Bach Chaconne

April 21, 2020, 10:48 AM · Hello everyone

Now, I am planning on hopefully playing this piece in the following months and am going to play it for an audition in August. I have never really played a Bach piece before, so it is kind of new to me.

Now I understand that there is a stigma on the Bach as being deceptively difficult, and I was wondering about your thoughts on that. Is it harder musically or technically? And how long would it take to learn maybe the first three pages of it? Thank you

Replies (25)

April 21, 2020, 10:56 AM · One version of the music that I have refers to it as the Mt. Everest of solo violin. It's usually learned after some other solo Bach is under one's belt, but don't let me try and stop you! It's a beast, best of luck.
Edited: April 21, 2020, 11:04 AM · If you have never played Bach before, please please please do not start with the D Minor Chaconne. Start with the other four movements of that Partita. Bach is hard both musically and technically. Technically because solo pieces are the most exposed of all, so both bowing *articulation, phrasing) and intonation (obviously) must be highly refined. Musically because you need to create an emotive story-line out of pieces that are, by their nature, architecturally ornate and quite cerebral.
April 21, 2020, 11:05 AM · I agree with Paul. One's first Bach shouldn't be the Chaconne. I would suggest E major partita and/or the movements preceding the chaconne, as Paul said
April 21, 2020, 11:07 AM · Here's a recent video on this very subject:

Nathan Cole's Bach on the road, YouTube

April 21, 2020, 11:08 AM · It was not the hardest thing to play of Bach's Sonatas and Partitas - at least for me. I worked on it during my last couple of years of college - about 65 years ago. (Of course, there is no way I could play it now - I'm scared to try, the way my hands and arms work these days.)

If by "learn" you mean memorize, that depends on how adept you are at that skill. There is the problem of what it "means to you" and how to express that when you play it. Listening to several recordings of it might help you find what meaning others express (for you - if any).

It is not necessary, but you could warm up by reading through the earlier movements of the 2nd Partita. At least that would warm up your hands.

April 21, 2020, 11:21 AM · I think I would start the E Major and then perhaps the G minor Adagio and Presto movements ( I think the E major preludio would be helpful for this movement). Or alternatively start with the D minor movements mentioned above. In the meantime, you could study excerpts from the Chaconne before trying to learn the entire movement.

I think it's helpful to memorize Bach but it's not easy. I find it more challenging than Mozart or Haydn.

April 21, 2020, 11:37 AM · Please don't start with the Chaconne! Everyone above who's telling you not to do this is correct.

I would do the other four movements of the d minor partita and all of the E Major partita, as a minimum, before attempting the Chaconne. You should probably also do the first partita as well. Maybe even the g minor Adagio and Fugue.

Holy moly don't start with Chaconne!

April 21, 2020, 1:16 PM · I would also advise getting into Bach from a different piece. The Chaconne is challenging on many levels and is considered by many to be the pinnacle of violin composition. One can learn the notes with practice but learning how to interpret and phrase the piece is a lifetime undertaking. I hope that you do play it and experience its majesty, but I think you’ll get more out of it if you approach by building up to it.

My favorite quote about the Chaconne comes from Albert Spalding’s mother. She described it as a piece that “builds cathedrals in the mind.”

April 21, 2020, 1:26 PM · You can start with the chaconne if you want (it's just music, guys, geez), but if your audition is in August then I wouldn't recommend it. It took me over 6 months to get the chaconne how I wanted it when I was learning it. Granted, on and off, but you can't grind a piece like the chaconne because you need to take time to step back and reevaluate your musical choices.
April 21, 2020, 1:36 PM · I second (third? fourth?) everyone who says not to start with the Chaconne. Go ahead and play it for fun, but not for an audition if you've never played Bach. There is a general order one must go in to build up both the skills and understanding of the Bach S&P. Typically it goes something like this, though you can flip the first two: Partita 3, Partita 2 minus Chaconne, Sonata 1, Partita 1, Sonata 2, Sonata 3, and then, after all other movements have been learned, finally the Chaconne!
Edited: April 21, 2020, 2:05 PM · Wow, I have a lot to consider now. I never thought that it would be this much of interpreting but also knowing Bach's style of music. Geez, I have a lot to do now :/ I guess I might have to consider a different piece to play then.
Edited: April 22, 2020, 10:49 AM · Listen to it once, score in hand. Sight-read it once to find out if you have the technique to do it , then, unless the Chaconne is required for that audition, choose something else.
Edited: April 21, 2020, 2:57 PM · Rich, I never heard that quote. I think it is great!

