Bach E Major Partita

April 19, 2021, 12:11 PM · So I just finished my first run-through of Preludio (tripping, stumbling, falling on the way).

I think I died and ascended to heaven.

Well...maybe not the "died" part.

Also, I'm not really sure I'm going to heaven.

Anyway, it feels pretty good.

What happened to you?

Replies (28)

April 19, 2021, 12:49 PM · Congrats. I remember practising this piece during a hot summer in my grandparents' town in Poland. I'd spend hours and hours in their automotive garage chipping away at it.

The neighbours later said, "I don't understand this music, but it sounds like he's doing a good job". Hahaha!

April 19, 2021, 3:26 PM · My initial thought in my first run-through was, "Yes! Here we go"! lol

Then later I said, "Mission Accomplished" - when I was actually able to play this piece in front of people (other than my teacher.. lol). I'm not a professional violinist, so for me this was a very big

Congratulations! Enjoy playing this beautiful piece.

Edited: April 19, 2021, 4:25 PM · That was a favorite warm-up of Jacques Thibaud-- and was then referenced in Ysaye's Sonata #2, which was dedicated to Thibaud.

If you want a sense of some of the rhetorical possibilities, check out Bach's Cantata BWV 29.

April 20, 2021, 8:58 AM · Hard to remember. I think I was six years old at the time, just using that as a break between the Tchaikovsky and the Sibelius concertos.

Just kidding. My actual experience is as follows. My daughter got the hang of that inside-out bow-crossing stuff on the first page in like three days. It took me THREE WEEKS and I was still having trouble transitioning into it. So either it's incorrect what people say about being able to learn stuff just as fast at any age, or I'm just relentlessly untalented. You decide.

April 20, 2021, 11:51 AM · I recently dug the Preludio out and tried to play it through. The section Paul mentions did not go smoothly and I tried to practice it a bit. When I was a teenager and was making my first stab at it I had virtually no trouble with the passage. Which seems to confirm Paul's first hypothesis.

What is funny is this: When I try the motion on open strings I fail completely. I can not execute it for a single measure. In context, with my left hand at work, I always manage to get 2/3 or 3/4 through it before I get into trouble.

April 20, 2021, 12:03 PM · One thing I have decided might be true about the value of Rodney Friend's practicing in 5ths-- apart from all its contribution to posture, hand position, etc., it has the value of more or less removing harmony and tonality from your understanding of the music while you work on it.

As you've observed, it's easier to stumble through something if you basically know the tune. If you reduce it to intervals, shifts, and string crossings, it gets much harder. Learning it that way means you really know it.

April 20, 2021, 12:09 PM · The first movement of Ysaye Sonata No 2 is a dollar store version of the prelude, but it's been patched up with virtuoso techniques and Dies Irae.
April 20, 2021, 12:44 PM · I didn't have trouble with the string crossings as a teenager and didn't have trouble with them after "returning" in my 40s--except--maybe playing them too fast! I do find that the piece is tough on my left hand in a way that didn't bother me as a teenager.
Edited: April 20, 2021, 3:07 PM · All these horror stories about losing your technique as you age... I'm scared mom.

Edit: @Jocelyn Marrow--that gives me comfort, thanks.

Edited: April 20, 2021, 2:46 PM · Mike--I think the problem for us is trying to regain something after "losing" it because we didn't touch the instrument for 20, 30 years. If you don't quit, you probably won't lose much until--maybe your 70s?
April 20, 2021, 3:38 PM · greetings,
Haven’t had time to watch it yet but here is a link to the great violinist Rachel Barton P talking about this very work. I am sure it will be informative and worthwhile.

April 20, 2021, 5:43 PM · Thank you for all the replies.

It doesn't help that I'm an adult learner trying eventually to get to Mendelssohn.

I envy all you guys who learned it while in diapers.

The "inside out" parts almost forced me to be committed.

