Why haven't I heard of these?

February 15, 2017 at 04:44 PM · Hello,

Obviously, it's not possible to point out why someone you don't know has not heard about pieces of music, but are the Six Sonatas for Violin and Harpsichord, BWV 1014–1019 unpopular?

I only just randomly heard them by chance, and they are incredible. After all these years, I just wonder why I have never seen a violinist mention them. Are they unpopular or was it just a coincidence that I've never noticed them?

Interested in hearing if I'm living under a rock or not. haha

Replies (35)

February 15, 2017 at 05:52 PM · I haven't heard of them. I don't live under a rock, but I am presently living in an igloo ;)

February 15, 2017 at 06:28 PM · These pieces are not as popular as Bach's other works, but hardly unknown at this site. I am familiar with Szerying and Walcha's recordings and they are available on YouTube.

February 15, 2017 at 06:37 PM · The sonatas are by no means unpopular, and a lot of the "greats" have performed and recorded them. I'm particularly fond of Frank Peter Zimmermann's interpretation of them. Wonderful music.

February 15, 2017 at 06:43 PM · Thanks, I just find it interesting that I've never come across them except by accident.

I'm so in love with a few of them!

February 15, 2017 at 06:43 PM · Thanks, I just find it interesting that I've never come across them except by accident.

I'm so in love with a few of them!

February 15, 2017 at 07:23 PM · They have the distinction of having fully written-out keyboard parts, not just someone's realisation of a continuo bass.

I have Lucy Daël's and Joseph Suk's LP's

February 15, 2017 at 08:16 PM · They are very nice pieces of music. Some of the HIP recordings made recently are very interesting, in addition to Szeryng's great recording. My teacher said that Friedman recorded these, but I haven't found a copy.

I think they could inform the interpretation of the solo works in an interesting way.

February 15, 2017 at 09:48 PM · I really like Kogan's version with Karl Richter. I think Kogan has a great, pure sound for Bach, and I actually think I prefer these with the harpsichord than piano. Szeryng and Grumiaux are excellent, as is to be expected.

They are a real challenge to play - A lot of challenges for the right arm, but I think some of these are the most beautiful things Bach ever wrote.

February 16, 2017 at 12:22 AM · Perhaps the answer could be in not-so-good performances? I am not sure that pre-HIP performers ever grasped the depth of those sonatas.....

I sometime joke with my fellow musicians that there is a special place in hell reserved for those who do not play Bach well.

2 more HIP performances:

Musica Alta Ripa

Rachel Podger & Trevor Pinnock

By the way, there are many rare gems in 200 surviving cantatas quietly labeled as "unpopular" by recording industry - which is another word for "ignored".

February 16, 2017 at 01:44 AM · They have been discussed on this site.

February 16, 2017 at 03:20 AM · I have the complete Bach Cantatas. Haven't heard a bad one yet. To be honest, if anyone has heard a dud by Bach, let me know.

I like the Podger-Pinnock recordings a great deal as well.

February 16, 2017 at 03:24 AM · I've played two of the Bach sonatas for violin and harpsichord on faculty recitals. They're lovely pieces.

February 16, 2017 at 04:59 AM · I greatly respect the HIP approach, but it has also been indirectly detrimental towards more variety in the concert hall, or even "small scale" recitals. In short, I strongly feel the Baroque (and all the way up to the Classical era) repertoire is rarely performed due to the qualms of purists-"for HIP performers only" qualifications.

Which is why I strongly advocate that we forget that nonsense (in my view), and respect each type of approach. After all, most solo Bach, even if nowadays a bit more restrained in some romantic mannerisms, are still essentially hybrids of modern and historical performance practice. This is a double standard. If we allow solo Bach with our modern setups to be played with a few modern concessions, we should also allow the Bach accompanied Sonatas, Handel, Vivaldi, Corelli, and many, many others back into the modern recital hall.

