Bach B minor Partita, Allemanda

March 3, 2011 at 05:19 AM ·

 I just can't decide whether or not to double-dot in the Allemanda of the Bach B minor Partita. Not for the upbeats, but for the frequent dotted 16th notes. I'm leaning toward the double dot because it feels a little pedantic otherwise. Thoughts? 

Replies (53)

March 3, 2011 at 05:25 AM ·

Single, like the dance.  J

March 3, 2011 at 06:04 AM ·

To be quite honest, I've never danced an Allemande. There are steps that go with the dotted 16ths throughout? Even looking through descriptions of the dance and videos, it's hard for me to see the relationship with the dance and feel what it's supposed to be in this music.

March 3, 2011 at 09:13 AM ·

When I studied this movement with a professor at UAA, he told me the little notes needed to be treated with importance, and not be cheated of their time.  They are the sparrows, and should be cared for, just as Jesus cared for sparrows.  That's what he said, and I haven't forgotten it.

March 3, 2011 at 01:39 PM ·

I too think of it being double dotted. It gives it some zip.

March 3, 2011 at 05:19 PM ·

 I'm concerned that a flock of sparrows will get in the way of the bigger beats, though. I'm thinking the dance would hang on the bigger beats? It's kind of a parading dance, if I'm getting this right. Not that I don't like sparrows. :) The 16th note pickups seem like they should be in strict time. So yes on the sparrows there. But I'm concerned about all those dotted 16th-32nd sequences.

So I guess my instinct is to double-dot the smaller (faster) ones, treating them in a more decorative way, but keep strict time on the bigger beats. But is that legal?


March 3, 2011 at 06:03 PM ·

Everything is legal. It's called artistic licence!

Maybe have a listen to Milstein or somebody good at Bach on this one, don't just take my word for it as I'm probably wrong! (Personally I would give HIPP a miss but I know that will bring screams from some quarters!) (wink)

March 3, 2011 at 06:53 PM ·

My teacher was quoting one of his teachers, Raphael Bronstein, whose edition I studied.  The precise rhythm gives it regal elegance. 

March 3, 2011 at 08:21 PM ·

I would over-dot but not necessarily double-dot.   It is a sober dance, but a dance nonetheless.  

The real issues are what the effect on the harmonic rhythm would be, and whether the small note captures the shift from one foot to the other that a dancer might use.  Too mechanical is not a good idea.

March 4, 2011 at 03:56 AM ·

Here are two youtube recordings, one of Heifetz and one of Grumiaux.  Both use a significant amount of rubato, but hold steady and true on the dotted rhythms.  Perhaps they will inspire you! I couldn't find any other recordings of greats.  And I most certainly won't share my recording after listening to those guys...



March 4, 2011 at 04:05 AM ·

After watching the dance step, I totally understand the importance of that rhythm.  It's a very strong pick-up beat, so I wouldn't mess with it.  Having said that, I have no idea how anyone could have danced to either Heifetz or Grumiaux.  Hmm.

March 4, 2011 at 04:07 AM ·

 For sure!  Nothing worse than listening to 8 minutes of it NOT double-dotted.  

Good luck :)

March 4, 2011 at 04:44 AM ·

Okay, maybe I don't know anything.

March 4, 2011 at 04:56 AM ·

 Emily, Bach can make us all feel like we don't know anything! I listened to my recording of Yuval Yaron, and he does it all quite elegantly within the single dot. He somehow manages to make it flow and not sound too measured.

I'm leaning toward something in between, where it's not strictly double-dotted, but in moving 16th places, it's toward the double dot. 

March 4, 2011 at 05:39 AM ·


this disucssion is a tad dotty,



March 4, 2011 at 05:42 AM ·

In fact,

As Jascha sat on his potty,

he thunk about the dotty.

The question of length,

Is not my strength,

But authentic is somewhat grotty.




March 4, 2011 at 08:37 AM ·

I guess I'm just in love with that rhythm and don't want it disturbed.  But if I were to err, I would err on the double dot side before committing the sacrilege of the "lazy-ass triplet" swing.

March 4, 2011 at 01:32 PM ·

Even if you aren't committed to "period" performance of Bach, you might want to take a look at what Jaap Schröder has to say in Bach's Solo Violin Works:  A Performer's Guide.  If you do you will be shocked (pp. 79-80):

The dotted rhythms must remain fluent without staccato effect and can be played either as separate small notes or hooked.  A combination of both options is attractive, whereby the intervals in step-motion are mostly hooked and the wider intervals are played with separate bow strokes.

At the suggested tempo [1/8=88], the difference between the dotted notation and the triplets becomes irrelevant:  everything is absorbed in the swing of the triplet mood.

