A Road Trip with J.S. Bach

April 16, 2020, 12:01 PM · “I will now prepare for lightning to strike me,” I laughed as I readied the first chord of Bach’s a minor solo sonata. That chord is notorious for a whistling E string, and I had just spent three minutes explaining and demonstrating how to avoid the whistle. I might make a fool of myself.

But who was I talking to? A sympathetic audience, it turned out! Most of the time, when I perform solo Bach, my listeners are a mix of violinists, other musicians, and of course members of all professions. Very few of them know or care about the difficulties of a single chord in Bach.

On this occasion two weeks ago, however, I was conversing with, and playing for, almost exclusively violinists: people who had come to close grips not only with that first chord, but with all the other difficulties in solo Bach. These pieces, after all, were considered impractical (if not impossible) for at least 100 years after they were written!

We were gathered together for the seventh stop on a “road trip”: we had already spent three hours in three cities working through Bach’s g minor sonata, then another three stops for the b minor partita. Now, here we were in Delhi, India, for the first of three hours with the a minor.

Not quite a world tour

I got the idea for “Bach on the Road” when I read an account of “old Bach” (as he was known, so as to differentiate him from his sons) visiting the court of Frederick the Great. You can find one telling here:

Bach's visit to Frederick's court

The world got an incredible piece, The Musical Offering, out of that visit. And it made me wonder: what if, instead of a famed keyboard virtuoso, old Bach had been a violin virtuoso? And what if he hadn’t had twenty children, but unlimited income instead? Might he have traveled the world showing off the amazing set of six Sonatas and Partitas he had just written?

Riding Bach’s coattails

So, for Bach on the Road, I pretend that I’m shadowing Bach on his world tour. I appear the day after Bach leaves, and share with my audience everything I learned through watching Bach’s performance the night before.

I should note that every place we visit is a place of worship of some sort, one that would have been available for Bach to see during his lifetime. In other words, they were all built before 1750. Our most recent stop was just outside São Paulo, Brazil, where we looked at two movements of the d minor Partita, and began the famous Chaconne.

Next up will be an entire session devoted to that Chaconne, coming to you from somewhere on the East Coast of North America.

If you want to check out Bach on the Road, I’ll be live every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday at 2 PM Pacific Time until the Bach runs out! At the time I’m writing this, we still have the Chaconne from the d minor, and all of the C Major and E Major to work through.

Click below to get all the details, as well as replays of all the tour stops so far:

Join Bach on the Road

See you on the road!

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April 19, 2020 at 10:35 PM · This Road Trip series has been incredible! Insightful and entertaining. Everyone should come check it out!

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