Consider Bach Partita No. 2 Beginner Piece?

January 20, 2012 at 11:11 PM · Do others consider the Bach Partita No. 2 a beginner piece? I played quite a bit when I was in my 20's. I'm 49 and I got a new violin and started playing again. I even found a teacher and signed up for 6 months. I'm pulling my hair out with bowing changes and position shifts and personal editing. I asked the teacher what level would he consider these pieces and he said beginner. Wow. I told my wife, that I don't know if I'll finish all of these before I die. They're hard in my opinion. I've been playing guitar since I was 4 and I can read well. The difficulty for me is being comfortable with how I'm going to play the different sections and ultimately settling on the best "way". My copy is nothing but pencil marks. Beginner? Not sure that I agree.

Replies (33)

January 20, 2012 at 11:12 PM · No, none of the Bach Partitas and Sonatas for solo violin are beginning pieces.

January 20, 2012 at 11:14 PM · If you go to the masteclass site (see topic of same name) the bach solos are all advanced intermediate to advanced.

January 20, 2012 at 11:27 PM · An intermediate-level player can play certain movements of solo Bach, but only an advanced player can draw out all the genius. If I was studying with someone who called the Bach d-minor partita a beginner piece, I would seriously consider quitting taking lessons from him/her. Not even joking. Such an assessment shows a major disrespect for this veering-on-sacred repertoire, IMHO.

January 20, 2012 at 11:35 PM · This partita includes the famous chaconne, one of the crown jewels of violin repetoire, and certainly not for beginners. This teacher of yours sounds more than a bit off.

January 20, 2012 at 11:38 PM · Perhaps you are using some kind of transcriptions aimed for beginners?

If this is what your music looks like, then I'd switch teacher...

January 21, 2012 at 12:39 AM · Joyce, my music is the International Music one that's edited by Galamian and has the original manuscript in the back. I don't think my teacher disrespects this work in any way, however my question about the "level" was related to the Allemande and the Gigue that I am focusing on. I played these two and the Sarabande years ago and I was asking my questions trying to get an understanding for myself as to where I stand on the violin. Before I had children, I had played the Wohlfart, the Kayser, and some of the Kreutzers. I also performed Paganini's Cantabile for Guitar and Violin very well. I then had started my focus on the Bach because I have also played several of the Telemann Fantasias before and the Bach is so well put together musically. Anyhow, my question around the level of the Allemande to my teacher was to gauge my progress since I picked up the violin again back in the fall of 2011. The lessons are expensive and I felt like a teacher would help. And, overall it has.

January 21, 2012 at 01:36 AM · Seriously???


Not beginner.

And even if the notes were easy, no beginner could play that music with the respect it deserves.

Partita No. 2 is a jewel.

January 21, 2012 at 01:40 AM · If you're just playing the first movement, then you don't have to be super advanced.

But it's still a bit of a misnomer to call any of the solo Bach pieces beginner pieces.

January 21, 2012 at 01:47 AM · @Terry

A bit?

January 21, 2012 at 04:28 AM · Greetings,

of course , all the comments above.

Recently I have been wrestling with how I might justify my -opinion- that with all due respect the Allemande is not a beginners piec eand should not be used as such. My best idea at the moment is perhaps to define any works level as being the function of it being something I would like to listen to as a pure performance.

In other words, a beginner might give a polished and sensitive version of Twinkle, a Seitz xoncerto and so on , moving progressively up and in each case the perfomance would be thoroughly enjoyable. What level of player can perform the Bach for me so I just sit back and enjoy?

For me, a player in the early stages cannot give a satisfactory public performance of this work that correlates with its depth. In fact, to be brutally frank, even the most fundamentlal thing of intonation cannot be done by a beginner. I`m talking about the absolute precision of sharps and flats leading in the right directions based on a sense of the underlying ground which most player sin the early stage of won`t have a concept of anyway.

This doe snot mean that the beginners on this site who are usingit cannot benifit from it as indeed some have stated and I don`t disagree. However, the same benifits could be got elsewhere and at the end of the day , a piece of music learnt while being way above the level of the player can never really be repaired later. The -struggle- is learnt. That is why we choose pieces carefully.