Does Milstein deserve a special seat in hell for recording the Baroque repertoire the way he did? "But he hails from another era!" True; and so does most of our repertoire, including some 20th Century music.

Again, I LOVE HIP performances in general (I will always be fond of Manze's recording of Corelli's Sonatas, whatever you may think of them), but they must not be considered a recital replacement for modern performances of "old music", but rather an historically informed alternative. Nothing wrong in having a modern Corelli Sonata performance (not including Kreisler's La Folia version that is still occasionally played) or having the beautiful Bach accompanied Sonatas played with modern violin AND piano, which is usually more readily available than a harpsichord (nothing against harpsichords either, BTW.)

Finally, just wanted to add that I have nothing against any of you for supporting "properly played Bach"-we should indeed "properly" play his music, but not necessarily tied to HIP practices. I for one don't have a Baroque violin or bow, but still don't feel as if said repertoire is forbidden to me because of the fact. My view is not hating on any of you, but more a wish for more openness and a more diverse recital programming.

On the subject, Grumiaux was always an inspiring player of the Baroque repertoire, including these Bach accompanied Sonatas.

February 16, 2017 at 05:29 AM · I've enjoyed listening to Viktoria Mullova and Ottavio Dantone's recordings -- lovely music and nice to hear with a harpsichord. After listening to a harpsichord for a while, a piano sounds like it's muffled with felt. Obviously most people will have easier access to pianos than harpsichords or fortepianos, but it's nice to be able to hear both sorts of approaches, interpretations and changes over time regardless of the period of the instruments, and great to have people make the effort to rebuild and relearn the old.

The argument about authenticity forcing them out isn't entirely convincing while we have new 'modern' instrument performances and recordings of the Four Seasons and Messiah among others. I think it may be more about the music itself not being as commonly sought after -- by the audience and performers who perhaps prefer more showy or recent works.

February 16, 2017 at 05:48 AM · Janine Jansen's rendering of several of the accompanied sonatas is lovely and manages to hybridize historical awareness with modern possibilities very nicely.

Did I read somewhere that Rachel Podger was planning another go at these? I'd love to hear her current perspective on them.

February 16, 2017 at 05:57 AM · Yes, Mr. Sender-good for Ms. Jansen performing these Bach works that way. There's a place for Baroque other than HIP-as beautiful and inspiring as those can also be.

February 16, 2017 at 04:03 PM · I've performed a couple, but didn't discover them till I was a doctoral student and my teacher suggested them for a recital.

I think the reason most people are unaware of them is simply the existence of the solo sonatas, upon which everyone spends so much time and energy. But it's also that other stuff we have to study--romantic concerti, showpieces, paganini. Then we leave school, and we have to beat our heads against Don Juan, Mozart 39, blah blah blah. No wonder much of the repertoire goes undiscovered.

Then again, how many have performed Mozart sonatas? What about the Janacek Sonata, or the Kodaly Duo? Unfortunately, few students stray off the well-worn and thoroughly institutionalized path. Especially if they stay with Suzuki for a while.

February 16, 2017 at 04:39 PM · I played the 2nd sonata a few years ago as a kind of intermediate step between the Teleman Fantasies and the unaccompanied Bach - thinking "what should I do before unaccompanied Bach?" and coming up with the answer "accompanied Bach" ;)

I should really go back to them now I have better technique!

February 16, 2017 at 05:05 PM · I think they are wonderful pieces. I have played all of them. I happen to have CDs (made from LPs) of David Oistrakh and a harpsichordist named Pischner playing them. Great recordings, even though Oistrakh is probably not the last word in HIP. I also have very nice Grumiaux/Jaccotet recordings.

February 16, 2017 at 09:15 PM · I like HIP a lot, but Milstein's Handel is lovely.

I think as long as the recording makes you think "That's really beautiful music", then there's a place for it. I suppose one day I'll get a baroque bow and try a hybrid approach to some of this music, but for now for me, playing baroque with a modern style is a great way to play beautiful music without a lot of practice while the romantic literature is still on the hard side.