"My favorite quote about the Chaconne comes from Albert Spalding’s mother. She described it as a piece that “builds cathedrals in the mind.”

Albert's mother was really on the ball :-)

It really is an appropriate mental image.

Edited: April 21, 2020, 3:58 PM · Nathan Cole described the C Major fugue as less playable than the Chaconne. Regardless, I wouldn't look at the Chaconne strictly from the standpoint of technical difficulty. We don't love it because it's hard, but for its emotional and musical content. If you can't do it justice, and if odds of you doing it justice aren't great, you'd be better advised to try something else first, saving that for later.
April 21, 2020, 4:11 PM · It's one thing if maybe there are one or two harder movements than the Chaconne among all six of the solo sonatas. It's quite another to be starting with the Chaconne before even the other movements of the D-minor partita! But we know nothing of Tyler because, like most people on here, he hasn't bothered to enter anything into his profile.
April 21, 2020, 4:59 PM · "Is it harder musically or technically?"
The answer for me is simple, when it has chords it's harder technically, when it's melodic, it's harder musically.
April 21, 2020, 5:19 PM · David, it is not simple; the Chaconne has chords AND melody...a large part of the difficulty is sorting that combination out.
April 21, 2020, 5:47 PM · David's description works until you've reached the point where you can play double-stops reliably. If you're thinking about attempting the Chaconne, you should be past that point. Well past it.
Edited: April 21, 2020, 9:20 PM · @Erin, of course both things are hard, especially together. I meant in general.
April 22, 2020, 6:10 AM · Firstly I think all 3 fugues are for sure technically more difficult than the Chaccone, so while you shouldn't start with it, you don't have to wait until the end to learn it.

Secondly, I question the current conception of how difficult something is 'musically'. If we take the definition of 'musical difficulty' as difficulty in creating or expressing the phrasing and thus the storyline, then the Chaccone is much easier musically than for example the C major adagio or B minor double of the courante, since the textures of those movements are much more uniform and in my opinion more difficult to make interesting. In fact I would even venture to say depending on your definition, the Chaccone is potentially one of the easiest movements musically speaking.

Another example, is that of course the Chaccone has a huge macro scale, but I think the first movements of the G minor and A minor sonatas have much more complicated micro structures. For example, there are many sections where it will start in the tonic, then go to the dominant, then the dominant of the dominant, and so on. So it becomes very difficult, almost impossible to determine the optimal place as to where one should phrase to, in comparison with other harmonically simpler movements. I'm not saying the Chaccone is musically simple, it's an incredibly deep work! But I would say it is far from the most difficult.

April 22, 2020, 8:04 AM · The C major fugue is harder than Chaconne in my opinion; the g minor fugue is easier.
April 22, 2020, 12:17 PM · I want to get started right away, shall I start with partita no 2? what do you guys recommend as a player like me?
April 22, 2020, 1:51 PM · Well in my case, my teacher made sure I had my scales down pat. We did Carl Flesch over and over again, cover to cover, no compromise. When I got that down pat, he started me with S&P Partita 1 Double, then progressed from there. So this was my experience. I'm sure other folks would have their own experience to share.
April 22, 2020, 2:03 PM · Partita #2 Allemande, Gigue, Sarabande, Courante

Partita #3 Gigue (this is the easiest movement in all of solo Bach IMO), Preludio, Gavotte en Rondeau

You should really be getting guidance from your teacher however.

April 22, 2020, 11:54 PM · Chaconne is a special piece of music, take your time and do it justice. I like the Everest quote, I said the same thing the other day. It's a musical summit, not just a technical one.

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