About BWV1001-1006 on 'bach-cantatas.com'
Sonata for solo violin No. 1 in G minor, BWV 1001
The first work in J.S. Bach's Sei Solo a Violino senza Basso accompagnato, Libro Primo (Six Solos for violin without accompaniment, Book 1, all composed in 1720 - pity that he never fashioned a "Book 2") is also the most frequently played of the lot: the Sonata No. 1 in G minor, BWV 1001. Of the three sonatas in the volume (there are three sonatas and three partitas), the G minor is technically the simplest and also the shortest, making it a good entry-point for the violinist looking to tackle this magnificent volume of music. However, its greater accessibility vis-a-vis the other two sonatas in no way implies that it is somehow a less sophisticated piece of music - indeed, its riches run as deep as those of any of the other pages in the volume, the great Chaconne of BWV 1004 included. Each of the three sonatas for solo violin is set in the slow-fast-slow-fast four-movement pattern of the sonata da chiesa, and in each the second movement is a fugue. In BWV 1001 the movements are: Adagio, Fuga, Siciliana, and Presto.
The Adagio is a wildly, but very elegantly, embellished progression of harmonies. All the embellishments - and embellishments mean not only little turns, appoggiaturas, and the like, but also whole melodic gestures, scales, and small arpeggios - are written out quite carefully by Bach - the result is a work that might sound improvised but is most definitely not. The G minor Fuga is the most compact of the three fugues in the volume (and note that these are not in fact fugues in the proper sense of the word, but rather a kind of fugue/Baroque-concerto hybrid form). It was transcribed for lute by Bach at some later time (BWV 1000). The Siciliana is a gentle thing in B flat major; the main melody is played in the lowest register of the instrument while a warm commentary unfolds in the upper register. The Presto finale is a moto perpetuo in sixteenth notes whose 3/8 meter has at times a hint of cross-rhythm to it.
- Blair Johnston (from www.allmusic.com)
Partita for solo violin No. 1 in B minor, BWV 1002
Of Bach's three partitas for solo violin, the first is the most old-fashioned in its choice of dance movements. The work is structurally unusual among Bach's sonatas and partitas for solo instruments in that it consists of four pairs of movements, the second of each pair offering a variation (or, employing the French term double) on the first. Another nod to older forms is the overall layout of the movements; the pairs fall into the slow-fast-slow-fast pattern of the church sonata or sonata da chiesa. To complicate matters, each double is much faster than the movement it varies. The work is technically challenging, generally more difficult than the third partita but not as tough as the second, the famous Chaconne of which is clotted with double and triple stops.
The opening Allemanda announces that it's not for sissy violinists with an immediate series of double stops (which were easier to play in Bach's time than today, thanks to the convex Baroque bow). This is a typical example of the allemanda (or allemande), a slow, serious German dance in quadruple meter and binary form, its improvisational-seeming melodies refusing to conform to the expected phrases. Its "Double" is faster and in 2/2, following the same contours as the original melodies, but now filling them in with even runs of notes. The "Correnta" is the Italian version of the dance form known in French as courante: fairly fast, in 3/4, sawing up and down the scale. Its 'Double," marked Presto, again rolls all over the staff, but the notes now fly by almost as fast as possible. The mood becomes somber with the Sarabande, the only movement in this partita to receive the French version of its title. Indeed, unlike the common Italian model, this French Sarabande is slow (in 3/4 meter) and expressive, its second half almost entirely in double stops. Its "Double" switches to 9/8 and increases the tempo, but the mood remains questioning and unsettled; at least Bach now eases off the multiple stops. Finally comes a movement in Tempo di Borea (related to the bouree), fast and sharply accented in a meter marked 2/4 but really feeling more like 2/2; again, Bach employs multiple stops through most of this movement. Its "Double" is in 12/4, the shape of the original melody obscured by the fast, nonstop passagework.
