Violin Partita No. 2 in D minor
BWV 1004 performed by Shunske Sato
Behind the music
Four dances lead up inevitably to the great Ciaconna.
Shrouded in wistfulness, all the movements of this partita are in a minor key. Bach’s manuscript originates from 1720, the year in which he returned from a journey to the unexpected news that his wife, Maria Barbara, was dead and buried. Even if Bach had already composed this partita, it is not hard to imagine that the music gained a whole different meaning for him after the death of his wife.
The tragic character of this partita comes, of course, mainly from the great Ciaccona at the end. The four preceding dances lead up to it inevitably. Even the faster dance movements do not seem to exude any real cheerfulness. In the beginning, the rhythm and broadly bowed harmonies of the subdued Sarabande even point ahead explicitly to the Ciaccona.
A chaconne is a series of variations on a continually repeated short bass line, which in this Ciaccona is a four-bar motif. First, we hear the theme twice as the foundation for broad chords, and then the journey begins, travelling along a passage of arpeggios and rapid notes back to the opening chords. Then there is a sudden fascinating transition to major, like a heavenly light. Afterwards, we return to earth, like a different person, to finally arrive at the beginning – which does indeed sound very different.
In the final note, we hear the same note played twice, on two strings at the same time. Two notes that have eventually become one again: after all that has preceded, there is something comforting about it. And maybe that was also the case for Bach himself, in his grief.
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.
- Violin Partita No. 2 in D minor
- Partita no. 2
- chamber music
- Six partitas and sonatas for violin
- ca. 1720
- Köthen, Weimar
- Release date
- 5 December 2019
- Recording date
- 24 June 2019
- Lichtfabriek, Haarlem
- Shunske Sato
- Cornelius Kleynman, ca. 1684
- Director and editor
- Onno van Ameijde
- Music recording
- Daan van der Aalst, Pim van der Lee
- Music edit and mix
- Guido Tichelman
- Jeroen Simons, Marijn Zurburg
- Zen Bloot
- Jasper Leeman
- Data handling
- Eline Eestermans
- Onno van Ameijde, Marloes Biermans
- Jessie Verbrugh
- Frans Wytema, for making the Cornelius Kleynman violin available to Shunske Sato.
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