Opening chord in Bach's Partita II Sarabande
I'm a fiddler (with lots of training and professional experience in other areas of music), teaching himself the Bach solo Sonatas & Partitas. I say that because I want to explain my ignorance about "the way things are done," but I am very much enjoying figuring these masterpieces out. Sometimes, though, I encounter something that completely confuses me--not what Bach wrote (he seems to me to have had a handle on just about everything), but how violinists commonly deal with this music.
I have been working on Partita II for awhile, and I have just discovered that the way Bach wrote the first chord of the Sarabande is not at all how most players do it. He clearly indicates a quadruple stop, and a similar chord comes up later in the Chaconne, except with the F# at the top. It has been hard to get my fourth finger to hit that D-A fifth in the bass, but like everything else in this music, my experience has been to keep at it, build up strength and focus, and then whatever it is eventually falls into place. It's hard but not at all impossible. I really felt like I was getting a good sound on it this last week, and decided to go onto YouTube and see how everyone else does it.
While Sigiswald Kuijken and a person at her senior recital (it appeared) do what I do--play the chord Bach wrote--EVERYONE else (seriously--Perlman, Mutter, Kitchen, Heifetz, Vengerov, Podger, Chen, Fisher...) plays the opening by playing the open D and A strings, followed by a D-F double-stop on the A and E strings--it's like two 1/8th-note double stops and, um, kind-of throws the part-writing out the window. I assume that most if not all of these great players could play the quadruple stop. Why don't they? I figured somebody here might have an insight for me...
If you used an "Incredibow*" or similarly arched bow you could play the quadruple stop.
Well, I've got a nice modern bow, and no, you don't get the notes all at once on any quadruple stop (plenty of those throughout the Bach S & Ps!), but you can roll the bow and get all the notes. These people all play quadruple stops in this way, but on this chord in this particular movement, they don't even finger all the notes, but rewrite the opening by playing the open strings and then the D-F double stop...mysterious...
Playing open D allows you to sustain the bass note a little longer, anyway...
There was an interview Andrew Manze did years ago about this where he came down on the 4th finger side. If you're hell bent on this, you could try it with 3-2-1 instead of 4-2-1. I'd think it's easier with a baroque violin and bow.
There's no evidence that Bach meant "play all 4 notes at once" when writing a 4-note chord. It's just as impossible with Baroque-style violins and bows as it is modern ones! The chords would have been 'rolled', somewhat like they are on a harpsichord.
IMHO, one really should study Bach S&P with a teacher who could discuss this and many other issues with the student.
Sounds like you are in a better position to make your own informed musical judgement than someone who thinks it's always split 2-2 because their teacher said so and they know because their teacher told them. ;)
Playing all four notes as one chord sounds too loud and harsh.
Nobody does all 4 strings at once. 3 strings at once is possible if you want it to sound noisy, loud and accented. So there are two options; break 3 and 4 chords 2+2, or, what the authentic baroque practice people do, roll the chord into the top note. For that specific opening chord you could also try open D + third finger D, followed by open A + first finger F (!). For a best recording with modern equipment; Nathan Milstein. I also find the guitar or lute recordings to be very successful, and they cannot sustain their notes. This topic is discussed in the out-of-print Sol Babitz edition of the Bach S & P.
Hi, that's a great question!
This is an interesting debate. But it is also too theoretical for my taste. And at the end just not that important. Everyone should feel free to do as they think best. And at any rate this music is not primarily about violin playing.
I tried Julie's idea about fingering the D and A on the G and D strings with my third finger. The bottom three notes sounded well, but I could not make the stretch between the second-finger d on the A string and the first-finger f on the E string. So back to my previous fingering, I am rolling the chord--of course--and I am getting the low D to ring for the quarter note duration, and I linger on the d-f at the end. I am not really in doubt that what I'm doing works--for me it's the way to go, but I have a better understanding of why most other players choose the other fingering--thanks!
I play the opening as two double stops. But I like the roll that the classical guitarist uses. It’s a nice way of introducing the movement.
I hear this as an evocation of guitar or lute music. So it would be a rolled chord (strummed, sort of), not played all at once or 2-2.
I've been listening to it obsessively recently, and can report that every recording I've heard has rolled the quad stops. I can't imagine them any other way, really.
My pet hate is the up&down scrunches in the Chaconne when the melody is in a lower voice: it sounds like a stroppy fox-terrier snapping at my ankle!
This is the first variation, right (where the melody is in the next-to-the-lowest voice)? I think those are pretty clearly down-bows, but starting at the high note (breaking "downwards"). At first mine sounded like dogs barking (good analogy!), but as time goes by, I am getting the low note to be pretty light, while letting the "tenor" part carry on. It is as though I don't have to worry about sounding it, it just comes out anyway. As a composer, that section is among my favorites because Bach indicates what is necessary without giving you much information. That aspect of his writing is what most amazes me.