Bachs Chaconne

January 21, 2014 at 06:39 PM · Yesterday after work I read about the death of Claudio Abbado. I actually was very sad and many fellow musicians on facebook posted Videos of Abbados great Concerts. I planned to make a video recording of me playing the Chaconne by Bach lately, but never had the time or energy. But yesterday I felt like just doing it. I wasn't to well played in and I made some mistakes/out of tune notes, but I wanted to record it in one take and decided to tolerate the technical flaws. The Camera perspective was really bad, because I had no room in another place. Still I want to know, what you think about it. Many thanks in advance for critiques.

Replies (29)

January 21, 2014 at 07:11 PM · Lovely playing.

January 21, 2014 at 08:08 PM · Thank you very much! I am always open to suggestions, since I havent had a lesson for about more than a year.

January 21, 2014 at 10:46 PM · Simon I would LOVE to be able to play that chaconne and play it the way you do. And you held my attention as much as anyone, even though your dynamics seemed to vary over a very narrow range indeed.

I thought some of the A-s which should have been played same pitch simultaneously on two strings were only played single note on one string, but that might be either my hearing or the edition you were using.

I would hate to STOP at playing it the way you do. I hope the person taking the master class to which you intend to bring it is the right person to really open you up to better things.

January 22, 2014 at 01:26 AM · "I thought some of the A-s which should have been played same pitch simultaneously on two strings were only played single note on one string, but that might be either my hearing or the edition you were using."

Thats quite a compliment. Because if you refer to the double a's in the major section, I played both ;) I "cheat" in other places, like the arpeggio section, I sometimes play open d and a instead of fingering them on d and g string. I found it very hard to finger them in tune with the fourth finger, so I take the safe way and try to make it sound like... well like I am not cheating ;)

Yes to the dynamic range. I always found it hard in bach to get the dynamics right. I had some ideas, some worked some didn't come over.

The teacher, who I will bring this is really good, she plays bach like no other I heard live, especially the chaconne. But she is a perfectionist, russian school, wich sometimes can choke you, but I think I can handle that. I try to be a perfectionist too, but I am living with the fact, that I have just limited time to practice due to teaching 3/4 of the week.

Ten years ago I always wanted to play the chaconne, but it was too hard for me, thanks to lots of practice and good lessons I finally came to a point where I feel, that I can manage it. I will work now on memorizing, wich is not easy at all, so many chords!

January 22, 2014 at 02:28 AM · Really nice playing. I listened all the way through. In general, intonation was really good and your expression comes through in many places. To my ears, the second half was a bit more pleasing to listen to. You took a bit more time and let the phrases breath a little more so I could hear the build and release of tension.

One spot that seemed a bit rushed was the key change to the D-major third about mid-way through the piece. I wish you took more time there and made more of a character change. Leading up to it is a long chord progression that builds and builds, then suddenly drops to the peaceful phrase beginning with the D-Major third. It is really a dramatic character change that didn't come across IMO. Otherwise, really outstanding playing. Congratulations!

PS One day, I hope to be able to play it like you do :-) The chaconne is pure genius -- truly one of the greatest works ever written for violin.

January 22, 2014 at 05:31 AM · Hi Simon -- Excellent work so far! Since you asked for feedback, here goes...

At the beginning, I would hold the 3rd and 6th notes (chords) of the piece just a bit longer (same thing when the pattern repeats later).

00:38 Have you tried working out the bowing so that you take all of these 4-note chords as down bows? I think it would sound better that way.

05:25 Starting at this point in the arpeggios, it's personal preference, but I like to play the top note of the arpeggio twice. Also make sure that every note is heard.

06:18 Some of the notes are incorrect here (you probably already knew that).

11:06 Innovative arpeggio pattern here. I've never heard it played this way before.

General phrasing could use some work, but I think that will improve when you have it completely memorized. Once you've internalized it, you can really focus on the music. It is a real joy to play and practice.

In general, it's a great start. Notes are mostly in tune, technique is good, and the difficult passages are mostly there. Btw, just so you know--I am not a violin teacher, but I have been working on the Chaconne myself (self-taught) for the past ~2 years. So perhaps you should take my suggestions with a grain of salt. ;)

January 22, 2014 at 09:29 AM · @smiley ;): I agree with the key change and also that the second part is more free, in the beginning I also made some minor mistakes as you may have noticed, I just wasn't that into it at first :S

@gene: Thanks for the details. About the bowing in the beginning, I think ill leave it, but I know your idea, I think heifetz and some old players used it. The wrong notes I remember, because they actually made me smile while playing, they were so silly ;). About the passage around 11 mins I am quite proud, that that is my own Idea and I think it works quite good, at least the eight'th movement on the a and e string is correct in time like that, not like the usual way its played, where the second one is delayed.

