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Partita No.2 in D minor BWV1004

Johann Sebastian Bach (b. 1685 - d. 1750)

Pekka Kuusisto

Pekka Kuusisto

Composer
Johann Sebastian Bach (b. 1685 - d. 1750)
Composition Year
1720
Work Movements
1. Allemande
2. Corrente
3. Sarabanda
4. Giga
5. Ciaconna
Artists
Pekka Kuusisto [violin]

Programme Note Writer:
© Fíacha O'Dubhda

The Chaconne is the most wonderful, unfathomable piece of music. On one stave, for a small instrument, the man writes a whole world of the deepest thoughts and most powerful feelings. If I imagined that I could have created, even conceived the piece, I am quite certain that the excess of excitement and earth shattering experience would have driven me out of my mind. Johannes Brahms

Bach’s most important instrumental works were written during his six years at Cöthen 1717-1723, where he was Kapellmeister for the musical Prince Leopold Anhalt-Cöthen. For a brief time Cöthen put Bach in a musically ideal situation. First he was working with an ensemble whose professional core group comprised some of the finest musicians in that part of the world. Secondly the demands of his job left him considerable time to pursue his own interests. Thirdly and most importantly he found himself under the patronage of a supportive and understanding prince.

Bach’s time at Cöthen was marred by the sudden death of his first wife, Maria Barbara, in 1720. Bach’s autograph manuscript of the sonatas and partitas is also dated 1720 and the extraordinary nature of the famous Chaconne has led to conjecture that it was written in memory of his wife.

The D minor Partita presents the dances in their traditional sequence of Allemande, Courante, Sarabande and Gigue. The Chaconne is placed last and the perhaps unintentional effect is to make the preceding dances as a whole appear as a prelude. The Chaconne is a special type of continuous theme and 31 variations where a somewhat short subject is relentlessly repeated and varied. The variations are built on a descending ground bass to the rhythm of a slow dance similar to the Sarabande in simple triple time and often in a minor key. All of Bach´s genius and musical mastery are found in the Chaconne and it inspires all manner of superlatives. Certainly when listening to this music it is sometimes hard to believe what you are hearing, your mind keeps saying that this cannot be possible. Philipp Spitta, the great Bach scholar summed it up quite simply as a triumph of spirit over matter.

Improvisations on the Hidden Chorales

Through a close study of the Bach D Minor Partita, the musicologist Helga Thoene has developed the hypothesis that the piece is encrypted with references to various Bach chorales, as well as numerological references to passages in the Bible. The musical quotations and insinuations help to link passages in the piece to the lyrics of the chorales, binding their subjects of death and resurrection to the Partita, as in the Chaconne which is framed by Bach’s melody from the cantata BWV4. The text of this Cantata is Martin Luther’s Easter Hymn Christ Lay in Deaths Bondage and reference to the lyrics reveals the Chaconne to be a startling homage to and prayer for his recently deceased wife Maria Barbara.

The more study that is done, the more links are found that connect each note to a world of musical and religious symbolism, demonstrating that Bach managed to condense a veritable cosmology into the third Partita. C.P.E. Bach wrote in an obituary; that if ever a musician has placed the most arcane secrets of harmony into the most ingenious outpourings of his art, it was our Bach. It seems increasingly so that this sentiment can be taken less as a humble compliment than a hint at the depths of hidden meaning that Bach’s works contain.

An influential recording by The Hilliard Ensemble and Christoph Poppen has helped to bridge the link between Theone’s analytic musicology and performance practice, demonstrating that if the lines from the chorales were sung atop the Chaconne, it is as if the subliminal connotations of the piece are suddenly revealed. This was taken a step further; the chorales found in the other movements of the Partita extracted and played between the movements, revealing a remarkable thematic consistency.

Pekka Kuusisto seeks to resurrect the hidden chorales, not through the use of extra instruments and voices, but by using an electric violin and technology that will enable him to record and over-dub multiple strands of melody live on stage, improvising around the themes of the chorales between the movements of the Partita. The flexibility of the improvisations contrasted with the mighty edifice of the Partita will help to cast the latter in a new and mysterious light, teasing out some of the infinite melodic possibilities refracted by Bach’s composition. 

