J.S. BACH – Sei solo a violino senza basso accompagnato

THE BAROQUE OR THE ROMANTIC MOVEMENT

I had started working on the pieces by Bach long before the preparation for the release of this CD began. The year of 2003 became crucial; I was the third year student at the Saint Petersburg State Conservatory when I decided to continue my education in Germany. I was interested in the Western European interpretation of Bach and Mozart music in the first place. Studying at two conservatories simultaneously gave me various benefits. The Russian violin school provides wonderful background in terms of technique and teaches how to make the sound rich and expressive; the German school teaches to pay more attention to the details, the nuances of the sound and to be more reverent while dealing with the original musical text. Each violinist faces the question of whether to fall for the baroque manner or the romantic Bach. As I was preparing to record the pieces I played a baroque violin with a baroque bow in order to better feel the performing manner of that époque. The baroque performers pay special attention to the right hand and the bow articulation as ensuring the diversity of the stroke technique and choosing the part of the bow that is suitable for playing this or that original stroke are particularly important. As for the romantic school, the left hand plays more important role. The vibrato becomes one of the main expressive means. The modernized, more sonorous violin is used. In my interpretation of Bach music I tried to combine these two styles: the stroke technique and the attention paid to the urtext of the baroque composers as well as various romantic colorations of the sound.

SEI SOLI OR SEI SOLO

Bach entitled this cycle “Sei solo a violino senza basso accompagnato” – “Six solos for violin without bass accompaniment”. It is interesting that this title is used very rarely. The title that we all are used to is “3 Sonatas and 3 Partitas” or “The Sonatas and Partitas for solo violin”. However, the original title is rather unusual. According to the Italian grammar rules, Bach should have called his piece “Sei soli”, but the title “Sei solo” gave the cycle the unexpected and soulful meaning – “You are by yourself” or “You are alone”. I am convinced that this was not the grammar mistake that Bach made; this was done on purpose in order to create the certain program for the whole cycle. It is easy to draw a parallel between “Six solos for violin” and “Six Suites for Cello Solo”. The number 6 was symbolic for Bach. He created 6 “English Suites”, 6 “French Suites”, 6 “ Partitas for Clavier”, 6 cello suites, 6 violin sonatas and partitas and 6 Brandenburg Concertos.

THE FORM

The cycle “The Sonatas and Partitas for solo violin” by Bach includes 3 sonatas and 3 partitas. The form of sonatas is close to the form of Italian church sonatas (sonata da chiesa). The first part is always an improvisation and plays an introductory role. The second part is a fugue; there are polyphonic chord techniques and cadenza interludes. The third part is slow and has the reflective mode. Only the third part of the sonatas in the cycle is written in a different key than the rest of the piece, but in the parallel key or the subdominant. The fourth part is a fast-paced two-part dancing finale. The partitas have less fixed form; there are different numbers of parts that are dance pastiches. The famous Chaconne from the Second Partita has a very vague resemblance of a dance. There are thirty polyphonic variations to the unchangeable repeating theme in the bass voice. Many dances were considered old-fashioned in the Bach times: allemande, courante, sarabande, jig. Other dances – gavotte, loure, bourre and menuet – were modern in the Bach times, and he included them in his partitas as well. Bach spells the names of the parts in the first two partitas in Italian, and in the third one – in French. The songlike Italian partitas tell about the emotional stresses of a person; the courteous and the village dances change one another in the “French” partita. The difference between the two violin schools of that time – the vocal Italian one and the instrumental French one – is visible. Bach often placed the parts of an album according to the scale; he follows this principle in “The Well-Tempered Clavier”, in “The English Suites” and in Inventions. In Sonatas and partitas the keys of the pieces also make up the part of the scale (g-a-h-c-d-e), but the notes have a slightly different order: “g, h, a, d, c, e”. But when we add the keys of the third parts of sonatas, the scale becomes complete and looks like this: “g, a, b, h, c, d, e, f”. It even has the favorite Bach’s theme “B-A-C-H”. The keys that the composer chose highlight the mood of each “solo”. At the same time, all six pieces make up a cohesive dramatic line. The dramatic and decisive First Sonata g-moll is the exposition and the core of the whole cycle; here all drama lines that appear later are laid. The climax moments of the Fugue anticipate the tragic mood of the Chaconne; the last two parts with their dancing mood introduce the following partitas. The mournful and severe First Partita h-moll The lyrical and sad Second Sonata a-moll. The rough, monumental and tragic Second Partita d-moll, the climax of the whole cycle, where the Chaconne is the highest point of the dramaturgy. The thoughtful and philosophical Third Sonata C-dur is the catharsis after the Chaconne. The radiant and sparkling Third Partita E-dur, the finale of the cycle. Why are the Second (a-moll) and the Third (C-dur) Sonatas less tense than the other pieces of this cycle? The answer can be found in the correspondence of the keys. Not only the intensity of emotions increases from the first sonata to the last partita. The sequence of the keys “g, h, a, d, C, E” is a climbing zigzag; there is a couple of deviations for a-moll and C-dur that are a second long each, and then the strong leap upwards by the fourth, to the climax Second Partita. It is like Bach takes a step back before he goes on for a new whorl. The dramatic line of the cycle reminds of the twists and turns of Ancient Greek tragedies.

THE GOALS

As we were recording the cycle “Sei solo”, I set three big goals for myself. The first goal was to attempt to erase the border between the baroque artists and the modern ones, the desire to use the best practices of both movements. The second goal was my desire to give each small part from Sonatas and Partitas its own unique character and at the same time to show the dramaturgy of the whole cycle, this journey from tension and grief to dreaminess and touching frankness and further on to enlightenment, conciliation and the triumph of life. The third goal was to distract myself from the great preliminary work, forget about it in a way and play “my Bach” in a very sincere manner.

J.S. BACH – Sei solo a violino senza basso accompagnato – Volume I
Sonata No.1 | Partita No.1 | Sonata No.2

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Sonata No.1 in G Minor | BWV 1001

1. Adagio

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2. Fuga

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3. Siciliana

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4. Presto

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Partita No.1 in B Minor | BWV 1002

5. Allemanda

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6. Double

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7. Corrente

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8. Double | Presto

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9. Sarabande

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10. Double

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11. Tempo di Borea

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12. Double

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Sonata No.2 in A Minor | BWV 1003

13.Grave

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14.Fuga

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15.Andante

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16.Allegro

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Maria Shalgina