Double Bach

February 18, 2019, 10:31 AM · Since January 8th I've been reliving adolescence. Hopefully in a good way: I started a job as a Teaching Fellow, training to become a full-time Biology teacher.

OfficeWindowView The view from my office window in the morning

Working for someone else 40 hours a week, every day M-F, has required some adjustment after 6 years of part-time work. And getting up before the sun has never been my favorite thing, neither as a teen nor as an adult. But there's another way in which I've been revisiting my teenage self: with my violin, the most reliable time machine yet invented.

KarenViolinTeenblog The author as a middle school violinist

Last fall was a whirlwind of music. I played in 3 different orchestras, and I played some of the most difficult repertoire I have yet attempted. I played in San Francisco with professionals! I had solos! It was exhilarating . . . and it was also tiring. At the end I felt like I might be getting tendonitis, or some vague inflammatory condition resulting from overuse. And the larger, heavier viola might have been making things worse.

I took most of December off playing altogether, and as the New Year dawned, I considered whether I might want to take more time off, especially with the new job looming. But an old friend from violinist.com, Jasmine Reese, was returning to the Bay Area to play the Bach Concerto in D minor for two violins, the Bach Double, with the South Bay Philharmonic. And another friend, chamber music partner, and fellow violinist.commer, Gene Huang, was going to be playing the Bach with Jasmine, and the Bruch violin concerto as a solo. I really didn't want to miss that concert!

50493352_2049763701769853_5232484942193098752_n

So I arranged to play the violin only for this concert. I had played the violin I part of all the repertoire before, so I thought maybe I'd have less work to do, and I could do what practicing was necessary on the smaller, lighter violin and preserve my hand and wrist.

Some of it, namely Beethoven #2, was quite recent, but the rest goes back. Way back. The Egmont Overture, for example: I first played that during my senior year of high school. I was sitting inside next to the concertmaster and turning pages. The way the sheet music is laid out, the last page-turn is a pregnant pause, a brief break in the tension before all heck breaks loose, horses come galloping in on the wave of a crescendo, and you climb up the ledger lines to the highest notes you have ever seen, and wail away up there as loud as you possibly can, while no one can hear you anyway because the brass is also wailing away as loud as they possibly can . . . and although at this point in my career I have now occasionally seen--and played--higher notes,  the excitement of playing Egmont is still like that for me. I love Egmont! If I listen to it on the way to work, it has the added bonus of waking me up, no matter how early or dark it is outside.

CarDashboard Car dashboard

Listening to the Bruch and the Bach on my commute, on the other hand, is a little more complicated. One year in my youth orchestra, we accompanied a competition winner playing the Bruch, and that sparked a surge of interest among the violin section players. Have you played it? Have you? Are you ready for it? I had to say no. Unlike many violinists who like to play concertos, I have never studied the Bruch. Back then, I was not ready for it, and now I'm more into viola and chamber works. I did learn the opening bars and I played them while I was violin shopping, to cover all the strings and a decent portion of the violin's range. But other than that, I have hardly listened to the Bruch since I was back in youth orchestra. Even now, among some violinists, I notice that the piece can take on the role of technical benchmark for comparisons and competitions. That aspect of playing the violin--the comparison and competition--is something I was more than happy to leave behind when I left school.

Planets Morning stars

On the car stereo in the morning as I prepare to leave, the opening measures of Bruch rise like the first rays of the sun. Then comes the G--just an open G, which on the violin can't be anything else . . . how does Joshua Bell manage to make a simple open G so expressive? I wonder, and am curious and delighted. But as it goes on, I start to hear tension creep in. A cello pizzicato repeats over and over,  lub-dub, lub-dub, beating like a heart. It's cool at the beginning but after a while, for me, it starts to evoke more Edgar Allen Poe than Valentine's Day.

MVHSSunrise Mountain View High School, the school my kids attend(ed), before students arrive

Ironically, last year around this same time I blogged about a similar topic from a different angle: Anxiety, Biology, and Playing from the Heart. I had had to teach a heart dissection class for heart-lung day at a school, and it was making me anxious, much as the prospect of playing a solo concerto made me anxious. I eventually made my peace with the dissection and learned to enjoy it. I wonder, as I listen and drive past my son's high school, if that will happen for me with the Bruch concerto too. Maybe I have been too busy, or too stuck in adolescent ways of thinking, to really hear the piece's gentler, sweeter side. In any case, the tension dissipates when the second movement arrives along with the full sun.

heartviolin.jpg

The Bach Double was the first major piece I ever learned with my childhood violin teacher, Philip Teibel, a violinist with the Buffalo Philharmonic. He passed away years ago, but his handwriting--his fingerings and bowings--are still vivid both in the music and in my memory. I've looked through this piece periodically since then. I played the 2nd movement in church for "Music Sunday" back in Boston in 2008. But the main person I have played it with the most before now, both parts and all 3 movements, was Mr. Teibel, and I still associate it most strongly with him.

