Most styles of Western European music (which have spread almost worldwide) use seven notes called A, B, C, D, E, F and G. It is possible to spell a small number of words with these letters; for example, the spaces of the treble clef spell F-A-C-E. In fact, most styles of Western European music are built on twelve notes, five of which are called, in English, ‘sharp’ or ‘flat’. In German musical terminology, though, B refers to B flat, and B natural is called H. Thus we can spell the surname of one of the most famous Western European composers, JS Bach. German B-A-C-H is English B flat – A – C – B natural. Bach was aware of this, and used these four notes in several of his compositions. Various composers have used it since, either as the basis for a whole composition, or as a passing reference. Some draw attention to it, while others don’t.
I was recently watching a video about the Requiem by Mozart, which he was in the middle of composing when he died. Relevantly, he died after writing eight bars of the Lacrimosa movement (Full of tears will be that day When from the ashes shall arise The guilty man to be judged) (video). I suddenly noticed that right there, four of the notes in the bass part are B-A-C-H. I haven’t been able to find anything online about this (eg, searching for ‘mozart lacrimosa bach motif’) but I can’t believe that I’m the first person in 200+ years to notice this.Continue reading