TBC Ep 19 | Ciaccona from Violin Partita No. 2 in D minor, BWV 1004/4


Tiny Bach Concerts Episode 19: Remarks and performance by Joel Speerstra (Gothenburg University)

Clavichord by Joel Speerstra and Per-Anders Terning, a research copy of the 1765 C. G. Friederici clavichord in the Leipzig University Instrument museum. Unfretted, FF to f'''. Built in Gothenburg in 2012.


We’re here in the St. Clement Church in Laholm, on the west coast of Sweden, where I’m going to play a clavichord recital this evening. I’m presenting one of my favorite pieces. It is a transcription of the ciaccona from Bach’s D minor Partita for solo violin; the transcription is made by Harald Vogel and Edoardo Bellotti. Harald Vogel has for many years thought about this piece as the story of Orpheus and Eurydice. He looks at the rhetorical figures in the piece and sees the possibility that Bach followed the outline of the story. So it begins with a lamento, and there’s a downward-seeking quality to the figures. And then Orpheus meets an obstacle—maybe it’s the Furies; maybe it’s Cerberus—and to break through that obstacle, we come to a place where there is arpeggio, and we can hear Orpheus playing his lyre and winning over the king of Hades. And when the Furies fly away, the lamento repeats as if Orpheus is standing there, waiting, holding his breath. And then the piece begins in major, and we can imagine Eurydice appearing, and the major section goes from wonder, to dancing, to ecstasy. And then a very still place with open, large intervals, where you might be able to imagine Orpheus and Eurydice climbing toward the light. And you know that the only thing Orpheus has to do is to trust that Eurydice is following him and not turn around. And when he turns around, the music goes back into a dramatic minor, and Eurydice falls away. And you can hear, maybe, the ripping of Orpheus’s body into small pieces, and the water cascading as the River Styx washes his body away. And then it ends again with a very quiet lamento. This is a way of thinking rhetorically about this piece that maybe was previously thought of as abstract music. And I find it a very exciting way to concentrate on, focusing my energy on, when I perform, because then I know what things are for.

There’s a tradition of playing these violin pieces at the clavichord that goes all the way back to Johann Sebastian Bach. Bach loved to sit at the clavichord with the manuscript of his solo violin works and play them with a simple accompaniment.1 We have had versions of these violin pieces for keyboard, everyone from Johannes Brahms to the wonderful modern transcriptions of Gustav Leonhardt, and this is in that tradition, but Edoardo Bellotti and Harald Vogel have formed this one especially for the clavichord.

Footnote 1: In a letter by Johann Friedrich Agricola (1720–1774): “Ihr Verfasser spielte sie selbst oft auf dem Clavichorde, und fügte von Harmonie so viel dazu bey, als er für nöthig befand. Er erkannte auch hierinn die Notwendigkeit einer klingenden Harmonie, die er bey jener Composition nicht völliger erreichen konnte.” Hans-Joachim Schulze, ed., Bach Dokumente, vol. 3 (Leipzig: Bach-Archiv 1972), 293.

Tiny Bach Concerts is sponsored by the Ruth and Noel Monte Fund. Ruth and Noel Monte were deeply devoted to Bach and his music, sensing its great impact on the human brain and culture throughout the world. To them, Bach represents a bright planet appearing in the sky only once, requiring centuries for the human mind to observe and fully comprehend. The Monte Fund has the goal of supporting and promoting this living musical treasure for present and future generations.