April 20, 2021, 7:31 PM · I've been "afraid" to go back to the Preludio of the 3rd Partita for the past 10 years. There was a time, before my 50th birthday the bariolage section was sort of part of my daily warmup, but that was over 35 years ago. I could play the movement at "speed," but I had trouble with that part if I went too slowly. I know I should have tried, then I might have the guts to try it again now.

That being said, that's not the only thing I don't try to play any more. Now I'm mostly back to the music before the music I bought from the music store in Frederick, Maryland before my 14th birthday. It is sad to look at those prices: $1.25 for 10 great violin concertos, $1.00 for "37 violin solos" - really great 19th C "salon" pieces. The thing about those "salon piece" books -> they included the beautiful slow movements of the Mendelssohn and Tchaikovsky violin concertos, which was just the kick a kid needed to delve into the outer movements as well.

April 20, 2021, 8:05 PM · I agree with Andrew about the salon books. For example the Op. 26 romance by Svendsen. Nobody would know that existed if it weren't in "37 pieces you love to play."
Edited: April 21, 2021, 4:16 PM · Bach's usage of one piece of music in two separate and unrelated works is not uncommon in his immense output. As has been mentioned, the opening sinfonia of Cantata "Wir danken dir" BWV 29 has an organ obbligato (in D) that is virtually identical to the E maj violin prelude. On a 2-manual keyboard that has got to be great fun to play! Bach presumably chose to place this cantata movement in the key of D in order to accommodate the woodwind instruments in his church band.

Another example of this reworking of pieces is the opening sinfonia of his Cantata "Falsche Welt, dir trau ich nicht", BWV 52, which is very closely related to the opening movement of Brandenburg Concerto No 1, a major difference being that the cantata doesn't have the violin piccolo part that is in the Brandenburg.

About 224 of Bach's cantatas are extant, and are gold mines for the violinist, many of them having violin obbligatos in the movements that are well worth exploring. There are even the occasional duets with solo voice.

All of the Bach cantatas can be streamed from Naxos via IMSLP. There is at least one ensemble that has recorded them all - I refer to Helmuth Rilling with the Stuttgart Bach Collegium orchestra, a variety of choral ensembles, and extremely good solo singers.

Dating Bach's works is not easy (the only opus number he used was no.1), and the various catalogues seem to be of Byzantine complexity. Be particularly aware that the well-known BWV catalogue numbering system, as used by IMSLP and others, bears no relationship whatsoever to the order of composition, but instead to the type of composition. For instance, the vocal works are BWV 1-524 (of which 1-224 are the cantatas), solo instruments are BWV 995-1013, and orchestral concertos, such as the Brandenburgs, are BWV 1041-1065. IMSLP gives useful information about the dates of composition (necessarily approximate), first performances, and dates of publication.

Interestingly, Bach apparently kept the scores of his cantatas "in house" for use only by his church choir and band (who must have been high quality musicians), the first printed editions being made in the middle of the 19th century, a century after his death. Many cantata scores are believed to have been lost irretrievably in the years soon after his death.

A number of secular cantatas (BWV 201-224), generally significantly longer than most of the church cantatas, which were commissioned by royalty,. the aristocracy, academic institutions, and others for specific secular occasions, were printed soon after composition, and were doubtless useful earners. The secular cantatas include such pieces of fun as the “Coffee” Cantata (BWV 211) and the “Peasant” Cantata (BWV 212). Bach's instrumental works were also usually printed soon after composition.

April 21, 2021, 4:29 PM · "the opening sinfonia of Cantata "Wir danken dir" BWV 29 has an organ obbligato (in D) that is virtually identical to the E maj violin prelude. On a 2-manual keyboard that has got to be great fun to play!"

