Among the most revered music for solo violin are Bach’s Sonatas and Partitas for solo violin. Bach did play the violin, but not perhaps to the level he was known for at the keyboard, as an organist and harpsichordist. There is little doubt in my mind that his facility with playing the violin led to the character in his Sonatas and Partitas.

In this episode, we look at solo violin music not by Bach, as a sort of Baroque primer before we tackle Bach’s solo works in future episodes. The surviving catalog of works for solo violin is not extensive, and that leads us to believe that solo violin literature was something of a special genre. Instead, solo repertoire for any instrument is usually coupled with a basso continuo line. Excellent examples of this include the series we have just explored in this podcast, Bach’s Sonatas for violin and keyboard. Models such as those from Corelli would provide a violin line against a bass line, but in Bach we had something more significant: a written-out keyboard part that was no basso continuo; instead if was it’s own duet, a bass line and a right hand part that acted to provide a trio texture.

In the examples I provide in this podcast, we’ll hear harmony for the violin, but counterpoint, per se, we will not. Bowed string instruments (violin family, viols) all can harmonize through the playing of multiple strings at once, either sounding together, or when fingered with the left hand and rolled-across with the bow, playing an arpeggio. This technique appeared in more advanced works, and in the examples we hear, it helps to anchor the melodic material within a harmony, specifically because of the loss of a continuous bass.

It is my belief that if we are going to really understand how profound Bach’s 3 sonatas and 3 partitas for violin are, it’s helpful to know what came before and what was contemporaneous to Bach.

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