January 21, 2012 at 07:55 AM · Buri wrote: "This doe snot"

I think that nails it, and what a way with words!


January 21, 2012 at 09:26 AM · bambi has not been the same since.

January 21, 2012 at 01:06 PM · hi Buri;

"My best idea at the moment is perhaps to define any works level as being the function of it being something I would like to listen to as a pure performance.

In other words, a beginner might give a polished and sensitive version of Twinkle, a Seitz xoncerto and so on ,"

but is it not the case that a beginner cannot really give a really polished performance of even a simple piece. i mean that it is beyond beginners (and i am one) to give a beautiful rendetion because we dont have a mature saturated understanding/ability of how to produce deliberate consistency of notes or produce deliberate nuance and a dearth on acquired musical knowledge required in employing these techniques...all of which a well versed experienced player is well acquainted with and we, as beginners, are just learning to experience.

i think what i mean to say is that the conventional way of teaching I came across is that teachers go through pieces until the student can perform it acceptably at their level...not beautifully in principle. i think this is why, as you mentioned before, Bron gives his students the same Kreutzer etudes at two different stages.

the alternative is that the student works on one piece only over a looong duration during which he perfects tone production in related and seperate excercises then s/he is able to play it beautifully.

January 21, 2012 at 01:10 PM · Did you perchance ask your teacher this on April 1st?

January 21, 2012 at 01:13 PM · I think your teacher has forgotten what it is to begin (or that he is drunk, sadistic etc.)

As you have already played, and read music, I would start with violin transcriptions of Bach's cello suites: wonderful music, and a whole lot easier (except on the cello!)

January 21, 2012 at 01:25 PM · after asking for advice on which of the Bach sonatas and partitas to begin working on as an adult beginner, i was advised by Buri and Scott (Cole)to work on telemann solo violin fantasies and/or handel violin sonatas instead ( . indeed, my teacher found the handel sonatas too challenging for me at this stage so i have been working on telemann, the first fantasie at this stage. its already challenging to play telemann so i would imagine that playing solo Bach would be damaging for beginners although after working for a long time i can somehow play the first movement of Bach's A minor concerto. anyway, i second the telemann. beautiful in its own right and helps prepare for more advanced works in the same genre (handel then bach).

January 21, 2012 at 01:28 PM · I agree that it is not a beginner piece. Some movements, e.g., the gigue, can probably be studied with profit by intermediates, as some have pointed out. That said, you are not a beginner, but something more like a returning intermediate, given your background. To the extent you are beginning again, but only in that sense, are you a beginner. For a "beginner" like you, the teacher is at least partially correct, but only in that limited sense.

January 21, 2012 at 04:19 PM · any piece is hard if you want to play it well

January 21, 2012 at 05:08 PM · Any chance your teacher was talking about the allemande within the context of the partitas themselves? That is, if one is going to start studying them, the allemande would be a good place to begin? Definitely less doe snot in that movement than many of the others!

January 21, 2012 at 07:17 PM · Sorry David, I hadn't read your second post before calling your teacher a drunk!

Good intonation across the strings is always tricky, and not always well taught: the necessary diagonal stretching and contracting of intervals will not happen without concious preaparation.

If the fourth finger is needed on the G-string in a chord or arpeggio, the finger on the E-string may have to press the string sideways to the right: difficult to make it sing.

I like John Cadd's delicate approach: it is only too easy to sound as if you are punishing the violin in these very strenuous works. I like to start pianissimo & then let the power of the music take over gradually.

I still recommend the cello suites, though.

January 21, 2012 at 08:17 PM · Greetings,

>but is it not the case that a beginner cannot really give a really polished performance of even a simple piece. i mean that it is beyond beginners (and i am one) to give a beautiful rendetion because we dont have a mature saturated understanding/ability of how to produce deliberate consistency of notes o

Although it is true that Oistrakh playing Twinkle might reduce one to tears, i would suggest that a beginner -must- give a polished performance of whateve rthey are doing. There are a number of myths I asociate with bad teaching (not bad studnets) of which two are:

a) Playing in tune is an incremental process that takes a few years.