Interesting. Of the 3rd sonata, Hadelich said (though I don't know what he was wearing then):

"the fugue is so full of joy, but it's hard to show in your playing, because it's so difficult! I think it's definitely not composed on the violin - you can kind of tell it's a keyboard player who wrote it"

So why not the partita as well? Do we benefit from understanding that although Bach was a violinist, not everything he wrote was ideally suited to a violin (given musical considerations) or do we lose more from the loss of that perspective - that Bach was indeed a violinist, so could teach about playing the violin through the technical demands incorporated in his music?

April 21, 2021, 4:52 PM · J, I wonder if Bach was writing with his own abilities in mind, or if he was writing beyond his abilities on the violin. I was under the impression that the partitas and sonatas were not being widely performed in his day.
April 21, 2021, 5:01 PM · When he showed them to his friends, instead of taking out a violin, he played them on a harpsichord. Also, as indicated by the relatively low difficulty of most Baroque music, the technical knowledge and capabilities of violinists must have been lesser. This makes me think that they were too difficult for him.
April 21, 2021, 5:23 PM · "the relatively low difficulty of most Baroque music" - I must disagree! Check out Heinrich Biber's "Mystery Sonatas," Tartini's "Devil's Trill" and there are many more, and these are just the works that survived for 300 years. I think there were real virtuosos in the Baroque period.
April 21, 2021, 5:27 PM · I agree with Mike that the S&P's were most likely to be too difficult for him. One doesn't hear the word "virtuoso" associated with Bach, like one does wirh Beethoven, Mozart, Sarasate et al. But I also agree with Laurie, there was most probably a number of musicians who could play Bach's S&P's very well at the time
Edited: April 21, 2021, 5:58 PM · 2 examples =/= the majority. There is a distinct difference between the words most and all, which you missed out on. Virtuoso Baroque music that can be still considered technically hard today is in the minority compared to the legions of easier ones (Bach violin concertos, Vivaldi concertos, technical difficulty of a lot of movements from the sonatas and partitas (look at the Henle rankings if you don't take my word), technical difficulty of Handel sonatas, and it goes on to an enumerable degree). Also, relatively. I didn't say this, but I had romantic concertos and sonatas in mind when I said this, which compared to standard Baroque concerto and sonata repertoire stands as true.

Edit: For one of your examples, The Devil's Trill, the hard part (the Kreisler Cadenza) comparable to the repertoire composed later on isn't even a part of the original piece!

A lot of the virtuoso violin pieces composed in earlier periods also follow this same principle of not being considered virtuosic anymore. Is Vivaldi's music considered as virtuosic as it was in his day? No! Take a classical era example, Viotti's concertos as well.

Classical music education and knowledge of what's possible to achieve on the violin evolves as more music and musicians get birthed. If we observe the various concertos composed, we can see a gradual increase in the average difficulty of each era. Like Ms. Niles said, there are some outliers, but the few outliers do not constitute the majority of repertoire from that era. With the major composers demanding more and more technique from violinists, the skill of each generation of professional/very dedicated musicians increases because it has to keep up. The more hard music one plays, the more one is accustomed to using that level of technique. One example would be how having to play those 32nd E major scales in Paganini Concerto No 1 and the upbow staccato in Wieniawski 2 will cause someone to get better at those techniques.

The average Baroque violinist would have likely not encountered music as hard as the harder Bach S&P movements as frequently as violinists do today, so the S&Ps would have not been performed often. Also, this compounded with how a lot of keyboard composers don't have the same technical skill on other instruments leads me to believe that Bach would have not played his S&Ps on the violin.

