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J. S. Bach. Sonatas and Partitas for Violin Solo

Posted on Nov 26, 2016

J. S. Bach. Sonatas and Partitas for Violin Solo

Bach’s Sonatas and Partitas for solo violin (BWV 1001-1006) is one of the major Baroque works. The interest in this piece awoke among professional musicians in the beginning of the nineteenth century when Nicolaus Simrock published the very first printed edition in 1802, in Bonn. Alongside with Mendelssohn who contributed to the popularization of Bach’s choral and instrumental music throughout the nineteenth century, the celebrated violinist Josef Joachim made his own pledge to include Sonatas and Partitas in his concert programs. Nowadays, Bach’s Sonatas and Partitas are an essential part of the violin repertoire, and they are frequently per-formed and recorded.

The amount of research on Bach’s masterpiece is substantial. The majority of authors are musi-cologists specializing on Bach’s music and life. This group provides valuable information on historical and biographical context alongside with musical analysis of the piece. Others are pro-fessional violinists and violin teachers, exploring the development of interpretation and specifics of the composer’s style. This group analyses the details of structure and musical form as applied to practical interpretation. The third group of authors includes critics on performances and per-formers themselves expressing their viewpoints on interpretation and style in newspaper’s arti-cles, interviews and somewhat casual form of liner notes.

Schröder and Rabej explore the architectonics of the piece in a similar applied way. While Schröder occupies more conservative position of authentic interpretation, Rabej addresses the use of modern techniques and instruments. Ledbetter combines practical analysis with theoretical and historical reference, which makes his ideas flexible and justified at the same time. Geck’s book about Bach’s life and work provides historical outline. Field and Sun present theoretical evidence, historical context, and a good bibliographic basis. Sun delivers valuable information about the importance of dance in Baroque instrumental music, while Field examines the change of attitude towards Bach’s original facsimile and consequent interpretation in different historical contexts, starting from the beginning of Romantism in early nineteenth century. Lester’s book critically explores advantages and disadvantages of Bach’s Sonatas and Partitas arrangement for violin and piano made by Schumann. Tetzlaff and Gill’s writing supplies the reader with a very personal performer’s attitude to interpretation. Fábián undertakes an attempt to systemize general tendencies and contradictory points in the historical panorama of performance.

My paper addresses the interpretational analysis of structure and style of the Sonatas and Parti-tas. It incorporates an analytical approach and employs historical evidences as needed. However, the document focuses on the flatness of modern achievements in musical analysis and interpreta-tion and not on the legacy of authenticity and historicity. My goal includes revealing sufficient evidences to support the idea that the whole set of Sonatas and Partitas is one complete piece and not just a collection of social dances and church music. The analytical approaches I have chosen for the task include counterpoint analysis, harmonic analysis, hypermeter analysis, and Schenkerian-style analysis. The contemporary paradigm of tonal forms serves as a basis for a structure analysis of fugues and other movements. I will also offer an overview of various editions and a comparative analysis of their interpretational elements, such as dynamics, bowing, phrasing, fingering, articulation, and metronome markings.

The paper’s First chapter contains a general introduction to Bach’s style and the characteristic of the Baroque genres featured in Sonatas and Partitas: sonata da chiesa and sonata da camera. The Second chapter is the core part of the research, and incorporates interpretational analysis of the piece on multiple levels. The analysis of structure brings out a number of basic elements ranged according to musical hierarchy. This section prepares the basis for the style’s description featured through interconnected melodic and harmonic relationship and peculiarities of the musical form. The Third Chapter deals with the musical language of different movements in accordance to their genres. It also includes the analysis of main tonal areas and keys in terms of a big picture (set level). The Fourth and concluding chapter contains sublimated ideas derived from the analytical part of the research, which reveal interconnections and joint elements in the “super-set idea”.

My research is a combination of modern analytical techniques applied to the complexity of struc-ture and general style. The main goal is to provide a paper useful to contemporary interpreter and listener. Since the writing is the basis for a graduate lecture recital, it implies a performance of a complete piece and possible author’s edition of dynamics, articulation, fingering, and bowings in the appendix section.

– Oleg V Bezuglov, 2012


  1. Apthorp, Shirley. “Lone Crusader.” The Strad 111, Jul 2000: pp. 704-705, 707-708, 711
  2. Bach, Johann Sebastian. The Six Solos for Violin without Bass Accompaniment. Los Angeles, CA: Early Music Laboratory, Los Angeles, CA, 1973.
  3. _______ and Lawrence Golan. Three Sonatas & Three Partitas for Solo Violin, BWV 1001-1006. Pacific, Mo., MO: Mel Bay, Pacific, Mo., MO, 2006.
  4. Efrati, Richard. Introduction to the performance and interpretation of the sonatas and partitas for solo violin and the suites for solo violoncello of Johann Sebastian Bach. Zürich, Switzerland: Atlantis, Zürich, 1979.
  5. Fábián, Dorottya. Towards a Performance History of Bach’s Sonatas and Partitas for Solo Violin: Preliminary Investigations. RILM Abstracts of Music Literature. Web. 24 Oct. 2012.
  6. Field, Elizabeth Imbert. “Performing Solo Bach: An Examination of the Evolution of Performance Traditions of Bach’s Unaccompanied Violin Sonatas from 1802 to the Present.”. Phd diss.: Cornell University, 1999.
  7. Geck, Martin, and John Hargraves. 2006. Johann Sebastian Bach: life and work. Orlando: Harcourt.
  8. Gill, Caroline. “A Conversation with…Isabelle Faust.” Gramophone 88, (2010): p. 19.
  9. Ham, Jimin. “A Comparative Analysis of J. S. Bach’s Three Partitas for Solo Violin.”. Phd diss.: University of Cincinnati, 2003.
  10. Huching, Detmar and Christian Tetzlaff. Sonatas and Partitas for violin solo BWV 1001-1006 by J. S. Bach. Liner notes, Hänssler CLASSIC, D-71087 Holzgerlingen.
  11. Kim, Eun-ho. “Formal Coherence in J. S. Bach’s Three Sonatas for Solo Violin, BWV 1001, 1003, and 1005.”. Phd diss.: University of Cincinnati, 2005.
  12. Ledbetter, David. Unaccompanied Bach: performing the solo works. New Haven : Yale University Press, 2009.
  13. Lester, Joel. “Reading and Misreading: Schumann’s Accompaniments to Bach’s Sonatas and Partitas for Solo Violin.” Current Musicology 56, 1994: pp.24-53.
  14. Rabej, Vladimir. Sonaty i partity I. S. Bacha dlja skripki solo. Moscow: Muzyka, 1970.
  15. Schröder, Jaap. Bach’s solo violin works: a performer’s guide. New Haven : Yale University Press, 2007.
  16. Stinson, Russell. “J.P. Kellner’s Copy of Bach’s Sonatas and Partitas for Violin Solo.” Early Music 13, no. 2 (1985): 199-211.
  17. Stowell, Robin. “Bach’s violin sonatas and partitas.” The musical times 128. 1731 (May 1987): 250-56.
  18. Sun, Chiao-Ling. Violin and dance in the Baroque era: The unaccompanied violin partita BWV 1002 by Johann Sebastian Bach. Phd. Diss.: University of California, 2001.
  19. Wronski, Tadeusz. J.S. Bach’s sonatas and partitas for solo violin. Problems of editing and interpretation. Kraków, Poland: Polskie Wydawnictwo Muzyczne, Kraków, 1970.
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