Show Notes

This is our first look at one of the six sonatas and partitas for solo violin by J.S. Bach. Bach’s contemporary Telemann wrote fantasias for the violin, but they were far less ambitious works than what Bach came up with. Bach was known to be a fair violinist, but the supreme virtuosity he provides in these works has less to do with violin technique than it does from the musical ideas. And that is perhaps why this music translates so well for different instruments. In this episode, we hear the piece performed on both period and modern violin, harpsichord, guitar, and mandolin. There’s something good about every one of the performances, and they each exploit different ideas of what’s possible with tempo, dynamics, the shapes of phrases, and how to overcome the challenge of playing chords.

As far as models go, Bach had in addition to Telemann examples for solo violin works by von Westhoff and the Dresden-based violinist Pisendel. The complexity brought about in the counterpoint, especially so in this fugue from BWV 1003, seem to suggest performance only by virtuosos in the day. Today, this piece, along with the other sonatas and partitas, is well-liked, often-performed, and has a place in the permanent canon of violin literature.

Performances

Beethoven Note

My apologizes for mis-naming Beethoven's fifth symphony as the ninth. I obviously recorded this too late in the evening.