Not so. The cocnpets of intonation and how to achive it are taught right from the beginning. Otherwise it is the same as saying to a learner driver @you can drive more or less on the left and gradually get it right.`

b) Initially (and perhaps for a year or two) one will produce ugly , scratchy sounds. Rubbish. Taught correclty a student will have both the concpet and means to produce a beautiful sound from the beginning. Incidentally, i note Suzuki emphasized this over and over in his writing. A beautiful tone from the beginning.

With these essentials understood a student can and should gie a fine erformance of a work at their level (even if it kjust a melofy played pizzicato on open strings...)

To hear somebody play something well they have strived for at their level is a pure pleasure.



January 21, 2012 at 08:37 PM · "I think your teacher has forgotten what it is to begin (or that he is drunk, sadistic etc.)"

Maybe it takes a drunk to recognise a drunk?

January 22, 2012 at 04:39 AM · hi Buri;

that was uplifting, thank you. its a pleasure learning how to play the violin and in turn, even us adult beginners feel that our playing should , in turn, be pleasing to us and perhaps to others. being an adult student is peculair - we don't have the excuse of youth nor its promise - so, its just about the music...or so it should be if that makes sense.

January 22, 2012 at 07:31 AM · Greetings,

I have been very deeply touched on ocassion by a few simple notes from adult beginners. If everything is set up right then a wealth of joy , sorrow, laughter, and lunacy that children don`t yet have may well manifest itself and can be extremely moving.



January 22, 2012 at 09:05 AM · Well said Buri.

January 22, 2012 at 02:03 PM · Any Solo Bach is not a beginning piece. But I don't think there's any harm in playing the Bach d minor allemande at an intermediate level. And since the OP is picking the violin up again after having played it "quite a bit" in his 20s it's possible he's not really a beginner.

Sure, it's not going to be played on a professional level by an intermediate player, but neither is anyone's Seitz concerto, Allegro Fiocco, or anything else for that matter.

It's a good piece of music. There's no reason to be sanctimonious about it just because it's a movement in one of the Bach unaccompanied Sonatas and Partitas.

Back a long time ago I was assigned the piece by Mara Dvonch, the former concertmaster of the Pittsburgh Symphony, and also a former member of the National Symphony under Stokowski. She was a student of Persinger. If you don't know Persinger you may know some of his students, such as Yehudi Menuhin and Camilla Wicks.

At the time I was far from what you would call an advanced student. I think at the time I was working on Mozart concerto 3 and Bartok Rumanian folk dances. I also was working on Flesch scales, and some Yost and Kreutzer etudes. I had just finished up DeBeriot 9 and Viotti 22nd concertos.

I found it to be level appropriate and would argue it did me not one bit of harm. The interpretation I had back then is durable even today.

January 22, 2012 at 04:35 PM · Terry: if you had just finished viotti 22 and mozart 3 then you would surely have been well into and past the 'intermediate' stage so why not do Bach solos?

Actually, you just reminded me but not long after I returned to the violin I was also assigned the Alameda - it was a fantastic inspiration to be playing at least one movement of a Bach solo. And I don't think any harm was done since when I look at it now (a few feet down the road) I don't have any hangup-points that Buri was referring to - whereas I wish I could say that about the Fiocco (and the Bach double for that matter).

January 22, 2012 at 05:04 PM · Elise,

The level of the OP is a little vague, which is why I tried to frame it a little by stating what other pieces I was playing at the moment.

Beginner/Intermediate/Advanced are pretty vague terms. I guess I think of Viotti 22 and DeBeriot 9 as intermediate. And Mozart 3 can be considered a very advanced piece, when played well with great detail. But I think it's acceptable, with less detail, at the student level as well.

Actually, I think I played a program at the Seattle Young Artists festival that consisted of Mozart 3, the d minor partita allemande, and the Bartok Rumanian folk dances.

It took quite a while since playing the first and fourth movements of the d minor sonata to play any other solo Bach. Even though the d minor partita, especially the chaconne, is very advanced material, I think that playing movements one and four early is okay.