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Partita No.2 in D minor BWV1004

Composer: Johann Sebastian Bach (b. 1685 - d. 1750)
Performance date: Wednesday 30th June 2010
Venue: St. Brendan's Church, Bantry, Co Cork, Ireland

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Composer Johann Sebastian Bach (b. 1685 - d. 1750)
Work Title Partita No.2 in D minor BWV1004
Composition Year 1720
Work Movements 1. Allemande
2. Corrente
3. Sarabanda
4. Giga
5. Ciaconna
Artist(s) Pekka Kuusisto [violin]
Performance Date Wednesday 30th June 2010
Performance Venue St. Brendan's Church, Bantry, Co Cork, Ireland
Event Stars in the Afternoon
Duration 00:57:39
Recording Engineer Anton Timoney, RTÉ lyric fm
Instrumentation Category Solo
Instrumentation vn, electric vn
Programme Note Writer © Fíacha O'Dubhda

The Chaconne is the most wonderful, unfathomable piece of music. On one stave, for a small instrument, the man writes a whole world of the deepest thoughts and most powerful feelings. If I imagined that I could have created, even conceived the piece, I am quite certain that the excess of excitement and earth shattering experience would have driven me out of my mind. Johannes Brahms

Bach’s most important instrumental works were written during his six years at Cöthen 1717-1723, where he was Kapellmeister for the musical Prince Leopold Anhalt-Cöthen. For a brief time Cöthen put Bach in a musically ideal situation. First he was working with an ensemble whose professional core group comprised some of the finest musicians in that part of the world. Secondly the demands of his job left him considerable time to pursue his own interests. Thirdly and most importantly he found himself under the patronage of a supportive and understanding prince.

Bach’s time at Cöthen was marred by the sudden death of his first wife, Maria Barbara, in 1720. Bach’s autograph manuscript of the sonatas and partitas is also dated 1720 and the extraordinary nature of the famous Chaconne has led to conjecture that it was written in memory of his wife.

The D minor Partita presents the dances in their traditional sequence of Allemande, Courante, Sarabande and Gigue. The Chaconne is placed last and the perhaps unintentional effect is to make the preceding dances as a whole appear as a prelude. The Chaconne is a special type of continuous theme and 31 variations where a somewhat short subject is relentlessly repeated and varied. The variations are built on a descending ground bass to the rhythm of a slow dance similar to the Sarabande in simple triple time and often in a minor key. All of Bach´s genius and musical mastery are found in the Chaconne and it inspires all manner of superlatives. Certainly when listening to this music it is sometimes hard to believe what you are hearing, your mind keeps saying that this cannot be possible. Philipp Spitta, the great Bach scholar summed it up quite simply as a triumph of spirit over matter.

Improvisations on the Hidden Chorales

Through a close study of the Bach D Minor Partita, the musicologist Helga Thoene has developed the hypothesis that the piece is encrypted with references to various Bach chorales, as well as numerological references to passages in the Bible. The musical quotations and insinuations help to link passages in the piece to the lyrics of the chorales, binding their subjects of death and resurrection to the Partita, as in the Chaconne which is framed by Bach’s melody from the cantata BWV4. The text of this Cantata is Martin Luther’s Easter Hymn Christ Lay in Deaths Bondage and reference to the lyrics reveals the Chaconne to be a startling homage to and prayer for his recently deceased wife Maria Barbara.

The more study that is done, the more links are found that connect each note to a world of musical and religious symbolism, demonstrating that Bach managed to condense a veritable cosmology into the third Partita. C.P.E. Bach wrote in an obituary; that if ever a musician has placed the most arcane secrets of harmony into the most ingenious outpourings of his art, it was our Bach. It seems increasingly so that this sentiment can be taken less as a humble compliment than a hint at the depths of hidden meaning that Bach’s works contain.

An influential recording by The Hilliard Ensemble and Christoph Poppen has helped to bridge the link between Theone’s analytic musicology and performance practice, demonstrating that if the lines from the chorales were sung atop the Chaconne, it is as if the subliminal connotations of the piece are suddenly revealed. This was taken a step further; the chorales found in the other movements of the Partita extracted and played between the movements, revealing a remarkable thematic consistency.

Pekka Kuusisto seeks to resurrect the hidden chorales, not through the use of extra instruments and voices, but by using an electric violin and technology that will enable him to record and over-dub multiple strands of melody live on stage, improvising around the themes of the chorales between the movements of the Partita. The flexibility of the improvisations contrasted with the mighty edifice of the Partita will help to cast the latter in a new and mysterious light, teasing out some of the infinite melodic possibilities refracted by Bach’s composition.