JS Bach Chaconne from Partita in D minor

September 5, 2017, 1:07 PM · https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EbX3frq3Qyo would someone here be willing to do a video de-construction of this piece because I don't get it...

Replies (55)

Edited: September 5, 2017, 1:17 PM · What is it about this piece you don't get? (Heifetz would not be my first choice performance of this piece.)
Edited: September 5, 2017, 1:34 PM · This is certanly no autididact piece.
If you cant read the score on this one you are not ready for it, imho. It is one of the hardest pieces around and it is also quite long. 12 min deconstruction would easily be a 3h clip.
What is it you are not getting? A bit of knowledge for the beginning:
The chords are mostly played by hitting the bottom fast and staying on the top two notes.
Everything else is in the score. Although Heifetz does a lot sul g, sul d on this piece. Those are optional in my oppinion but on the obvious parts.
Not the strongest recording by Heifetz.
Edit: Listening to Rachel Podgers recording of this one is propably well put time!
September 5, 2017, 1:37 PM · Discussed at some length throughout Steinhardt's Violin Dreams.
September 5, 2017, 1:39 PM · God damn I need my pratise mute now. Wanted to go to bed and you start me thinking about the chaconne. It is such a wonderful piece (that I dont play on performance level).
September 5, 2017, 1:45 PM · @Mary Ellen

Whose performance would be your first choice?

September 5, 2017, 1:51 PM · To me, Nathan Milstein's live recording in 1968 is the most moving performance of this masterpiece. Luckily the video is on YouTube.
September 5, 2017, 1:54 PM · With modern tuning, I like James Ehnes.

I haven't heard Rachel Podger play Chaconne, but she plays Bach beautifully so I would imagine her Chaconne would be well worth listening to.

There are other great performances as well. Heifetz would be pretty far down my list when it comes to solo Bach.

September 5, 2017, 1:57 PM · Heifetz's Chaconne is very disappointing, to say the least.
Edited: September 5, 2017, 2:07 PM · Menuhin, on the other hand...https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RATaKVXsjgQ

(I can only find a part of this live performance from 1972 but it never fails to move me.)

September 5, 2017, 2:31 PM · Also,IMHO I don't see the slightest appeal for Gitlis' version either.
September 5, 2017, 2:34 PM · Ah, Bach Chaconne, the reason for practicing the violin! In addition to the above good recommendations, do take a look at these non-violin versions as well.

September 5, 2017, 3:20 PM · I did not manage to find Rachel Podger's Chaconne either, however her Bach renditions are usually very interesting (though many of them are not in A=440)

However I would put Kremer's and Vengerov's before Ehnes'

September 5, 2017, 3:24 PM · The chaconne is on the album of the complete solo bach recordings, indeed not at a=440.
September 5, 2017, 3:37 PM · I also love this Viktoria Mullova's performance:

September 5, 2017, 6:46 PM · Those "bad" old performances can certainly sound good. I tend to dislike how modern performance practice looks down on the older generation as if they intentionally wanted to "tear down" Bach, Mozart, and others. Also wonder if Bach himself would hate these "outdated" performances as much as the "modern" audience can do, or if he would really prefer Bach modern performance practice as truly "authentic."

To be clear, I am not in the "old school" bandwagon either, but I feel it's disrespectful to be dismissive of many of these performances based on what's currently in vogue in both performance practice and playing style. I have many good modern recordings of the Sonatas & Partitas, yet often still enjoy more listening to Milstein's "wrong' renditions (as an example.) I know Bach "it's not played that way" anymore, but the performances are often excellent and extremely musical-just a different perspective from another time and age.

September 6, 2017, 2:36 AM · I actually like the Heifetz recordings, (but not the concertos), and Enesco's majestic and heart-rending versions, but not Szigeti's brutal hackings..

But why oh why does nearly everyone play the passages where the melody is in the bass with up-and-down arepeggios like an angry fox terrier having a go at my ankle? Suk does downward arpeggios, and the HIPsters shorten the bas note.

Edited: September 6, 2017, 8:31 AM · I agree that Bach is not Heifetz's strong suit, although for me, the Heifetz Zigeunerweisen is the definitive recording and don't even bother me with any others. (Except possibly Sarasate's own.)
September 6, 2017, 9:13 AM · Some people say Podger sets the standard for Bach S&P, I tend to agree.
September 6, 2017, 9:31 AM · Adrian's characterization of Szigeti's Chaconne as "brutal hackings" reflects more on his own limited musical appreciation than it does on Szigeti's performance--the most noble rendition of the Chaconne on record.
Edited: September 6, 2017, 11:22 AM · I remember Arnold Steinhardt telling me he enjoyed Heifetz's Bach. Casals once said, the greatest performance of Bach he ever heard was by a gypsy violinist. To suggest there's one right way to play Bach is ludicrous. I think lots of people today mistake articulation markings in the score for bowings. Where does it say that one has to play Bach in first position with no vibrato? I'd rather hear the Chaconne played with feeling like Heifetz does, than some 'historically informed' performance of Bach today.