January 22, 2012 at 09:47 PM · I think that Bach is quite complex, and so many ways of playing it can sound good. So it really seems to require a certain conviction that one's way is the right way to make it sound special.

One time I was getting ready to play the entire E major partita at a concert. A couple days before I played it for my quartet and it really didn't sound very good.

I revamped it the day before the performance and decided that I thought there should be formal (Sie) parts and informal (Du) sections. Using that simple formula, I think I came up with a pretty decent interpretation. It came out really well. But there has to be so much more to it - I haven't really plumbed the depths of it since.

I'm probably not the best person to ask about Bach interpretations so take what I have to say with a grain of salt. But I would say that there is always a lot germinating regarding interpretations of any piece of music. And with Bach, there tends to be more due to its complexity. And because it's such great music, there's a tendency to second guess oneself.

January 23, 2012 at 01:34 AM · Yeah, Bach lays the soul bare. That particular first movement of the D minor Partita was my first taste of unaccompanied Bach assigned to me by my teacher in high school, and it broke my heart. Up until then, I'd thought I was a pretty decent player, but Bach opened my eyes. It may appear easy enough, but there's so much more to it than meets the eye.

Just last night, I pulled out the solo Bach again to see how much my skill had improved, only to be thoroughly disappointed. It seems that as my skills improve, so does my vision for improvement.

Arnold Steinhardt of the Guarneri quartet wrote a book recently called Violin Dreams, which came with two recordings of his performance of Partita #2, played on two different instruments and many years apart. I listened to them both last night, and it was the second one that moved me to tears. And this was right in the middle of my left-brained critique of his intonation and phrasing, which I found surprisingly imperfect! (What, do you mean to say that no one is perfect? ;) ) But this recording connected me to perhaps what Bach may have been feeling after the death of his wife, having been away from her only to find she had already been buried. Miniscule imperfections and all, this is the only recording of this piece that has created such a specific, close connection and moved me to grieve so deeply along with Bach.

I think it takes a certain depth of character and maturity to play Bach in a meaninful way. It is not only technically incredibly difficult to master, but it also tests the soul.

(PS Of all the violinists I would like to meet, Arnold Steinhardt tops my list, because I'm certain we are kindred spirits.)

January 23, 2012 at 02:00 AM · I was so blinded by the genius of the Bach solo sonatas that I ignored the violin and piano sonatas for too many years. They are simply incredible and have so much beauty. They are also not as technically difficult as the solo sonatas BUT they are full of musical challenges.

May 29, 2012 at 02:55 AM · In order to play even the Allemande artistically, it demands an artistic fingering, utilizing at least 2nd and 3rd positions (and possibly 4th, though I 'd have to check my part).

The ability to constantly and seamlessly shift through the positions, the ability to vibrate, and the ability to make clear phrases out of what sounds at first like perpetual motion would all have to be present. Since beginners don't possess these skills, then it cannot be a beginner's piece.

However, a moderately-advance student could get through it somehow using naive fingerings, inartistic string crossings, and no vibrato.

May 29, 2012 at 03:42 AM · Noel,

For a 9-year-old to be playing those pieces with technical accuracy and sensitivity is unusual but not impossible. Sounds as though your daughter may be blessed with a special talent. (I'll bet she does wonderfully in school too.) I hope she has an equally talented and loving teacher to guide her on the steep learning curve. You sound like the right guy for the parenting.

My daughter is in Book 5 Suzuki and her teacher suggested that I create a "study" for her using the cadenza of the Kreisler P&A. Often we use a difficult passage from a future piece as a study. The double-stop passages in the Seitz Concertos were learned this way.

At first blush it would seem just as easy to take one of the "double" movements from a Bach Sonata and put it in front of a child as an exercise at some slow tempo such that the child can make the stops. The result will be equivalent to a Wohlfahrt study. Thus the solution is simply to assign Wohlfahrt for that purpose, because there's very little the child can play the rest of the sonata for several years. I don't mind, on the other hand, making a study of the Kreisler P&A cadenza because -- in my opinion -- there is nowhere near the same level of musical content or subtlety that exists in the Bach S&P.

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