Bach solo sonatas and partitas

Edited: September 7, 2017, 1:41 PM · Is there any historical record of what JS Bach performed from his solo sonatas and partitas?

If not, what sonatas, partitas, or movements do you think he would have performed and why?

I think he would have performed the allegro from the C Major sonata because it is perfectly composed for the violin. There is something very violinistic about it.

Replies (11)

September 7, 2017, 1:53 PM · "[...]because it is perfectly composed for the violin. There is something very violinistic about it."
I think this is true for most of the sonatas and partitatas. They have amazing insight on what the violin can and cant do.
Edited: September 7, 2017, 2:14 PM · Absolutely. It's amazing his understanding of the instrument's capabilities.
September 7, 2017, 9:37 PM · It's normal for composers to understand the capabilities and limitations for many instruments, including ones that they don't play, at least at a basic level. The Chaconne, as you all know, is definitely an insanely difficult and long piece, however.
September 8, 2017, 1:35 AM · I gotta say though, I'd rather deal with the Chaconne any day before having to work through the fugues in the A minor and C major Sonatas again though. I have nightmares about those! :P
September 8, 2017, 2:06 AM · There is no record of who, when, how or where or indeed if.

We know for sure they were written at Cothen (in 1726 if memory serves). Then we know that they circulated in manuscript for a long time after Bach's death as, basically, one of the hidden secrets of the master violinist.

It's a reasonable surmise that at least some of them were performed for the Elector-Prince of Cothen - after all, Bach was there to write music for him. Who knows, His Lordship might even have had a go at the easier movements himself, in the manner of amateur violinists ever since.

Whether Bach played them himself or whether they were performed by someone else, who knows. There were several prominent violinists who would have known Bach at that time and certainly been better players than he was - again one surmises that many of them were at least aware of the sonatas and partitas, and presumably started the tradition of passing them on hand-to-hand that means they survive until today...

September 8, 2017, 6:04 AM · There are a very few fingerings written in the manuscript. No reason I can think of that those spots were chosen ahead of all others.
September 8, 2017, 8:07 AM · I read somewhere that Bach was himself a pretty good violinist.

I also read somewhere that Beethoven never intended the Op. 131 string quartet to ever actually be performed. Rather he wrote it as a masterstroke of the art of composition. And that it surely is.

Edited: September 8, 2017, 8:48 AM · I don't agree that the C Major fugue (or any of the other fugues) are either "perfectly written for the violin" or "violinistic."

The very fact of a single line buried in any of the lower 3 voicest of 4-note chords mean one of two unappealing choices have to be made: either you play violinistically from bottom to top as we generally do and lose the line, or we do the top-down "donkey cry of destiny" that I find so horrific. What this shows me is that Bach is writing idiomatically....for a klavier.

I guess one has to define "violinistically." In these times of intense technical competition, we are forced to render any type of music as "violinistic" whether it is or isn't. Remember that the Tchaikovsky concerto, which I consider pretty idiomatic to the violin, at least in its final form, was considered unplayable at the time. And Brahms? Still a ridiculously violin-hostile work, obviously conceived by a pianist.

September 8, 2017, 9:50 AM · Brahms was the first thing that came to my mind after Ellas comment.
For me the sonatas are THE polyphonic violin pieces, next comming Ernst's studies (which are maybe even harder).
Some of the chords are hard to not loose the lines, but if a player manages to keep them, its pure beauty.
September 8, 2017, 12:19 PM · Paul: "... either you play violinistically from bottom to top as we generally do and lose the line, or we do the top-down "donkey cry of destiny" that I find so horrific."

Oh my goodness, I lost it at the "donkey cry of destiny"! You made my day with that=)

Back on point, though: I do find that Szerying's descending chord choices and execution sound pretty musical to my ears. But, some other do play some unmusically.

September 10, 2017, 8:12 AM · I tend to agree with Gene, up to a point. Back in the days when I tackled these works, I found the chaconne much less intimidating technically than certainly the C major fugue - which I always regarded as a 'finger-breaker', although I played through it quite frequently (or attempted to) for the challenge and because it's such a great piece of music. The challenges in the chaconne I felt were musical rather than technical. Yet the A minor fugue I was able to raise almost to a performable standard (with a lot of teacher input!) - I actually found it technically easier than the chaconne. Each to his or her own. I love the way both Hilary Hahn and Nathan Milstein play the C major fugue particularly - Hahn's chords are so smooth and sound effortless...... amazing!
Paul - I'm intrigued by your comment on Op 131. Do you have a source for this? I'm not questioning what you are saying, I'd just like to explore the idea a bit more. The same has been said of Bach's Art of Fugue, which I find to be a perfectly satisfying piece of music to listen to.


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