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The Weekend Vote weekend vote: Which of Bach's Sonatas and Partitas do you find most challenging?

August 7, 2010 at 2:32 AM

Bach's Sonatas and Partitas for Solo Violin remain some of the most beautiful and cleverly composed pieces in the violin repertoire, but I must say that some of them are a lot more accessible than others.

What do I mean by accessible? Well, there's technically accessible, musically accessible and emotionally accessible. For example, while the Chaconne from the D minor Partita may be technically difficult, I do find it quite accessible emotionally and musically. I find the Preludio from the E major Partita to be accessible in all ways. A number of the fugues are accessible and musically, but they are a serious challenge technically, and emotionally, they seem a little distant.

I was thinking about this issue of accessibility today while practicing the B minor Partita (aka the one with the "Doubles.") A friend of mine who is an expert -- and a natural -- in Baroque music told me once that the B minor is the most "inaccessible" of them all, emotionally and even musically. I've avoided playing it since college but have taken it on this year. It has some definite technical challenges, but more than that, I still find it to be emotionally elusive, though beautiful. I'm hoping it reveals more of its mysteries, this go-around!

I'd like to ask you which of Bach's S and P's you find to be the most challenging, and why? Please vote in the poll and then describe the challenges below.


From Christopher Ciampoli
Posted on August 7, 2010 at 4:26 AM

I've covered them all but from where I stand right now I think the A minor sonata is the most difficult for me. The first movement is extremely musically challenging. I regard it as one of the most challenging pieces I've ever encountered in that respect. I'll never forget my firs timpression of looking at those elaborate swirls of black ink and thinking "But where are the phrases?!"

The a minor fugue might not be the most technically challening, but its subject can become very cumbersome. (The C Major fugue also has those 2 pages at the end that are a verbatim repetition taking a little pressure off in that respect.) The pure intonation in the 2nd sonata 4th movement is extremely difficult to nail - you have to truly be on top of your game to pull it off perfectly. Even though CM is a notorious key for the violin, the figures in the 4th mvt of the Aminor sonata just have more difficult intonation in my opinion. And then the 3rd movement andante is just one of those pieces you're never quite satisfied with, and I believe it requires much more detailed control than its relative in the CM sonata.

From Anne Horvath
Posted on August 7, 2010 at 12:23 PM

The C Major Fuga has had my number for years. 

From Alayna Faulkenberg
Posted on August 7, 2010 at 1:25 PM

I'm still a student working my way through them, but I am scared to death of the A minor Fugue and the D minor Ciaconna hasn't been particularly kind to me this summer...

From Royce Faina
Posted on August 8, 2010 at 12:11 AM

At first, when I saw that it was in A minor (no sharps or flats), I thought that this would be the best assignment to take because it would be easier. How wrong I was!  I wonder if Bach chose this key due to the complexities that he would involve with this one? Are we seeing a glimpse of his limitations?

From Royce Faina
Posted on August 8, 2010 at 12:28 AM

I Have to offer this also... It really pays to have a teacher who is dedicated to this craft!

From Peter Kent
Posted on August 8, 2010 at 11:47 AM

While few chose the E Major, there's a little story about the Prelude that I find interesting and perhaps is a worthy addition to the-mix:  Going in for a lesson, my teacher sat with pipe smouldering and listened while I slaved thru the Preludio.....caught the barriolage pretty well, remembering to make a phrase out it rather than a mere physical display, and generally finished with a satisfied feeling....His response was, " Ok, try it again !"  When the shock from this terse response settled, I asked, "Really ?"   He chuckled, and we discussed that this single movement was one of those that drains the emotions, taxes one's stamina and otherwise is a day's-work in itself.  We went on to realize that the great violinists of the time were able to muster this emotion anytime, they had the technique to concentrate on the musical aspects....a few years later, Ruggiero Ricci astounded all of us in the area by doing all 6 on a recital program....Amazing works....and attempts to mimic their magic by other composers have fallen short....sure the Ysaye are tough, but certainly not the clever musically sturdy master works of Bach.

From Chris Rogers
Posted on August 8, 2010 at 1:08 PM

I have performed all 6 non stop for charity last year, and I have no hesitation in saying the C major Sonata is the hardest technically.  I thought the Chaconne was going to be the toughest mountain to climb, but the C major fugue was far harder.  Just the sheer variety of quadruple stopping technique required and the difficulty of giving the different fugal lines their proper integrity was what made this one mountain too far!  Incidentally I enjoyed getting to know the B minor and found the doubles really beautiful.

From Michael Divino
Posted on August 9, 2010 at 2:56 AM

 I chose the d min partita because it's the only one i've worked on.... ahahaha!

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