- James Reel (from www.allmusic.com)
Sonata for solo violin No. 2 in A minor, BWV 1003
According to the manuscripts of Bach's Sonatas and Partitas for Solo Violin, BWV 1001-06, the six pieces were completed in 1720, while the composer was employed at the Cothen court. At Cothen, Bach devoted himself primarily to the composition of instrumental music; this period saw the composition of the Brandenburg Concertos, the violin and keyboard concertos, the orchestral suites and the first part of the Well-Tempered Clavier, among other works. Often Bach composed works of each genre in cycles, with six works in each.
In the case of the Sonatas and Partitas for Solo Violin, Bach alternated three sonatas with three partitas. The partitas consist of between five and eight dance movements, while the sonatas are in four movements, none of which is a dance except the third movement of the first sonata, in G minor, which is a Siciliana. Throughout these six works there is evidence of not only Bach's knowledge of the technical capabilities of the violin, but also of his ability to create dense counterpoint and effective harmony with one stringed instrument. The solo violin sonatas were first published between 1817 and 1828.
A rhapsodic Grave opens the second Sonata in A minor, BWV 1003. At such a slow tempo, the highly ornamented melody seems to meander at will, navigating a course of highly contrasting rhythms and decorative flourishes that release the melodic potential of the minor mode. The overall "free" nature of the Grave makes it sound like a prelude to the ensuing movement. As in all three of the violin sonatas, the second movement, the central point of the piece, is a fugue. Daunting in both size and complexity, the Fugue pushes forward relentlessly, creating a dense contrapuntal web. Bach sets the third movement apart from the others through both an Andante tempo and contrasting key. The writing is more homophonic here, with a calm melody that provides a needed foil to the harsh energy of the preceding Fugue. A lively, lighthearted Allegro, rich with rhythmic and melodic variations, returns to A minor and closes the piece.
- John Palmer (from www.allmusic.com)
Partita for solo violin No. 2 in D minor, BWV 1004
Alongside Paganini's 24 Caprices for solo violin and Bach's six cello suites, his Partitas and Sonatas (three apiece) for solo violin stand out among their comparatively few siblings as magnificent music written for an unaccompanied stringed instrument. And while they also represent the zenith of polyphonic writing for a non-keyboard instrument, Bach's sonatas and partitas were also crucially important in the development of violin technique. With their colossal scope, huge technical demands, and musical complexity, and notwithstanding their awesome intellectual intensity, these creations greatly transcended anything that had preceded them, including the Partitas for solo violin by von Westhoff (1696), and various comparable solo works by Biber, Pisendel, and others. It seems most probable that either the Dresden virtuosi Pisendel or Volumier, or even more likely the Cothen Konzertmeister Spiess, would have been the first players to attempt these exceptionally challenging works, all of which sound as if they were written for an age of instrumental virtuosity that still lay far in the future.
The sonatas are restricted to four movements (slow-fast-slow-fast, as with the early sonata da chiesa), one of which is a fugue. The Partitas are generally more extended, and of unorthodox formal design (as perhaps is implied by their more wide-ranging generic title), and by the more exploratory, improvisatory feel of the music even as they consist of sequences of Baroque dances. The awesome and eloquent Partita No. 2 in D minor, BWV 1004, seems for the most part to follow the conventional outline of the Baroque suite, opening with an earnest and purposeful Allemanda unexpectedly free of chordal multiple-stopping. There follow a Corrente and a Sarabanda, whose brief coda furnishes the link with the succeeding Giga.
However, this work concludes with the most labyrinthine and intellectually powerful single movement ever devised for an unaccompanied string instrument. This is Bach's famous Chaconne (originally "Ciaccona"), a colossal arched series of 64 stunning variants upon the stark, open-ended four-measure phrase heard at the beginning. Two monumental outer sections in the minor enclose a major-key central episode, and this great structure encompasses every aspect of violin-playing technique and contrapuntal ingenuity that would have been known in Bach's day. The Chaconne, whose duration exceeds 15 minutes (and is thus longer than the rest of the work put together) is often performed as a free-standing movement and has also been widely transcribed for other instruments.