Other great Bach interpreters on the violin I highly recommend are Oscar Shumsky and Nathan Milstein. They give me great inspiration!

September 6, 2017, 11:46 AM · This piece has many pieces in it, which one you see depends on you, but its not the only one.
Nobody should be ignorant enough to say there is only one way of playing any piece, but this one is a real chameleon.
September 6, 2017, 12:31 PM · @Adrian, Suk's interpretation is marvellous, thanks for bringing it up!
September 6, 2017, 5:08 PM · If someone of you is interested in a wonderful recording my old teacher Lara Lev has a cd of all Bach Sonatas and Partitas on amazon. I was really impressed especially from the Ciaconna, which I heard her playing live and it was memorable to say the least. She played all Bach works in one concert that evening and the Ciaconna was the Mount Everest! So big! Good technique with historically informed elements (she told me to listen to Podger) and a burning emotional fire for Bach! The recording is like a live concert. Recorded in Finland.
Other than that I disagree with most recordings out there in some ways.
Closest to my ideal is in fact Yehudi Menuhin... and Rachel Podger since it is the most interesting one without being superficial.
I think Nathan Milstein once said about Bach, that you just have to play the right rhythm and harmonies and it is good. If you do too much, it sounds like you are going to war. Sadly in his own performance, Milstein changes the pattern of the first arpeggios, which I really dislike. Other than that he has a great approach to Bach I think. Heifetz Bach left me in shock as I listened to it the first time. Never have been a big Heifetz fan before either. I would pay a lot of money to have a recording of the Ciaconna by David Oistrakh though.
Gitlis... well, I don't know... he is certainly one of a kind! But it is sadly very out of tune and rhythm.
Thinking so much about the Ciaconna makes me want to record it by myself again. Such a great piece! Always worth our time!
It is funny, because I am not a religious guy, but with this piece I feel something else, that is so pure and untouched and so emotional, that it feels like a miracle to me, how Bach was able to put that into music. I once in my youth was practicing the Ciaconna and my fantasy was suddenly feeling the logic of this piece and the story behind it so clear. Unfortunately I wasn't able to play everything in tune back then. But it left a mark! Bach's musical language is certainly a world on its own! And when you give it a chance it can open to you and speak to you. It was like reading a book! You read the letters, but the mind forms a story, that makes sense! Bach's music always makes sense, I am 100% sure about that. And I mean that in a deeper way. He was a scientist of music and emotions and can teach us many things about ourselves through his music... if we listen carefully.
Edited: September 6, 2017, 5:29 PM · I agree with Marc Marschall that we are way beyond the belief that there is only one way of playing any piece. The greater a piece is, the more interpretations we'll hear. In the end, which interpretation speaks to you is a matter of understanding and personal taste.
Edited: September 7, 2017, 8:59 PM · Szeryng is the best on solo Bach, on this point there can be no dissent, although the earlier the recording it seems the better.

For a contemporary recording I like Podger the best, although that Mulova linked above is pretty good; thanks for posting it, I hadn't heard it before.

September 8, 2017, 2:27 AM · Just listened to Podger and Menuhin's recordings on the Tube this morning - what an amazing contrast.

Podger does far more with articulation and flexibility in the rhythm, Menuhin more with tone colour. At times Menuhin's recording seems to drag in comparison, but at other times his sostenuto makes the whole thing (even more) majestic.

And to think people go on about the difference between "modern" and "period" performance being different values of A. ;)

September 8, 2017, 2:53 AM · "Szeryng is the best on solo Bach, on this point there can be no dissent, although the earlier the recording it seems the better."
I heard that statement before from someone, but I can not get,how this can be said. His recordings from Bach are amazing, but how can you say it is the "best" when it is clear, that there are as well stylistic peculiarities as with everyone else.
For me he destroys it with changing the arpeggio pattern of the Ciaconna. But his clarity and at the same time emotional approach is a nice combination. Still for me there is something lacking with Szeryng.
September 8, 2017, 5:05 AM · I'm just listening to Szeryng's recording for the first time. Remarkable clarity and nuance in the passagework and personally I like the "freer" approach to arpeggiation - I think it's completely appropriate for some of the arpeggios to blur into being chords at points.

