Bach Ciaconna: a Life of Its Own

Topics: Violin, Baroque music, Johann Sebastian Bach Pages: 20 (6674 words) Published: January 21, 2013

Natalie W. Chang
Graduate Survey in Music History, MUSC 7020
November 26, 2012

It is hard to imagine a world without Johann Sebastian Bach, a world devoid of his absolute brilliance. And yet, he himself found no brilliance in his work, as he had an innate sense of continuous self-improvement through learning from and imitating other composers. For such a master at his craft, he was truly of the most humble of servants to the legacy of music, specifically to Western music. He initialized an unparalleled compositional standard in the art of fugal counterpoint, not to mention the numerous contributions he made to the Baroque vocal genre in addition to his instrumental works. One such instrumental work in particular helped to set a new level of achievement for his successors that would truly change the face of violin performance, even to this day. J.S. Bach’s Six Sonatas and Partitas for Solo Violin, BWV 1001-1006 are the perfect marriage of technical virtuosity and individualistic communication. Hereafter referred to as the Solo Sonatas, J.S. Bach’s collective violin masterpiece was such a departure from the Baroque standards of employing the use of basso continuo, even in the case of solo works (which would still be accompanied by a basso continuo). Bach had revolutionized the violin expression by giving the musician an opportunity to perform in a truly unaccompanied fashion. His contemporaries and predecessors may have written works for unaccompanied violin, but failed to do so at the monumental caliber of J.S. Bach. He created a new world of sonorous achievement in treating the violin as the embodiment of multiple voices and multiple instruments. In his Partita No. 2 in D minor, BWV 1004, he blended virtuosic melodic passages with newly constructed polyphonic demands that would eventually become the staple of any violinist’s technical and emotional growth in the culmination of the Ciaconna. Being the last movement of his second partita, the Ciaconna is arguably regarded as the most profound movement of his Solo Sonatas for its demands in maturity and sheer physical capacity. Being fifteen to twenty minutes in length in unrelenting chords and arpeggiated sequences, one does not approach the Ciaconna without first preparing for its physical demands, much like that of an athlete in preparation for a marathon. The magnitude of the Ciaconna, both in idea and realization, compliment the timeless essence of Bach’s work. The Bach Ciaconna is timeless, as it goes beyond the restrictions of time in terms of individualistic (man versus self) and historical boundaries.

Historical Context
Born in 1685, Johann Sebastian Bach joined his family’s musical legacy of over two centuries, cultivating rather successful musicians combined with early training “to form solid musical craftsmen.”[1] Having received a grounded education in theology and humanistic studies, J.S. Bach most likely gained his violin education from his father.[2] After the passing of his father around age ten, Bach went to live and study with his older brother, Johann Christoph Bach.[3] During J.S. Bach’s life and career, German-speaking central Europe was largely divided into many political factions, including the more prominent states of Austria, Saxony, and Brandenburg-Prussia.[4] Musicians and composers were able to make a living by means of the patronage system, which was employed by members of nobility so as to display their power and wealth.[5] J.S. Bach managed to maintain consistent financial support throughout his life, finding employment in areas including Arnstadt (1703-1707), Mulhausen (1707-1708), Weimar (1708-1717), Cothen (1717-1723), and Leipzig (1723-1750).[6] Along with his contemporaries, J.S. Bach substantially extended the technical achievements in violin of the earlier Italian traditions denoted by his predecessors. Simon...

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[2] Barbara Russano Hanning, Concise History of Western Music, 4th ed. (New York: W.W. Norton, 2010), 276.
[7] Simon McVeigh, “The Violinists of the Baroque and Classical Periods,” in The Cambridge Companion to the Violin, ed. Robin Stowell (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992), 49.
[8] Albert Schweitzer, J.S. Bach, trans. Ernest Newman (New York: Macmillan, 1911), 1:1.
[13] Gerhard Herz, Essays on J.S. Bach (Ann Arbor, MI: UMI Research Press, 1985), 7.
[20] Robin Stowell, “Other Solo Repertory,” in The Cambridge Companion to the Violin (Great Britain: Cambridge University Press, 1992), 194.
[21] Jon F. Eiche, The Bach Chaconne for Solo Violin: A Collection of Views (United States: American String Teachers Association, 1985), 21.
[32] John Dilworth, “The Violin and Bow – Origins and Development,” in The Cambridge Companion to the Violin, ed. Robin Stowell (Great Britain: Cambridge University Press, 1992), 21.
[43] David D. Boyden, The History of Violin Playing From its Origins to 1761 (London: Oxford University Press, 1965), 208.
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