- Michael Jameson (from www.allmusic.com)
Sonata for solo violin No. 3 in C major, BWV 1005
The first two sonatas and the three partitas of J.S. Bach's six sonatas and partitas for solo violin make considerable demands on performers. However, the Sonata for solo violin No. 3 in C major, BWV 1005 is in a class by itself; it is so challenging a piece on every front that even the usually unflappable Jascha Heifetz used to break out in a cold sweat and suffer nervous bow-shakes when playing it, and it is a work of such consummate mastery, so perfectly planned and balanced, that any flaw in the performance sticks out like a sore thumb. In all fairness, Bach has gone beyond the bounds of reason in this grand Sonata - the violinist is asked to play music that might give a harpsichordist a headache (indeed, Bach arranged the Sonata's first movement for harpsichord) - but the music is so rewarding that all the toil is worth it in the end. Surely this satisfaction comes in part from the unreal, some have even said mystical, effect of a single string instrument producing such rich, dense music without the benefit of any real bass capability. Like each of the other two sonatas in the solo violin volume, the C major Sonata has four movements. They are: Adagio, Fuga, Largo, and Allegro assai.
Whereas the opening movements of the previous two solo violin sonatas are written in highly embellished, mock-improvisational style, that of the third sonata lacks ornamentation altogether. Instead it evolves from a single, repeating dotted rhythm - one harmonic layer is added and then another, the steady pulsation being interrupted only twice (once near the beginning and once near the end) for the purpose of expanded and enriching major cadences. The Fuga, which, like all the solo violin fugues, is actually a fugue/Baroque concerto hybrid, ranks among the longest fugues, measure-wise, ever created by any composer for any instrument or ensemble. The subject is derived from the chorale "Komm, heiliger Geist" and is turned upside-down midway through the fugue. The splendid Largo in F major has achieved some fame outside the Sonata, while the Allegro assai finale is the same kind of fleet-footed binary-form piece that closes each of the other two solo violin sonatas.
- Blair Johnston (from www.allmusic.com)
Partita for solo violin No. 3 in E major, BWV 1006
Although J.S. Bach described his six sonatas and partitas for solo violin as Libro primo (Book 1), he never followed them up with a second volume; so the Partita for solo violin No. 3 in E major, BWV 1006 (Cothen, 1720), stands as the composer's last utterance in the unlikely medium of the unaccompanied violin. There were some solo violin works that predate Bach's efforts - Biber's Passacaglia, Westhoff's Six Partitas - but they cannot compare.
This Partita is perhaps the most exuberant and cheery of the three in the book; while it is no picnic in the park for the violinist, it offers easier going than the chaconne in the second partita with its strings of double and triple stops. The work consists of dance movements that are mostly French in origin and that diverge from those in the other two : Preludio, Loure, Gavotte en Rondeau, Menuet I and II, Bourree, and Gigue. The Preludio, which was adapted by Bach for use in two of his cantatas, proceeds almost entirely in brilliant sixteenth notes. A Loure is a slow subspecies of French jig, usually (as is the case here) in 6/4 time; Bach's is perhaps a less heavy dance than the average loure. The Gavotte is, as the name suggests, set up as a kind of rondo, with restatements of the opening material surrounding contrasting episodes; the happy gavotte tune is played five times in all (six if one counts the repeat of the opening eight bars). The two Menuets are traditionally played da capo with the end result: Menuet I - Menuet II - Menuet I. The Bourree is short and rapid. A gigue can be either French in style or Italian; Bach selects the quicker, snappier Italian variety to close the E major Partita.
Bach at some point transcribed the entirety of this Partita for solo lute; that version is known as BWV 1006a.
- Blair Johnston (from www.allmusic.com)