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Ruth Kuefler

A new perspective on Bach

November 29, 2008 at 3:21 AM

Ahh, Bach.

So many people before me have expressed their feelings about this incredible composer, who is especially beloved by violinists for his Sonatas and Partitas. These works are practically sacred in our eyes, the veritable Bible of us fiddlers. As much hype as we give to Bach, I don't think there's any danger of him being over-rated. I have yet to get bored studying his music. In fact, completely the opposite. The longer I play it the more exciting it is.

This is especially true now that I am experiencing solo Bach not just from a violinist's perspective, but from a violist's as well. I've decided to minor in viola while continuing my violin degree, and so far am very happy with the decision. Learning viola has already helped me improve my violin technique and be more conscious of how to properly use my body as I continue recovering from tendonitis. These influences are rather complex, so maybe I'll explain in more detail in a later blog....

I've always loved the Cello Suites, but now that I actually get to play them on viola I have to confess... I revel in them just as much if not more than the Sonatas and Partitas. In general they are more 'simple' than the violin works, which for me, makes them very exciting to study. Sometimes I get overwhelmed playing solo Bach on violin — the complexity, the difficulty, and the interpretive options can be frustrating. I have found the Suites a little easier to analyze, and I decide more clearly in my own mind exactly what I want to do with the phrasing, the articulation, the dynamics. Also, there's something about the simplicity of the Suites that has helped me be more creative than ever before with Bach. Instead of being so distracted by the sheer technique involved, and thus neglecting to make musical decisions, I immediately ask questions about the phrasing and structure and characteristics of each dance. This questioning, this searching for my own interpretation, is what makes Bach so thrilling to me.

The discoveries I've made working on the Suites are now helping me work on my violin Bach. I've been learning the A minor Sonata this semester, and am currently polishing the Allegro for my jury. I've honestly never done such stimulating violin practice. It's like working out a puzzle, asking all these questions. "Does this phrase end here or there? Does this line build or withdraw — or both? Do I want to play it differently on the repeat? What kind of articulation suits my purpose here?"

I love playing both violin and viola now. For a while I had debated the idea of switching my major completely to viola, for various reasons. But I'm finding that there are things I love about both, and I don't want to have to give up either. It's challenging switching back and forth, but they also compliment each other really well, and I learn things on each that help me with the other. And hey, now I get to learn all the Bach I could hope for. :)

From Bart Meijer
Posted via on November 29, 2008 at 6:48 AM

That was beautiful!

From Pauline Lerner
Posted via on November 29, 2008 at 11:10 AM

Hilary Hahn has said that Bach, more than any other composer, leaves lots of room for personal input from the performer.  I think that's what you're discovering and enjoying so much. 

From Karen Allendoerfer
Posted via on November 29, 2008 at 1:09 PM

I actually think I prefer the suites on viola in many ways.  The pitch range of the viola is my absolute favorite (violin is too high, cello is too low, viola is *just right*).  Yours is beautiful! 

From Tom Holzman
Posted via on November 30, 2008 at 6:28 PM

Very nice.  One thing to realize is that there is much more to Bach both for violin and for other instruments than just the S&Ps and cello suites.  His sonatas for violin and continuo are wonderful, as are his violin concerti.  Then, there are his other concerti and his choral music.  And, don't forget his solo keyboard music.  Listen to/play it all and have a glorious time.

From Christina C.
Posted via on December 2, 2008 at 3:44 PM

Make sure you also try the gamba sonatas (with keyboard, BWV 1027-1029) on viola too

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