February 16, 2017 at 09:39 PM · To expand on Jason's point a bit, there is nothing magic about HIP. The fact that a recording is HIP does not automatically confer on it mythic status or make it better than other, non-HIP recordings of the same piece. Oistrakh, Grumiaux, Szerying, and Stern have done wonderful recordings of Bach pieces that do not necessarily qualify as HIP but are as good as just about anything out there.

February 16, 2017 at 11:43 PM · Uh, oh.... I poked a sore spot did I?

I agree that HIP is a misnomer... but because of my exposure to those recordings (from excellent to mediocre and everything in between), I became aware of players, whose name I will intentionally avoid mentioning, who play every composer in the same manner: from Paganini to Bach.

Bach, despite some quite challenging spots, is not Paganini and one has to understand his music in context of his era, in particular the role of music in Lutheran worship. For those who care to scratch the surface, symbolism is not difficult to find... from rhythmical patterns, harmony and counter-point.

I guess that the letter "I" is the most important part of the HIP acronym - one has to be at least informed in order to get started with music making.

February 17, 2017 at 12:36 AM · I performed one of the Gamba sonata movements on viola. Are these also often performed transposed for violin?

I can't get worked up about HIP. Nothing wrong with it but still.

February 17, 2017 at 01:54 AM · HIP is fine-I just don't feel a non-HIP performance that is honest and respectful of the composer is inherently "wrong" (even if such a thing would be deemed an oxymoron by some.)

Nothing against Mr. Milankov, to be sure.

Agree that Milstein's "non-informed" performances of the Baroque repertoire were special indeed. I do believe he was convinced there was a difference between performing Handel, Vivaldi, and Goldmark.

February 17, 2017 at 07:07 AM · They are gorgeous and, to be fully enjoyed, require a keyboard player as skillful as the violinist. Then, what a journey they can take you on!

I love Menuhin's versions, early on with Louis Kentner (piano), and later with George Malcom on harpsichord (with that version including cello or gamba support as well). He recorded some with Wanda Landowska too! He even recorded one with Glenn Gould.

The Oistrakh version suffers from the harpsichord mic'd far too distantly so the interplay between the instruments is significantly diminished.

Glenn Gould recorded the set with Jaime Laredo, where the keyboard is more prominent than the violin.

February 17, 2017 at 01:14 PM · The HIP exist to rethink the evolved and diluted practices that have often strayed from original practices, and should be expected to make the modern performers and their audiences uncomfortable when they have significant differences. Respect for the composer is sacrosanct in classical music, and the HIP in their view are done, at least in part, out of respect for the original composition, and should be respected as such even if when they conflict with other interpretations which also maintain the same claim.

In a performance last night by the Eybler Quartet, a piece was announced with reference to another "period instrument" -- the metronome. The announcer referred to historical metronome markings and then proceeded to play the piece differently, faster, than conventional performances. Could they be wrong? Or might the composer have intended something a lot faster than what performers might be comfortable with?

Listen to Prokofiev's recording of Romeo and Juliet for a stark contrast of how differently, even in modern times, modern practices can stray from the composer's intention and still sound viable if we don't consider the details.

There's nothing wrong in itself in playing a piece differently from the composer's intention, to highlight an interpretation or even to make a new piece of music, but if the intention is to be faithful to the composer, HIP has an advantage which should be respected.

February 17, 2017 at 03:35 PM · As Rocky said, I think there are and always have been performers who prefer to headline over the composer and assert their individuality. Certainly, along the lines of the studio system in Hollywood, early 20th C performers were promoted like stars, and their stature placed above that of the composer.