My only criticism is indeed that he "hacks" at some of the chords in such a way as to undermine the harmonic and melodic structure rather than to reinforce it... looking at 0:34 and onwards on here:-


September 8, 2017, 6:20 AM · My go-to recording is Hilary Hahn's, but it hasn't been mentioned here yet. It seems to have a nice balance between romantic and period performance to me.


September 8, 2017, 10:42 AM · I love the sheer humanity of Menuhin's playing. His 1972 recording moves me in ways that more technically flawless performances don't. I do also have a soft spot for Szeryng, as those are the recordings I grew up with. And I'll out in a plug for his edition of the Sonatas and Partitas. I think I spent most of a cross-country plane ride just reading his notes and the music.
Edited: September 8, 2017, 12:28 PM · Chris, that's a link to the extremely rare live recording, which is the earliest Chaconne recording from him that seems to exist--very cool. My violin teacher gave me a copy sourced from a recording he found in Hungary in the late eighties; I had never heard of it before. I find there's more energy in this than all the others, but maybe it could be said he's a little smoother on some of those chords in the earlier of his two studio releases.

And Simon, I think it's the best as having the highest level of quality throughout all the movements, and combined with that he has what is either the best Chaconne or one of the top three if you want to pull in contrasting interpretations to share the definition of best. Also, he sounds better than Heifetz playing Bach, which is an attention-grabber (especially in his day).

Edited: September 8, 2017, 1:01 PM · The concluding bars of the Chaconne are engraved on Szeryng's headstone.


September 9, 2017, 2:05 AM · I don't know if it's allowed to confess this on a Violin forum, but I'm a little addicted to Grimaud's piano performance of Busoni's piano version:

September 9, 2017, 12:46 PM · George, that is great, thank you.
September 9, 2017, 2:35 PM · OK folks, I'll be incredibly self-promoting and draw your attention to my own recording of the entire D minor Partita and other works - significant clips of which may found on my website in the CD section - http://rkviolin.com

And with this and just one other response in another thread, I intend to take a long break. With increasing business in performing and teaching and other reasons, like "Fez" from the tv program, "That 70's Show", I will say "Good Day".

September 9, 2017, 3:23 PM · For the Chaconne, I think Hilary Hahn is still my favorite, with other contenders including Grumiaux and Szeryng, among many others.

For solo Bach in general, Rachel Barton Pine is wonderful. Her Baroque ornamentation in the Andante from the A minor sonata gives me goose bumps every time.

Some recordings mentioned less often, but still outstanding, include those by Gerard Poulet and Pavel Sporcl.

These are all available on Spotify for those that have it.

September 10, 2017, 3:04 PM · Chris: "I think it's completely appropriate for some of the arpeggios to blur into being chords at points."
I agree, I like that, but changing the rhythmical pattern for me destroys the ongoing build-up of the musical tension. bach wrote how the arpeggios have to be played, his writing makes total sense. I think it was Auer who changed it and therefore all the russians played it.
Jason: "Also, he sounds better than Heifetz playing Bach, which is an attention-grabber (especially in his day)."
Jason, that, indeed is not hard at all... Heifetz totally shreds the Ciaconna. With all respect to his other work.
It wasn't my intend to find "the best" one, because even if it sounds precocious I strongly believe that there simply is no such thing, and saying some recording is "the best" limits the opportunities forinterpretation. I am happy to be able to say, that I enjoy the Ciaconna played by a handful of people very much, although I might disagree about a thing or two. But I still can enjoy all the different approaches to this work, even the Busoni piano version as far as it is not a sea of rubati and facial expressions.
Hilary Hahn plays as she always does, it is very tidy and clean, but for me lacks emotions and for a Ciaconna is simply too slow, also there are not very many colours in her recording. Still it stands out in her personal way! And that is the beauty of it. You can agree or disagree with a performance, but even when it comes to Gitlis his Ciaconna is his Ciaconna and it is always a moment in time, when you play this piece. I actually cannot really dislike a rendition. The only thing what I dislike, when there are changes been made, that try to enforce the music but more destroy it. Bach did know very well what he was doing.
Let me just throw into here the recording of Isaac Strrn, which by the time I heard it first impressed and surprised me:
Edited: September 10, 2017, 4:22 PM · Taking a look at beginning and end, much as Szigeti did in his book On the Violin:

One thing I was surprised and pleased to hear once (although maybe it is more common now) was at a live Sergiu Luca concert. This was some years after his recording, which was very different.