March 4, 2011 at 01:50 PM ·

Whatever your artistic decision is now, you can always change your mind about it later.


March 4, 2011 at 05:29 PM ·

 I should explain the double dot, and I trust people will correct me if I err....;)

It's really more of a performance practice, and the second dot is not usually (never? I've never seen it) written into the music. Basically, if you add a dot to what is already there, you add half the value of the first dot, making the note ever-so-slightly longer, which necessitates that the note afterwards is shorter. For example, let's take my Allemanda. If a sixteenth note is dotted, it lasts for a the duration of a 16th plus a 32nd, and the note that follows it is a 32nd. If it is double-dotted, it would have the value of a 16th plus a 32nd plus a 64th, and the note following it would necessarily be shortened to a 64th.

I'm thinking of something that perhaps lasts longer than a 16th plus a 32nd, but maybe not so long that the last note is shortened to a 64th.

March 4, 2011 at 07:01 PM ·

Bill's post about period performance answered a question I had after watching the dance steps.  This movement apparently goes way faster than I'd imagined!

I still like Grumiaux's recording the best.  At least for today.

March 4, 2011 at 07:51 PM ·

Emily, I think I made a mistake in my earlier post.   I believe Schröder recommends 1/8=88, not 1/4==88.  I don't have the book handy right now, but I'll check later.  I changed my post to delete the MM.  I'll fix it later.

What's shocking is that he suggests that the dotted notes should be realized more or less as triplets.  That's consistent with Baroque notational practice, though.

See this:

March 4, 2011 at 10:29 PM ·

Well, I learn new things every day!

Please let me know about that tempo, by the way.  The dance seems a little more upbeat than I'd imagined. 

March 5, 2011 at 12:57 AM ·

Don't forget that dance tempos did change over time and across nations.  So while what is on the video is a useful piece of information, it might not be 100% relevant to the Bach problem.

March 5, 2011 at 02:33 AM ·

Emily, Jaap Schröder's suggested tempo for the Allemanda is 1/8=88, not nearly as brisk as I originally wrote.  I've changed my earlier post to reflect this.  Sorry about the confusion.  My point is related to the dotting, which he suggests shouldn't be taken too literally--going against everything we've been admonished to do!  But unless you're playing with a convex bow, you'd better not play those dotted notes as triplets or else your audience will think you're just sloppy.

March 5, 2011 at 06:17 AM ·

 I'm still wanting to understand the dance, because at this point I don't see how the one in the video relates in any way to this Bach!

March 5, 2011 at 10:12 AM ·

Oh I know!  Maybe Bach was speaking figuratively when he titled it "Allemande."

March 5, 2011 at 02:19 PM ·

"I don't see how the one in the video relates in any way to this Bach!"

Again, Jaap Schr.  explains this (p.79):

The allemanda (the Italian nomenclature has no musical significance) can in its early existence can be defined as a duple-meter dance of moderate step-wise movement.  In Bach's time, however, it no longer represented a specific choreography but was standardized as the initial movement of the instrumental suite, often marked "Prelude". [Italics added.]

March 5, 2011 at 07:18 PM ·

I need to buy a copy of that book so you don't have to keep posting these enlightening quotes all day, Bill.  Thanks so much for explaining!

March 5, 2011 at 10:08 PM ·

I have clearly come late to what appears to be a fascinating discussion of period performance.  Perhaps we should adjourn until we have all read Schroder's book (lol).  But, for me, the ultimate question is how you feel the various choices work for you.  What sounds right/good to you?  With all due respect to Schroder and the other folks who write about a performance style they never actually heard in person because it was hundreds of years ago (and with all due respect to my relative Wanda Landowska without whom no one today would probably pay any attention to period performance), I am not sure it really matters, Laurie, how you do those figures so long as it sounds a way you think is good/valid, etc.  Enjoy it whichever way you play it!

March 6, 2011 at 12:14 AM ·

 I've enjoyed listening to Monica Huggett's take on the rhythm, here, that is, to completely obfuscate it. It really ebbs and flows and defies measurement. But listening to it is great for shaking up one's notions.

March 6, 2011 at 04:14 AM ·

"With all due respect to Schroder and the other folks who write about a performance style they never actually heard in person  . . . , I am not sure it really matters,"

Personally, I'm not necessarily wedded to "period" performances.  I have a certain amount of skepticism about the modern reconstruction of 18th century performance practice (as if there were a single style of performing that was valid throughout the entire European continent for the whole period from, say, 1700 to 1760), and I've heard some purportedly "authentic" recordings of 18th century music that have sounded, to my ears, perfectly atrocious.  But I've also heard some "authentic" recordings that seemed to me to illuminate 18th century music in new and interesting ways, and I think that Jaap Schr.'s book does just that, and to my mind it's worth at least considering what he has to say by anyone attempting to perform the Bach S&Ps.