But I agree there are and and always have been performers who prefer to defer to the composer, and hence the score. We often bemoan the loss of individuality among current artists, but that trend has been a century in the making, perhaps going back to Mahler. In the violin world, certainly Flesch was a proponent of fidelity to the score (and Auer more devoted to developing the individual artist.) And probably every pedagogue in the last 50 years, even if only to pay lip service, would insist the student defer to the score.

But that tension has always been there and remains today, and I'm reminded of that in a current trend for bringing back improvisation to classical music. Who knows if it will be widespread anytime in the near future. It is a wonderful thing, but does lean toward the primacy of performance in the moment over the written work. Thanks to Yixi for linking this:

Could there be a breeze of change in the air?

Since composers started composing, rather than liturgizing, there's been a tension between the composition as vehicle for the performer, and composition as expression of the composer. Bach, as he solidified ornamentation and specified the realization of the figured bass, started a trend toward primacy of the score. And it was probably Beethoven, and the connoisseurs' reverence for his genius, that cemented the idea.

There was tension between the early French violin school and the later Belgian over deference to the composer versus individualistic expression. I think the artist-hero, championed by Paganini, Liszt and Wagner, spilled over into the early 20th C, and in the violin world, expression was informed by Romany and Klezmer styles well into the late 20th C. The tide is always turning, and there are always crosscurrents.

HIP sounds like a paradigm shift, but is really a continuation of an underlying capitulation to the score as authoritative, though perhaps it goes a step further in an attempt to do a hermeneutics of the composition. Critics would argue such a project is a false endeavour, but as J suggests, underneath the hype and obvious surface details, there is a clear stylistic change we would do well to consider, which reclaims the barroco ("oddly shaped pearl," a term which has long since shed it's pejorative intent, first coined by those championing what we would now consider a Classical aesthetic) in the execution of phrases, figures and form. Interpretations of the Baroque, until HIP, have been Classical, even Romantic, in the way they impose a sense of period structure and symmetry, in the way phrases are elongated and elided, in the way voicing is obscured in an effort to smooth over leaps and contours, rather than being delineated, so that linear, melodic shaping takes precedence over vertical, harmonic considerations and part writing, and in the way rhythmic gestures are subdued by a sense of a presumed longer line. Mozart gives us an interplay of characters taking turns in a call and response. Bach gives us an interweaving of various voices at once, a duo, trio, or quartet played by one.

At it's best I think HIP extends our horizon to the past, and enriches the tools of interpretation we have at our disposal. We need to keep such ideas in mind playing Stravinsky, Bartok, Hindemith, Britten or Martinu. At worst, it's a parody of something we know not what. But it's here to stay.

P.S. Love these too Corey, they are gems! Tricky too, in their own way. I've performed BWV 1017, the Largo of which closely resembles "Erbarme dich" from St. Matthew's. So good to study on multiple fronts.

February 17, 2017 at 08:54 PM · A bit off the topic, but if you ever get a hold of one (or all!) of the CDs from "Bach Cantata Pilgrimage", (recorded during year of 2000, with Gardiner, English Baroque Soloist and Monteverdi choir) find some time to listen to arias and other movements where violin plays the obligato part.

Alison Bury, Kati Debretzeni and Maya Homburger, marvelously played this role and their recordings are worth listening if you are a serious violin student or Bach lover.

Here is a quick way to identify all Cantatas with violin obligato:


In my opinion, violin obligato ought to be part of a violin curriculum. They are gems of violin repertoire, where violin is an integral part of a vocal movement. I can not stop admiring the most important "unimportant" role, a violin in a context, not a mere soloist (individual), but one of many with unique, distinct, and delicate role. There is nothing quite like that!

February 17, 2017 at 09:22 PM · "In my opinion, violin obligato ought to be part of a violin curriculum."

Yes Rocky! I think that should be mandatory training also. You learn so much about breathing, and shaping with the breath (our bows) when that's the main cue you receive to play off of. Also, you see how the rest of the body language integrates with the breath, something, as violinists with resonating boxes tucked under our chins, we often forget to do. Thanks for CD suggestion! I think I've heard bits of it here and there, but it'd be great to have the collection. What a great achievement by JEG, soloists and choir!

