Bach Chaconne arpeggios interpretation

November 9, 2020, 1:34 PM · I am struggling to understand the conventions for playing the Bach Partita No.2 Chaconne arpeggios in bars 88 to 119 and would like some input.

Bach's manuscript starts the passage with sets of four 32nd notes (8 notes per beat). Many performance interpretations switch to sets of six-note triplets (12 notes per beat) mid-way in the passage. This does not seem consistent with the rest of the piece since triplets are rarely used elsewhere. What is the reasoning for not sticking to the sets of fours? Is this a "historically informed" convention to switch to the sixes, since I think Podger also does this?

On a more technical point, how should I bow the 4-note chords as arpeggios? For example, in bar 103 the d-minor chord in the first beat, is it lower D+F together and then A separate, high F separate (which allows me to play the arpeggio in the same pattern as the 3-note chords)? What is a "standard" interpretation?

I realize there are probably no correct answers to my questions, so I would appreciate your thoughts and opinions for playing it in a particular way. Thank you.

Replies (5)

Edited: November 9, 2020, 6:19 PM · Honestly, I never had any idea what the deal was with that section—and it seems nobody does, because everyone plays it their own way. I just went wild and totally changed the rhythm when I played this piece for auditions (played some sections as broken chords and sautillé and whatnot). It went over very well.
Edited: November 10, 2020, 2:08 AM · Have you seen Nathan Cole"s video on the chaconne? He discusses your issue among many others.

Bach on the Road 12: d minor Ciaconna (Chaconne)

Edited: November 10, 2020, 12:34 PM · I have been working hard on the Chaconne for awhile, and decided in every case where there was a mystery in interpreting something, to go with what Bach actually wrote, to the extent that I could "within reason". IMO, he seems to be very precise on what he put there, giving the bare minimum you need, and the elegance in that is compelling, at least to me.

So, when he starts with a couple of braces of 32nd notes and then writes "arpeggio," a lot of players seem to think "arpeggio = simile", and that sounds fine. My thought was to play the 32nds and then roll into 32nd note triplets where it says "arpeggio." The music indicates that Bach thought the texture should change there--he never wrote anything I have seen as a helpful suggestion or reminder or whatever in his music. Bach was if anything precise about his instructions, and every bit of text I have seen in his work is important...and the acceleration of the notes in the texture is a powerful effect, IMO. So that's my excuse.

The advantage of the 32nd note triplets is that you can play 3-note and 4-note chords in the same rhythm, and IMO the music clearly indicates that they should be. So a three-note chord gets the top and bottom notes repeated, while a four-note chord does not, and the rolling texture is continuous. I have heard players invent all sorts of tricks and changes in texture in these passages, and it's exciting... --full disclosure-- I'm a composer and so the idea of throwing out something Bach wrote to paganinify the piece (yeah, I made up that verb myself!) is not my preference. Your experience may vary.

November 10, 2020, 4:14 PM · Jean, thanks for sharing the Nathan Cole video. He gives some good ideas on how to play this section. I like his suggestions for varying the type of sound throughout the arpeggio passage.

Paul, your interpretation never even came to my mind! I always thought the first eight 32nd notes were examples for the rest of the section rather than being separate. It's interesting that you see it as a distinct change where the word "arpeggio" is written. Also, your description of the 4-note chords with the 32nd note triplets is very clear thank you.

November 20, 2020, 9:02 AM · I guess the basic idea is the following.

triple stop => 32nd notes
quadruple stop => 32nd note triplets

I'm not a native speaker.
Thank you for your understanding.


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