In the Arpeggio section at 5:25 I actually dont like too much the changing of the pattern (even when milstein or heifetz or stern play it) but I agree, that the hearability of the notes can use work!

Thanks so far for the suggestions, it helps me!

Gene, I remember listening to one of your chaconne videos, I was really impressed. And you use some interesting fingerings aswell!

January 22, 2014 at 10:55 AM · Greetings,

that was great. it's how I like to hear this piece played. wonderful.

My chocolate fueled lunacy went off on a different track re comments.... I could imagine some pompous doofus doing a master class coming up to you on stage and going ' well Simon, when you play this piece you are embarking on the ultimate journey through the gamut of human emotion. ?' although this often means they haven't got anything to say and are playing for time, it might be a prelude to the suggestion that you pause for a while and say a brief prayer, recite some koans or run through tonites shopping list before you start instead of being in such a hurry to chuck the violin up and get going....

this thing about putting the instrument up is tricky and it seemed to me that there is a certain simultaneous clamping motion you make twixt head and shoulder which is worth exploring, perhaps by spending a few practice sessions not putting the head on the fiddle until the violin is up. the head movement can usefully be separated into turn left and then dropping. this avoids corkscrewing the vertebrae.

for what little it's worth I think the sheer quality of your performance distracts the observer from noting a certain degree of structural instability when you play. not in your local technique but in the physique in general. there are quite a wide range of physical mannerisms , some of which work and others which cause very very slight deviations in tone or cause you to expend an awful lot of unnecessary energy.

The one I would

d personally pay attention to is the playing of accents with the scroll of the violin and your body's downward movement with descending passages. I would perhaps recommend standing in a doorway with your spine against the frame and sinking down (bending your knees ) try playing thus way and see what it teaches can even try sliding up and down as you play, to vary the effect.

idle thoughts


January 22, 2014 at 03:24 PM · Thank you very Much! I think I get the points you mention. Yes I found myself wondering how much I actually move during playing and the headtwist in the end was really too much, but at that moment I had my ear somewhere in the violin. Keeping the violin up for accents is a good advise, as it is to keep the violin fairly still.

For my tecchnique, I am quite tall for an violinist and therefore have a hard time to find truly "relaxed" positions. Sometimes its a question of daily form. That monday I felt not really comfortable because instead of playing slow scales and stuff I was teaching in the morning. I somehow forced this performance out of my tired body, it was actually the third take and in the end I was very tired. I can imagine, that all that mannerisms were less in the first fresher takes, but some things went too wrong there too.

Again thank you very much for inspiration and ideas!

January 24, 2014 at 12:45 AM · > About the passage around 11 mins I am quite proud, that that is my own Idea and I think it works quite good...

Very nice! One day I hope to add my own personal modifications too.

> I "cheat" in other places, like the arpeggio section, I sometimes play open d and a instead of fingering them on d and g string.

I did that too in the beginning. Lately, I've been adding the 4th finger on the G where appropriate. I find the more I practice this piece, the more "spider-like" my fingers become. Maybe someday I'll be able to play all 3 parts of the Air-in-G à la Roman Kim. One can dream... ;)

January 24, 2014 at 01:53 AM · OK: very limited qualifications to comment - I can barely manage the first movement but do believe I dreamed of playing the chaconne at one time (I have fingered all the notes!)!

Like all above I'm drawn in and convinced by your Chaconne. You are talking through it beautifully, especially after the first part - but I guess that's just starting-the-piece-nerves (how DOES one deal with that??). I found it compelling and did not want to stop listening.

Critique? If I must (but take mine with a boulder of salt). Space. Take more time. I don't think you let the piece breathe enough; the contrast with silence is what gives it its astonishing presence. Probably much easier to do once memorized though because then you can get lost in the music. I hope we can hear it again when once its memorized as I suspect this will all fall into place.

January 24, 2014 at 08:31 PM · Thank you again with the suggestions! I also think more time in the right places will add contrast! Unfortunately I don't have a very good acoustic at my practice room, since its quite small, but I will modify this later with carpets and stuff on the wall.

John, the first note is indeed very important and I was also very impressed by how victoria mullova plays this piece. But also knowing that J.S.Bach, who played his pieces by himself of course, was said to have a very strong and warm tone, made me think that mullovas and other "historically informed performances" are going too far away from the expressive core of this chaconne. I may add a little bit of lightness here and there but in general I like to brak the chords fast, to get to the sopran voice as fast as possible! But I definetily will work on the beginning now ;)

January 24, 2014 at 08:38 PM · You know what I loved (besides the lovely lovely tone & intonation), was your gorgeous left hand position right through, and the synchrony of right and left. I'm glad you recorded from behind, the constant quiet activity was captivating.