And not so off topic, because that's how the 6 sonatas should be played, especially the slow movements, as if in obligato to vocal lines, since the violin plays the part of the vocal line.

February 17, 2017 at 09:56 PM · I agree about Bach's obligato violin music. That music Bach wrote is just as great as the solo works (just different). I have this compendium of the solos from the sacred works:


I wish it had a piano accompaniment with it, though, so they could be performed like sonatas. I would love to play Erbarm Dich from St. Matthew Passion with piano accompaniment, or a version for voice, violin, and piano.

February 17, 2017 at 10:30 PM · Well, qualifying HIP as the one, sole way to respect the composer's intentions is not only arrogant, but contradictory, as aforementioned, theres not even "one HIP way." Many ways to perform great works that don't require period instruments or practices.

If we become super strict, rather than just enjoy the music, we are "wrong" in playing the Mendelssohn Concerto (and most of our repertoire, really) with steel Es. Most of our modern setup violins are "too modern" to pay proper justice to romantic works (much less Classical), if you become very dogmatic.

In short, it's offensive to imply that *only* the HIP approach respect the composer's intentions, and strict dogmas has rarely done any good in society, as far as I know (I may be wrong, of course.) Let's just forever agree to disagree, as not only I can't see how this is factual, but modern Solo Bach playing is generally an hybrid of practices, and we are still "OK" with them being performed this way.

February 17, 2017 at 11:11 PM · Adalberto, if you are reacting to my post, I think you misunderstand me. I'm suggesting all the literalness, dogmatic rules, a kind of musical fundamentalism, associated with HIP is just a smokescreen, a superficial treatment of the underlying characteristics of barroco which scholarship has uncovered. As with interpretation of the Classical period, a consensus is growing regarding how to express the core of Baroque style. Any move toward standardization is in danger of dogmatism, so thank goodness for all the great artists we still have all around us breathing new life into old works. But today, you can't play Mozart any which way without considering period structure, antecedent and consequent phrases. Of course you can if you dare, but no one will take such an interpretation seriously. You can't begin the opening statement of Mozart's 3rd Violin Concerto by playing the first two notes: weak-strong. To do so is considered incorrect. Even though it's a syncopation, you have to give it strong-weak, or at least strong-less strong. In a similar way, you can no longer play the opening of Bach G-minor by vibrating fully on the first long note, sustaining through it and carrying that growing sound through the descending scale with increasing density and intensity and finally landing on the the 3rd quarter pulse, at least not without raising eyebrows. And it's not just the academics and critics who would balk at it, but an ever growing number of teachers and performers. I did the bulk of my training from the mid-90's to the early 00's and I would say 75% of my instructors (teachers, coaches, conductors) were at least sympathetic to HIP scholarship, though none of them was a dedicated period performer. I'm not saying it has become as standardized as Mozart scholarship, and perhaps never will, as is fitting to the period itself, but a consensus is growing. Does that invalidate the work of past artists? I don't think so. We can still appreciate their thoughts and expression, find beauty in their renditions, but at the same time, I think we can recognize it as part of a bygone era.

February 18, 2017 at 12:41 AM · Early music at it's best inspires us to be informed.

I think anyone who claims HP is the only correct way is either 1) a charlatan, or 2) an ill-educated critic.

I enjoy artists like Milstein and Grumiaux playing baroque and classical repertoire too, they're beautiful!

To slightly expand the notion that HP is "really a continuation of an underlying capitulation to the score as authoritative, though perhaps it goes a step further in an attempt to do a hermeneutics of the composition..."