Edited: April 21, 2021, 5:59 PM · Greetings,
it is true that if we are throwing around the word virtuoso then we may not categorize a lot of baroque stuff as virtuoso compared to Paganini, Sarasate, Ernst eat al. But I think this is a false dichotomy. Virtuoso does can be a fairly vague generic term for music that contains a lot of techniques that are on a rather superficial level considered difficult but it is also , in my opinion a rather precise way of labeling a whole genre of music in which the performer tends to subjugate a more profound musical message in favor of a `look at my astonishing technical brilliance` kind of ethos. Looked at from the latter perspective, one is simply trying to compare apples and oranges.
They danger of this approach is that it creates a tendency to classify difficulties on a spectrum and not much else. It is certainly true that the external aspects of playing are classified this way in order to make a choeherne tlearning process. However, at some point (preferably from the beginning) it is also important to recognize that the underlying fundamentals of violin playing and musicianship apply across the board to all genres of music and , viewed from this perspective , baroque and classical works that are traditionally labeled as ‘not as hard as x’ sudeenly and mysteriously become profoundly difficult to play as well as one would like. Auer was insistent that all artists should have at least 3 Handel sonatas in there repertoire so he clearly viewed these as major concert works. Which they are, by the way. (Incidentally, I do recall a self deprecating story from a trul great virtuoso , Emil Chussodovsky, about how a famous Russian teacher hammered his bowing with the Handel D major sonata when he wa s already a fully fledged virtuoso- apologies If I have this wrong). Milstein performed them his whole career and , if you do the bowings used by Szigeti in for example, the last movement of the Handel D major you are indeed using a virtuoso bowing that is rarely (perhaps never) seen these days.Also?wecouldcarefull consider why arguably the greatest virtuoso of the 20c (Heifetz) and arguably in the top 5 modern players around (Hadelich) both cite Mozart as the most difficult music to perform.
I think it ultimately is about mindset. To approach every piece of music with the same attitude of seeking perfection of tone, expression style , intonation etc leads to the understanding that whatever one is playing , it is a never ending search for the impossible goal of 100%.
Edited: April 22, 2021, 3:59 AM · I had technical difficulties in mind because I am arguing about if Bach could play his music, and technique is the criteria that I hypothesize that he couldn't meet. I don't doubt that Bach was musically capable. So, the part about how Mozart is the most difficult, and the argument of every piece requiring great technique to play well isn't what I am considering. It does take a true virtuoso to play music with artistic sense and style regardless of the pure technical requirements of the piece.
April 21, 2021, 8:40 PM · I have encountered the theory that Bach wrote the 6 solo works for Johann Georg Pisendel, a violinist with whom Bach was acquainted. Pisendel himself left behind one sonata for solo violin in a-minor. Rachel Barton Pine has a video on youtube with it.

He once traveled to Venice in order to study with Vivaldi. Vivaldi gave him a bunch of his manuscripts to take home to Dresden, some concertos and 4 magnificent sonatas which I have in an edition from ancient East Germany (some of them are also part of the set known as "Manchester sonatas"). You can find more about him on Wikipedia, youtube and IMSLP (including the manuscript of the solo sonata).

Talking about the technical difficulty of Bach's set: While comparing them with the baroque music is probably not very informative (Bach is truly unique among his contemporaries in a variety of ways) one can argue that the solo pieces are vastly more demanding than all the rest of his music for violin, concertos, sonatas with b.c. or harpsichord, solos in vocal works (unlike for example Telemann's fantasias which are somewhat more difficult than his sonatas but never really push any boundaries). This may be a hint that Bach's solo works were indeed written for a musician whose primary instrument was the violin, somebody like Pisendel (Bach's primary instrument was the organ).

April 21, 2021, 8:47 PM · I read something that Tedi Papavrami talked about delving into Bach after plowing through all the Paganini Caprices (and he really has a virtuoso technique), and he said that the Bach really challenged his bow arm technique and made him totally rethink it.
April 21, 2021, 9:01 PM · It's quite amazing the amount of collective knowledge this forum has.

I've learned an incredible amount.

The time effort and thoughtfulness of the responses is great.

Thank you.

April 25, 2021, 12:24 PM · @Laurie Niles,
"I think there were real virtuosos in the Baroque period."

I agree. Another one was Locatelli, an inspiration for Paganini a century later.

April 25, 2021, 3:58 PM · Oh yeah, that cadenza to his 22nd or something violin concerto, and many more I presume. I retract my original statement.

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