I don't know if you have heard it, but there is a recording of chaconne interspersed with choral interpolations by the LSO (solo violin) - with vocal ensemble Tenebrae. The album in fact juxtaposes Faure's Requiem with the Bach Dm Partita so this is one track. It's like thinking of Paganini as operatic, it changed my listening approach to chaconne for sure. I've been to a number of live baroque piece performances lately, the thing I'm noticing is the pacing of the musicians as accompaniment which is often intricate and ornamented, but has to allow the vocalist to breath and rise over the top.

January 24, 2014 at 08:43 PM · And I didn't find your body movement a distraction or impacting on the music. Your legs and core are well grounded, you're not one of those weird upper body waverers, Simon. And your arms, the bits doing the work, are quiet.

January 24, 2014 at 08:46 PM · Thank you again, and very interesting suggestion with the tenebrae recording! I'll buy that track! :)

January 24, 2014 at 09:37 PM · First of all - good job, in many ways a pleasure to listen to. :-)

I'll preface my comments by saying I'm an amateur with a strong interest in historically informed performance. So I have nothing at all to add about technique or anything, but I hope you don't mind if I critique some of the interpretation.

In the first few bars you do not have the structure quite right. The stressed notes in the bass line ought to be the first D, then the minim Csharp and Bflat. The two crotchet Ds belong to the minims that follow them. To make this work, give the stressed notes a little more time to speak before rolling up to complete the chord. This is particularly true of the opening D.

In the third bar you are stressing the sixth between the f and the d and accenting the d with vibrato so it becomes a very prominent note. In my view that d is not very important and nor is the sixth - the interesting note in that chord is the bflat on the bottom.

In the following passage in e.g. bar 11 am I right that you are making a sliding shift to avoid putting the top f on the E-string? If so I wouldn't - in my view this passage needs a clean sound without un-necessary sliding, more than it needs a strong sense of legato in the the melodic line. That's not to say it should never be legato - you are bringing the melody to life very well here - but I would suggest thinking more about where the breaths and commas might be in that line.

One particularly important comma comes in bar 16 where you have minim A and E in the lower lines and then a resolution in the treble onto C# - this is an important moment in the harmony with a clearly-established dominant - you should do something with it :-)

If this is helpful, I'd be happy to post more thoughts...

January 25, 2014 at 12:51 AM · Greetings,

'And your arms, the bits doing the work, are quiet'

this is the basic fallacy . Playing the violin is done with the whole body.



January 25, 2014 at 03:48 AM · I think, thinking about the position of the violin is always beneficial, but I am actually not a very much motionful violinist. When I involve the body usually it is because I feel like it and I have to release something. So, yes, less movement could channel the energy better but I have enough energy to spare. Young violists should move in my opinion. But thinking about the clamping movement helps me a lot.

Chris: Of course I am very interested in more information, if you have the time! I play very much from my intuition and how I like it to sound, sometimes the structure to me is relatively unclear yet, so thinking about wich note is important can actually add a lot to an interpretation of the ciaconna... still I like to vibrate this d in the third bar, but the B-flat is indeed the harmonically interesting note!

January 25, 2014 at 09:02 AM · Youre a difficult crab, aren't you Buri. the myth, the myth.

I think you bloody well know what I meant re quiet arms "doing bits". there is an elegance in a player whose body isn't doing weird stuff. Even though you felt that Simon used some moevement that detracted from tone, and in the main what I was saying was the impact for ME as a listener was that the movement didn't detract. Maybe there is an impact on tone, and your advice re the doorway could work. I still think the arms are the doing bits, but supported by the body which can assist in getting the most out of it, but have it your way if its going to help you resolve things with AT.

Is Gidon Kremer moving in a way as you would be suggesting, in his Chaconne?

January 25, 2014 at 07:58 PM · Simon,

Thank you for offering your interpretation of Chaconne!

It was my pleasure listening you play. In order to avoid anything lost in translation in my comment, I would instead invite you to:

a) listen to as many choral Chaconna's and instrumental Passacaglia movements from different (national) Baroque composers, preferably performed by some of HIP ensembles and choirs.

b) get another violin strung with pure gut strings and a Baroque bow and experiment with your sound, expression and phrasing using this setup. After a while. play it again on your modern violin and try to discover if a modern setup leads you toward a different direction.

As already mentioned, this is a life-time quest and the journey is perhaps even more valuable and interesting than achieving a goal.

January 27, 2014 at 09:24 AM · Wow Simon, what a beautiful presentation. I loved it very much, thank you.