The essence of early music to me is to bring out the spirit and stylistic things NOT visible on the score:

Small things like cadential trills were not written but expected...observing strong/weak beats, knowing that the Bach g minor solo sonata adagio were imitating the Italian style alla Corelli with all the melismatic embellishments written out, so if you attempt to play it metronomically correct to the 32nd note level, it will sounds...awkward, and inegalite is expected in the French style (think e.g. Bach E major violin partita minuet or c minor no. 5 cello suite prelude...)

I recommend Barthold Kuijken's book The Notation is Not the Music—the title says it all!

Ultimately the baroque bows and gut strings are just tools, and what's more important is how we use them. No one gets a stamp of superiority just because you use period instruments. At worse they are used as marketing gimmick, which I suspect is a source of grievance from critics. But using period instruments from an honest point of curiosity is a good start, I think.

These Bach harpsichord violin sonatas are just beautiful gems! But not easy to play, especially for they keyboard player. And I suspect many violinists do recognize there is a big difference (certainly in balance) with playing these with a grand piano vs. harpsichord. But they can certainly work on either instrument, and thank goodness they're not lost.

I really enjoy Janine Jansen's Bach sonatas! It's a great example I think of the trend of modern artists applying stylistic practices that enlivens the music. And in Jansen's case her source of HIP is pretty close to home—guess who is the harpsichordist in her recording?

February 18, 2017 at 12:43 AM · I am not one to blindly worship the "bygone era" as intrinsically superior as many do (as some do with SR vs restless discussions, "gut or go home", etc.) but some of those players did play baroque vs romantic differently, even if compared to modern days, every note sounds "the same" as Tchaikovsky, etc.

I am not against a respectful, stylistic approach of modern performance, be it Solo Bach, Paganini Caprices, Mendelssohn, or Sibelius. Nor against HIP for that matter. Even singular composers within a same era are often not "supposed" to be played the same way. I love Milstein's Bach, even if he's supposed to be "bad", but also know emulating him is perhaps "inappropriate" in this day and age-at least as far as Bach is concerned.

My qualms are more against this supposed "authenticity/accuracy edge" that HIP has, in the eyes of many, though not all of its adherents, where anything "less" doesn't respect the composer's intentions "as well." Can't agree with that, as we would all need to have a violin, strings, and specialized bows for almost every piece in a recital. By denying the practicality of such extreme adherence to HIP, I am in my strong opinion not disavowing modern HIP practice, but validating both approaches. I reject this idea that only HIP is authentic, and the rest a mere caricature, especially when HIP is not necessarily set in stone-many of the HIP performers of the past sound positively "romantic" as research improved.

The (few) hybrid Bach/Vivaldi/Handel of today are perfectly fine by me. My concern is letting only the HIP performers do the repertoire justice as if only they could, because "they have done the research." You could very well play Vivaldi's and Corelli's works with a modern setup without diminishing HIP's relevance, and while not commiting "musical heresy", despite the fact-that is my actually my view.

Apologies if you felt attacked or personally alluded-this is a view of mine that I have been observing for many years now, and goes beyond what any of you have posted in here. In fact, I have had lovely discussions and minor research on the matter with actual HIP adherents. I see a problem only making it an exercise in the ego, as in "I am more musically authentic/respectful of the composer than you", which strongly rubs me the wrong way.

February 19, 2017 at 06:57 PM · Those six sonatas for violin and harpsichord are not really Bach accompanied violin sonatas; in that case you might as well call them harpsichord pieces accompanied by violin; I think that that is as good as saying the opposite.

As a matter of fact they are trios!!! There are two equally matched upper voices above a bass line. The two equal parts are the violin and the right hand in the harpsichord, and the baseline is the left hand. As far as I can understand after googling the matter you can actually reinforce the baseline with a viola da gamba.

With that in mind this also explains why the harpsichord part is fully written out. For some reason the sonatas are sometimes called "violin sonatas" which in my opinion is missing the point.

Anayway the music is wonderful and certainly a challenge to play, a great challenge!

Personally I am convinced that Bach would love that his music is played both on old instruments and on modern instruments.

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