March 6, 2011 at 05:28 AM ·

Just think of the tremendous variety in the waltzes throughout the nineteenth century, not only in tempo but also in rhythmic feel and accentuation, and that should dispel any notion that all allemandes, (or gavottes or courantes, etc) should have the same tempo or style. In fact, even within the confines of one single waltz such as the Blue Danube waltz, or the Valse Brilliant in Eb by Chopin, one finds several different tempi and variations of rhythmic feel.

Also think of the variety of Allemandes. The Allemande from the D Minor Partita has a much different style and feel and tempo from the B Minor Allemande. Then take a look at the French Suites, the English Suites and the Partitas for Keyboard. The most common pattern for Allemandes is with straight sixteenth notes, and obviously a much faster tempo than the one from the B Minor Partita. We could go one step further and look at Allemandes by other composers such as Handel and Corelli.

March 6, 2011 at 07:47 AM ·

Beware the double-dotting dogma ! Note that after the second dotted note in this Allemande are two demisemiquavers which for Americans are (correct me if I am wrong !) probably entitled thirty second-notes. Double dot and these become horribly scrambled unless the tempo is very slow indeed.

Previous posts suggest, rightly, that there cannot be a rigid "always double dot" rule for the Baroque period. It might apply to French overtures of the Lully period, but try to apply it to, say, the overture to the Messiah and one begins to wonder ! And, as has been posted already, those composers had gradually lost touch with the original dance-forms;- Sarabandes, for example became slower. Wikipedia gives a typical rhythm for the Allemande which is quite unlike that in the Allemanda under discussion, or indeed in any of the Bach keyboard suites, as i recall. In many cases a pair of notes, a dotted one followed by a shot one that made up the beat group, might be taken as a shorthand for triplets if surrounded by such, There are triplets in bar (or measure) 8 of this piece, suggesting that indeed the player should actually relax throughout and play, er, triplet rhythm !

I prefer it if there is "air" between the dotted note and the ensuing short one - but I don't have a Ph.D to back this up !

March 6, 2011 at 09:24 AM ·

When I was a child, the first thing I wanted to do after entering the pearly gates was talk to God about the dinosuars, to find out what they really were like.  Now, I look forward to meeting Bach and requesting his own performance of the Sonatas and Partitas. 

That's right up there toward the top of my afterlife list, next to my query about UFOs and ghosts. 

...And, I still want to know about those dinosaurs...

March 6, 2011 at 09:43 AM ·

Still living in CC land Emily ...

March 6, 2011 at 10:04 AM ·

We count to four, we start once more.

March 6, 2011 at 10:06 AM ·

...And, I still want to know about those dinosaurs...

If you can't wait, check this:

March 6, 2011 at 01:11 PM ·

Bill - I would certainly take very seriously whatever insight Schroder or any other good period (or modern) performer had about a particular piece.  I enjoy, among others, Lucy van Dael's S&Ps and Trevor Pinnock's Partitas(not to mention Wanda's glorious Bach recordings).  But ultimately, the words "period performance" are not a talisman.

March 6, 2011 at 02:26 PM ·

Tom, we are in complete agreement.

March 6, 2011 at 09:39 PM ·

Are you saying that pterodactyls are phony?

March 7, 2011 at 06:13 AM ·

 When I was studying the Cello Suites, I was taught to treat the 16th note as a pickup of sorts to the next dotted note, which makes sense in a dance movement.  It is not so much of a skip as it is a lifting of the foot before the next downbeat.  It can't be drawn out too long or you will have the dancers hovering their foot in the air waiting for the next beat, nor too fast else they may well trip over their own feet in full court dress.  

Laurie - have you tried some of the foot movements of the dance yet while practicing?  

March 7, 2011 at 07:40 AM ·

 Yes, but the foot movements would be on the big beats -- at least I believe so. I'm talking about the moving notes, really. I can't imagine foot movements on the dotted 16ths, but if it's possible to imagine the foot movements on any of the notes at all, I'd like to do so. But at this point, nothing creates that picture for me because every instance I encounter of an Allemande and all of these things written about Allemandes seem not to relate in any way that I can discern to this piece that Bach wrote. 

I would like someone to dance an Allemande to this particular Bach, video it, and post it on You tube. Kindly. :) Or, just any kind of Allemande that could relate to this piece. I mean, a duple-meter dance, in a movement which seems to be in a very slow four? I very much would like to make the connection, but I don't as of yet see it!

And I do get this idea that it's more of a prelude, maybe not so much of a dance. But is there a connection? I would like to find it.