Anyway, he began fairly quietly, with no attempt to be grand or imposing with his Baroque violin. He gave us the harmony, the characteristically incisive rhythmic pattern, and he built on that from there. The grandeur was in the shape of the arch over the whole movement.

There are other ways to make it work-- Stern's above is actually is very fine-- but I do like the way Luca began.

The close of that is the ending, with which Heifetz had one of his better moments in his filmed masterclasses, BTW. (The moral-- learn the rules and also learn how to make up your own mind!) If you don't insist on sounding like the Philadelphia Orchestra as the curtain comes down, there is the chance to let it tail away and make a quiet exit, thus completing the arch built from the quiet(er) beginning. And if you do that, the last chord and (slightly over-dotted) pickup echo the opening of the Allemanda, starting the cycle again. [Much like the Ring with the Rhinemaidens, come to think of it!]

September 13, 2017, 10:54 AM · My favorite is Josef Suk, for all the bach partitas/sonatas: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zkjnRP6ZTtI
September 13, 2017, 2:07 PM · "Adrian's characterization of Szigeti's Chaconne as "brutal hackings" reflects more on his own limited musical appreciation than it does on Szigeti's performance--the most noble rendition of the Chaconne on record."

Thank you Ron! I much admire Szigeti's profound musical insight and intelligence, but not the agressive attacks of his bowing in these works.

For a noble rendering, I also appreciate Menuhin's 1976 recording.

September 13, 2017, 2:19 PM · I have to agree with Adrian. He sometimes creates a noise like a tree directly before falling, a woody cracking. This does take some of the magic, although I love other parts of the recording this always kind of feels like someone tipping on my shoulder and I have to get into it again. The variation on the arpegi on the other hand is great.
September 13, 2017, 4:46 PM · Szigeti suffered from tremors in both hands in the last years of his career. That he made these late recordings is almost miraculous. To describe them as "brutal hackings" is really offensive.

One of the great joys of my life as a student was to get to know Szigeti. He invited me to his masterclasses and later had me to dinner at his home in Switzerland. He also invited me to his eightieth birthday party at the Chateau de Chillon. We had a friendly correspondence for over ten years.

September 13, 2017, 6:52 PM · Generally, there is a modern tendency to accept the newest and latest as "best". Vivaldi "can't be played" anymore with modern instruments. Solo Bach is barely tolerated with a modern setup, and only if played in "pseudo baroque" style (authentic baroque violin and bow preferred, of course.) The more extreme in this camp will never accept the older players' musically honest tribute to Bach as worthy of their "I know better" ears. While it's totally fine to prefer these HIP tendencies, I don't think even HIP performers generally wish for us to forget these great performances of the past or deem them as necessary aberrations.

(Indeed, someone like Manze-like him or not-has stated in at least one interview that his art is not meant to "replace" music, and that it's sad that baroque or other "period" music has more or less become the domain of HIP performers. And I agree, and like his performances... don't understand why these styles should be so mutually exclusive as many people make them to be, to the point of insults and disrespect in some cases.)

September 14, 2017, 1:49 AM · Not too long ago the mainstream was often quite hostile nasty towards early music — Zukerman calling it "sh!t" in a major publication comes to mind — and it's interesting to see the pendulum of public taste and opinion slowly swinging the other way.

I personally find the old generation's (Milstein, Grumiaux, Menuhin, Gitlis, etc) Bach to be fascinating and often beautiful to listen to. Don't agree with all of their interpretations (who does?) but at least they were all so incredibly individual with persuasive ideas.

We are lucky today that virtually all the major treatises are now widely available and translated. Recordings are a click away. The older generation did not have our luxury. Had Menuhin, one so sensitive and open-minded, had the benefits of the fruits of the early music movement's work and experimentation that we enjoy now, I wonder how his music making would had been different.

HIP is all about the I: informed. If you know the G minor adagio is in the style of Corelli op. 5 slow movements with his super florid ornaments, or that E major partita minuet is totally French and totally bizarre without inegalite, they will never sound like an etudes or awkward audition music. Or the ciaconna, as extraordinarily profound and full of pathos — it's also still a dance.

One can play with modern bows and metal strings and be informed too. The older generation didn't have our luxury of knowledge and we don't have excuses not doing basic homework on research...