My teacher is about to start me on this journey of torture, which I hope turns to delight at some stage. If I can learn to play it even just a little bit like you, then I really don't care what contortions my body goes through to achieve it! My brain and hands will be keeping me occupied enough, I dare say, for me to notice anything else. It will be in my dreams, I will hum sections of it at every waking moment, even at work, and I will drive my husband nuts because I am thinking 'chaconne' instead of listening to him....oh the twisted pleasure of the violin!

January 27, 2014 at 06:35 PM · Hi Simon

Very well played. Of course we won't discuss the notes that didn't come out exactly the way you wanted

That will haunt you enough as is

We all wish that everything coming out of our fiddles is note perfect but after all we are human

You have a very good working idea of the piece and the technique to carry out your ideas

The one thing I seem to be missing in this performance is color variety

Please see this link below

It's the performance and arrangement of the chaconne by Stokowski

I think it may give you an interesting perspective of this piece

In any case it fills in the harmonies we can only hint to on a single fiddle. Except for the repetition of the last phrase at the end which I think might be gilding the lily a bit, it is quite an interesting interpretation of the piece

With the entire orchestra playing, this takes on a much bigger and grandeur face as it should

January 27, 2014 at 08:48 PM · Impressive playing. I think, for now, that I had better stick with the other four movements of that partita!

I agree that the whole body plays the violin. But it doesn't have to be like this:

January 27, 2014 at 10:58 PM · "It can be compared to an oil painting with one character painted in acrylics. Mixed media."

Interpretation of music has a lot in common with painting. Everybody uses his/her own colours shades and effects. I don't think implementing romantic slides into bachs music does any harm as long as it is "authentic" for the player.

Same thing with "informed performance". To me it is intersting and has influence on me listening to monica huggett for example, but I will not copy it in any way, if I don't want to play it like her... because her way is also just an interpretation. I think everybody here knows recordings of Milstein and Szeryng of this piece. To me they are contrary to the "informed performance" but they are great interpretations with an impact to the feelings.

Once my teacher told me as I was playing Bach "Its very emotional music" simple as that, she was right. Its not only intelligent music, but very very emotional and I think, that we all can agree here.

The beauty of Bachs music being emotional music is, that it speaks for itself unless you dont destroy it. So getting the harmonies out and the rhythm right and the dynamics matching the harmonies to me is 90 percent of a good Bach performance. Yes, one can add colour and phrasing in many places, but the edge is small to overdo it. Also with articulation and accents one can sometimes do more harm than good (for me personally also changing the arpeggio pattern does harm to the flow of the music, thats what I dislike with milstein and others from the romantic era)

I am sure if Bach would be alive today would work with what is here now and enjoy modern and informed performances aswell...about the stokowski I am not so sure ;) but it is an interesting version of course, very epic, very romantic!

About my faults I am actually not so much concerned, because some of them were random... even stern and heifetz are not in one take if you listen closely, so having a wrong note here and there should not concern me too much as long as I don't do the same fault again. Playing this piece in one take to me character and continuation of the mood is more important than technical perfection. I heard the chaconne thousand times in competitions played very flawless, but it left me cold many times. Maybe I am also old enough to accept, that there is imperfection in everything and to understand that it doesn't hurt the feelings in any way... hopefully though... I am sorry for bad structure in my text, its late in germany! I wich you a good night!

January 29, 2014 at 11:13 AM · I don't think that looking for emotions is the only right way. But I think that there is a story in the music, wich can invoke the emotions. But looking for that story, wich of course is very personal since you cannot share every detail of imaginations, seems to me the best way to get to an emotional interpretation. But for that you have to be totally free of technical limitations.

For some places when I play Bach I have a story, wich unfolds during the music. Sometimes I feel that Bachs music is so narrative, that you actually can read it like a book. But most of the times my understanding stays on a musical level, anticipating and reflecting, what is played.

January 30, 2014 at 10:41 PM · If it's stories for Bach unaccompanied you're after ...

I've just looked at Paul Robertson's website again, but in your case Simon, you might like to look at the work of Helga Thoene direct (My late father unintentionally showed me my German was not up to much when he opened up in front of me "Es war einmal ein König" and ended up having to translate it for me. The book was in Gothic script, but had my German been up to it I'd have coped with the script).

January 31, 2014 at 11:05 AM · Thanks, Helga Thoene seems to be an interesting author on this topic! Unfortunately the book is quite expensive...

January 31, 2014 at 11:19 AM · Then all you can do is see what you can find out by googling or from a public library (if they exist in Germany). All I myself know on the topic is what I've seen on Paul Robertson's website.

February 2, 2014 at 08:13 PM · Helga Thoenes' research has produced a CD called Morimur. It was discussed on here.

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