TeibelHandwriting Bach Double, mvt 3. Schirmer edition, annotated by Mr. Teibel, my childhood violin teacher

Mr. Teibel was an older gentleman when I was his student, and he gave me a recording to listen to of the husband-wife team of Leonid Kogan and Elizaveta Gilels playing the violin I and violin II parts, respectively. I had to look up Gilels' name for this blog. What Mr. Teibel actually said at the time was "Kogan and his wife." She didn't get a name. And it went without saying that the husband was violin I and the wife was violin II. I also remember him suggesting to me that I might be able to play the Bach Double with a "nice young man" someday. At the time, I discounted that suggestion immediately. I didn't aspire to be some famous dude's nameless second fiddle.

I needn't have worried. The musical romance implicit in the suggestion never happened. My husband is not a musician, and one of my few regrets in music is that I rarely have gotten together with friends to just jam or play for fun with no goal or performance in mind. While I do that occasionally now, I never did it as a kid. Competition, not fun or connection, seemed to rule the day back then. Even in my unfinished novel, which has a teen violinist protagonist named Hallie, I wrote a scene in which Hallie and her friend Annie try to play the Bach double. The session ends in tears as Hallie comes to a realization that Annie has advanced so far beyond her technically that she feels they can no longer play with each other. In the story, Hallie and Annie are (as I was at the time) also, at least temporarily, losing their fight against the toxic inferiority complex of the second violinist.

JasmineAndKarenBach Playing the Bach double with Jasmine

My meeting with Jasmine is nothing like what Hallie and Annie experienced in fiction. I stop by after work; she is staying with friends close by. Her dog Fiji and her hosts' dog run around joyfully as we are playing, and they occasionally accompany us. There are mistakes but we restart, or play through them. There is a lot of laughter.

What Mr. Teibel knew already then, but what took me 30 years and a 16-year hiatus from the violin to learn, is that one of the best things about this piece, and the memories it holds, is being able to play it with a good friend.

Replies

February 18, 2019 at 06:18 PM · The Bach Double is a wonderful piece. Thanks so much for sharing your experience with it and with your friend. You are truly lucky to have that opportunity. BTW, I loved your middle school pic.

February 19, 2019 at 05:34 AM · Thanks Tom! It has been really fun! The concert is in a couple of weeks. Then it's back to viola for me :-)

February 19, 2019 at 10:48 PM · I'm constantly on the lookout for someone I can play the Bach Double with. Often when I'm around another violinist I'll start playing the 2nd violin opening of the first movement and see whether they take the bait.

February 19, 2019 at 10:51 PM · I'm constantly on the lookout for someone I can play the Bach Double with. Often when I'm around another violinist I'll start playing the 2nd violin opening of the first movement and see whether they take the bait.

February 19, 2019 at 11:56 PM · That is cool! I’ve done that spontaneously with the Pachelbel Canon, but I don’t have it all the way memorized!

February 20, 2019 at 08:05 PM · In my viola persona, I am always on the lookout for another violist who wants to run the viola solo parts in the Bach Brandenburg #6.

February 21, 2019 at 07:17 AM · Tom, Sometime we will have to meet in person and do that!

I just read a Handel sonata for 2 violas today that was really beautiful. We could also try that one!

February 21, 2019 at 11:46 AM · Sounds like a good plan!

February 21, 2019 at 02:03 PM · Thanks for including a picture of the passage at "G" in the finale where the solo violin has the opposing counterpoint -- rising from from C to C# to D at the top and descending from A to G to F on the bottom. Ahhh... that's Bach!

February 21, 2019 at 02:05 PM · Charlie's post about the Bach Double got double-posted! LOL!!

February 21, 2019 at 05:20 PM · Paul, everyone plays the first movement, but the third movement is my favorite because of the inventive way the parts fit together and the counterpoint. Even the orchestral part (which is what I am playing for the actual performance) has some cool riffs.

February 21, 2019 at 09:18 PM · The third movement is also a fair bit harder in my experience.

February 21, 2019 at 10:11 PM · It's a lot harder! That's why I have to find someone to work on it with.

And no, that double posting was an accident, not an ad for Tim Hortons.

This article has been archived and is no longer accepting comments.

Facebook Twitter YouTube Instagram Email

Violinist.com is made possible by...

Shar Music
Shar Music

Yamaha Violin Finder
Yamaha Violin Finder

Pirastro Strings
Pirastro Strings

Corilon Violins
Corilon Violins

Dimitri Musafia, Master Maker of Violin and Viola Cases
Dimitri Musafia, Master Maker of Violin and Viola Cases

Warchal Metronome

Bay Fine Strings Violin Shop

Bobelock Cases

Fiddlerman.com

Fiddlershop

Los Angeles Violin Shop

Nazareth Gevorkian Violins

Potter Violins

Pro-Am Strings

Violin Lab

Wangbow Violin Bow Workshop

Subscribe