September 14, 2017, 2:27 AM · I agree. Yo-Yo Ma's recordings of the 'cello suites have a bounce and airy lyrism which remind me of the best HIP renderings.
September 14, 2017, 2:39 AM · Ron, I am duly humbled. I have many of Szigeti's recordings, including the fabulous live ones with Bartok at the piano: 2nd sonata, 1st Rhapsody, Contrasts (with Benny Goodman), Debussy's Sonata, and Beethoven's "Kreutzer" Sonata. Not to mention the Bach "Double" with Flesch, Bloch's Concerto, Beethoven and Brahms Concertos. I find him a fine violinist, and a great musician.
September 14, 2017, 6:22 AM · HIP is valid-just not "the one way" to play Bach. It has changed throughout the years due to more scholarship. What used to be HIP may not be so anymore. In short, it's about music-making, more than scholarship, though I admire the latter-be slave to the music more than treatises, even if those should not necessarily be ignored.
Edited: September 14, 2017, 10:31 AM · HIP is certainly an interesting development in playing Baroque pieces and it enriches our ears and minds. On the other hand, more often than not, I find the "ultra orthodox" attitude by HIP enthusiasts not just annoying, but also detrimental to serving the audience who just want to enjoy good classical music.
September 14, 2017, 3:10 PM · I note that treatises are not always written by the composers of the music we play....
September 15, 2017, 11:28 AM · Adrian — true...take JS Bach and Wolfgang Mozart for example. They never wrote treatises themselves. But wouldn't one want to read his son CPE Bach's True Art of Keyboard Playing, someone who learned everything from his father, or read Leopold Mozart's Treatise of Fundamental of Violin Playing, when he was Wolfi's only teacher? And then there are the huge trove of Mozart's own letters...so incredibly revealing about improvisation, style, and taste and everything else.

And often authors disagree with each other, which makes things even more interesting. Take CPE Bach again and Quantz, both leading musicians of the day, both working for King Fred in the same palace at the same time, but sometimes with different ideas. That's where the fun is as a performer to decide what to do with conflicting advices. But we don't get to enjoy that when we haven't read them yet...

Artists in the early music movement disagree with each other all the time. There's no one "HIP way". And as all the treatises say so often: Do what I say, but always with good taste.

September 15, 2017, 11:40 AM · And to OP's inquiry...it's a rather broad question that people have written entire books on, not sure what exactly you're looking for...

As a kid I like reading CD notes about the Bach Chaconne, and I remember inevitably they would almost always comment about how odd it is that Bach attaches a giant ciaconna at the end of the partita. But it was actually a very common architecture. You often find a big chaconne or passscaille at the end of dance suites and operas, and Bach was just following tradition. Hope that gives the OP some context.

Edited: September 15, 2017, 3:26 PM · I just listen to the Szigeti recording, because I wanted to know what you are talking about as you talked about "brutal hackings".
It is indeed quite unique how he approaches the chords, but it creeps to my mind, that probably half of your concern about the chords is due to the recording technique that was used. I can imagine that his way of playing would sound amazing live! Especially when he plays melodies on one string he does such amazing things violinistically. So smooth control of sound. The chords sound harsh, because there is a major problem with the recording as well, there are some higher frequencies very dominant. EQ could maybe save a recording like this one.
I must say I really enjoyed it and would say sometimes we should look over some recording issues.
What Szigeti does on the last page is sacral!
Ciaconna starts at 13:42
September 15, 2017, 5:49 PM · I think his double stops would sound fine with a less closely placed mic. His use of portamento is not to my taste, though. Without that I think I would like it a great deal.
September 15, 2017, 8:34 PM · Great music making by the Maestro. Guess I'll have to disagree with "new and latest is always best" line of thought-even if older is also not necessarily "best" either. These artists knew what they were doing, whether their performances matches current day taste or otherwise.

I think it's musically "healthier" to learn and appreciate every era of violin playing, even if one would have a basic bias one way or the other.

Edited: September 20, 2017, 11:42 AM · Re: my "brutal hackings", words which were certainly ill chosen. I too returned to the discs, particularly the Chaconne and the G minor fugue, and compared them with Enescu's: two mighty artists at the end of their respective careers, both with searing and powerful lyricism.

My issue is with the 3 and 4-note chords. Enescu gives them much weight, but they sing. Szigeti often plays them short, with a sharp attack, sometimes even spiccato, which I find much at odds with the great beauty of his détaché.

So my unwelcome comment is not simply due to Szigeti's closer miked recording, or even his age, but rather his very conception of the chordal writing.

I thank Ron for his explanation of physical problems (the same doubtless applies to Menuhin's bowing difficulties). I like to provoke, but never to really offend.

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