B-A-C-H the melody.

Monday, December 15, 2008


It may be strange to think of "B-A-C-H" as a melody, given that the available musical notes we are familiar with include only A,B,C,D,E,F, and G

In the early days of European music notation (4-line staff Gregorian chant manuscripts), only the note B could be altered (i.e. have an accidental applied to it): it could be flattened, thus moving from the hexachordum durum (i.e. the hard hexachord: G-A-B-C-D-E) where it is natural, to the hexachordum molle (i.e. the soft hexachord: F-G-A-B♭-C-D) where it is flat.

The flat sign ♭ actually derives from a round b, signifying the B of the soft hexachord, that is, B flat (hence the name of the flat sign in French "bémol" from medieval French "bé mol" — modern French "bé mou" — or "soft b") and originally meant only B♭;

Both the natural sign ♮ and the sharp ♯ derive from a square b, signifying the B of the hard hexachord, that is, B natural (hence the name of the natural sign in French "bécarre" from medieval French "bé carre", earlier "bé quarre" — modern French "bé carré" — or "square b") and originally meant only B natural.

In the same way, in German music notation the letter B designates B flat while the letter H, which is actually a deformation of a square B, designates B natural.

Thus, in Johannes Sebastian Bach's homeland, his name is indeed a melody, more specifically, a cruciform melody, which Bach encoded into the last theme of the last fugue he ever wrote as a devotion to Christ.


Hat said...

Fantastic. Any more interesting musical knowledge that I might want to know?

December 25, 2008 at 8:14 PM
sackofcatfood said...

I have no idea. :p

I find quite amusing the story of the debut of Stravinksky's "Le Sacre du Printemps": "At the start with the opening bassoon solo, the audience began to boo loudly due to the slight discord in the background notes behind the bassoon's opening melody. There were loud arguments in the audience between supporters and opponents of the work. These were soon followed by shouts and fistfights in the aisles. The unrest in the audience eventually degenerated into a riot. The Paris police arrived by intermission, but they restored only limited order. Chaos reigned for the remainder of the performance, and Stravinsky himself was so upset on account of its reception that he fled the theater in mid-scene, reportedly crying."

And did you know that Mozart designed a dice game for composing minuets?

April 14, 2009 at 8:19 PM