 2006; 50 (1): 65–76. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/00222909-2008-007
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