March 7, 2011 at 09:03 AM ·

Sorry Emily, I'm just teasing you! You have to take everything I say with a really big pinch of salt!

John, I must say your post regarding period playing is an interesting one! Dare I say more? I would say I have to agree about the bulges and surges in slow music. But now we are both probably going to be hung, drawn and quartered. Oh well, someone has to stand up for good honest and decent modern violin playing ... (wink)

Perhaps I'd better emigrate now ...

March 7, 2011 at 04:25 PM ·

 John, neither Gidon Kremer nor Rachel Barton Pine is or claims to be a specialist in any meaningful sense of the term; certainly neither can be taken as representative of the practices of the period instrument movement today. I'm not dismissing their performances of baroque repertoire by any means, but citing them as your examples indicates that you need exposure to HIP outside of its impact on modern-instrument bigshots before I, at least, will be sympathetic to your dismissive attitude. Give a listen to this recording of Rachel Podger and Gary Cooper playing Mozart:

Laurie, it's my feeling that you should look into the performance of (the first  movements of) French overtures and particularly German references to them. The allemande was a processional dance, and thus associated with regal entry. Between that and the dotted rhythms, the french overture association is already strong. 


March 7, 2011 at 04:33 PM ·

 Jude, Rachel may be a bit more of a Baroque specialist than you were thinking, though she would be modest about that.

I don't feel too bad about doing some double-dotting in a regal processional...:)

March 7, 2011 at 10:52 PM ·

I'm still recovering from a busy weekend, so excuse me if this doesn't make much sense.  I do agree with reading Jaap Schroeder's book, as that is so thought provoking even if you don't necessarily agree with everything he says...

But I wonder if we need to discuss actual bowing technique more when we come to the question of the double dot?   Are you using a modern or baroque bow, Laurie?   I found that when I started using a baroque bow in Bach, a lot of the rhythms kind of "sorted themselves" because the bowing style simply made so much more sense with the proper bow.  For example one might double dot, but there is more "air" than actual "sound" between the long note and the shorter one/s.  That's kind of hard to think of if you are using a modern bow, but with the baroque bow it feels very natural, a different sense of rhythm, much easier to define...

Uh oh, not really making much sense here am I? Will come back to this when I feel more awake!


March 9, 2011 at 12:26 AM ·

John:   I see absolutely no reason why any inquiring violinist shouldn't try using a baroque bow at some point.   I don't think being professionally/academically advanced as a player should have anything to do with it really!    If you love baroque music and especially Bach, you definitely have nothing to lose and a lot to gain.

I bought one - a Chinese copy by a company called Lu Mi - from the Early Music Shop in the UK, which has been a real revelation in my playing.  It is made of snakewood,  I have to say that I've not personally come across carbon fibre baroque bows, though they may well be out there.

March 9, 2011 at 01:33 PM ·

If you hold a normal bow a little bit away from the frog towards the center, you can approximate the effect of a baroque bow.

March 10, 2011 at 09:26 AM ·

Here's a quote by Bronstein that effectively captures my thoughts on the subject:

We are "permitted" by Bach to express our own elation only after a kind of personal "sacrifice"--a tempering of our own emotion through a discipline of his music.  We accomplish this on the instrument when we "create" each phrase, each group of notes, each note, with the same care and craftmanship as he did in writing them.  In our efforts to meet the demands of playing its note to its full value, attempting to do justice without "tampering", our personal involvement is deepened. 

(Taken from Bronstein's Bach Sonatas and Partitas for Solo Violin.)

He then goes on to explain in the Allemande which beats should be held longer and broadened, and where to use ritards.  You silly Bronstein.


March 10, 2011 at 12:34 PM ·

 Shorten those short notes, but not quite as much as if there happened to be a dreaded double-dot before them. That way they will seem "important".

March 11, 2011 at 05:38 PM ·

Speaking of incomplete sentences.

March 11, 2011 at 06:23 PM ·

 Not that I would ever write one.

May 27, 2011 at 03:57 PM ·

The question of playing the dotted rhythms is always ambiguous. However my teacher gave me a rule of thumb, that if the dotted rhythms occur around triplets, that the dots should more likely be interpreted as triplets. But the most practical "rule" is that anything goes, as long as you are consistent. I think the same applies for the first movement of the C Major sonata. You can play it as written, with double dots, or with triplets, I've heard all 3 and all 3 sound wonderful. I think the main poitn is consistency.

If you looka t some of the Bach sonatas with piano, you'll encounter runnign triplets in the violin, with dotted rhytjms in the piano at the same time. It;'s a polyrhythm Bach almost certainly did not intend. Anyway that is just one example that pushes me to interpret dotted rhythms as triplets when the dotted rhythms are surrounded by triplets, personally.

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