Violin Sonata no. 1 in G minor

Violin Sonata no. 1 in G minor

BWV 1001 performed by Shunske Sato
Lichtfabriek, Haarlem

  • Menu
  • 1. Adagio
  • 2. Fuga (Allegro)
  • 3. Siciliana
  • 4. Presto

Behind the music

Story
Story
Extra videos
Extra videos
Credits
Credits

Almost the most beautiful key

The sonority of the open G and D strings reverberates throughout the whole sonata.

The first of Bach’s six solo works for violin exudes the most calm. On a violin, the key of G minor has a pure and stable sound, as the two lower strings (the G and the D) fit naturally in the root position triad without needing to use the fingers of the left hand. The sonority of these low ‘open strings’ reverberates throughout the whole sonata. According to the eighteenth-century theoretician Johann Mattheson, G minor was “almost the most beautiful key”; one that “combines a rather serious character with spirited loveliness” and thus, in short, “lends itself well and flexibly to moderate plaintiveness and tempered gaiety”. This appears to be precisely what Bach had in mind for this sonata.

The opening Adagio movement is subdued, with an air of desolation. It fits well with Mattheson’s description of “moderate plaintiveness”. The Fugue, which by definition is strict in form, leans towards the “rather serious” side. It is the first fugue in the whole set of six solos, and Bach does not cut too many contrapuntal capers as yet. Later on, Bach – or somebody else – arranged this fugue for organ, without making too many changes (BWV 539). It is followed by the gently swaying Siciliana, the only movement of the sonata in a major key, which provides some relief. But although the atmosphere is more relaxed, there is still a hint of sadness.

The final movement, the Presto, sounds like an example of what Mattheson may have meant by “tempered gaiety”. There is agitated motion, although it is in minor. It is sharp, spirited and virtuoso. The chord that closed the Fugue, spread out over four strings, also ends the Presto. And the Adagio even starts and finishes with this harmony. This creates linking pauses between the movements; an effect used by Bach in this sonata alone.

Six sonatas and partitas for solo violin
At the top of his manuscript of six solo works for violin, Bach wrote ‘Sei solo’. But did he mean six solos (which is ‘Sei soli’ in correct Italian), or did he really mean ‘Sei solo’… you are on your own? In the days before spellchecks, spelling was more a question of feeling, especially in another language. It could be that Bach deliberately did not write ‘Sei soli’ above his six violin solos, choosing rather to warn his soloists before sending them off to perform with just a bow, four strings and a few of his most difficult pieces.

Bach’s solo works are in line with the wonderful tradition of Westhoff, Biber, Matteis, Schop and others, although Bach aims not so much for virtuosity, but for interiority, playing a theoretical game with the impossibility of true polyphony on a single melody instrument. Bach understood perfectly well how our brain naturally makes music out of sounds. He was also aware of the importance of his work, calling the autograph manuscript of the sonatas and partitas from 1720 ‘Book 1’. He may have had the Cello Suites and the now solitary Flute Partita in mind as carefully planned sequels for the future. Polyphony on your own – you can hardly get your head around it.

We recorded these six sonatas in a former power station in Haarlem, which used to supply the city with power and light. This explains its nickname ‘Lichtfabriek’ (Light Factory). Inspired by this special setting, the director chose to give lighting a prominent role in the performance.

BWV
1001
Title
Violin Sonata no. 1 in G minor
Epithet
Sonata no. 1
Instrument
Violin
Genre
chamber music
Serie
Six partitas and sonatas for violin
Year
ca. 1720
City
Köthen, Weimar

Extra videos

Shunske Sato and Pieter Affourtit

“What are the differences between the modern and Baroque violin and bow?”

Vocal texs

Original

Translation

Credits

  • Release date
    24 October 2019
  • Recording date
    24 June 2019
  • Location
    Lichtfabriek, Haarlem
  • Violinist
    Shunske Sato
  • Violin
    Cornelius Kleynman, ca. 1684
  • Director and editor
    Onno van Ameijde
  • Music recording
    Guido Tichelman, Bastiaan Kuijt, Pim van der Lee
  • Music edit and mix
    Guido Tichelman
  • Camera
    Jeroen Simons, Marijn Zurburg
  • Lights
    Zen Bloot, Henry Rodgers, Joris van Gulik
  • Grip
    Jasper Leeman
  • Data handling
    Eline Eestermans
  • Interview
    Onno van Ameijde, Marloes Biermans
  • Producer
    Jessie Verbrugh
  • Acknowledgement
    Frans Wytema, for making the Cornelius Kleynman violin available to Shunske Sato.
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