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Sonata No.2 in A minor 1003

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

Tamsin Waley-Cohen

Tamsin Waley-Cohen

Composer
Johann Sebastian Bach (b. 1685 - d. 1750)
Composition Year
circa 1720
Work Movements
1. Grave
2. Fuga
3. Andante
4. Allegro
Artists
Tamsin Waley-Cohen [violin]

Programme Note Writer:
© Francis Humphrys

Bach's maturity can be conveniently divided into his three appointments; as organist from 1708-17 at Duke Wilhelm's Court at Weimar; as Kapellmeister at Cöthen from 1717-23 and finally as Kantor at Leipzig for the remainder of his life. His Leipzig period is often divided into three, the time before1730 when he undertook the prodigious task of composing a well-regulated church music, that is a cantata for every Sunday and Feast Day in the church calendar over a period of five years. This is followed by the period from 1730-42 when he wrote his extraordinary keyboard exercises, culminating with the Goldberg Variations. And lastly there is the final phase when he tried to put his publications in some sort of order and indulged his late obsession with canons and counterpoint, as in the Musical Offering and the Art of Fugue.

The Sonatas and Partitas for Solo Violin without bass accompaniment date from his time at Cöthen, where his employer was a music loving Prince, who went to immense trouble and expense to build up an orchestra of 18 top-class players. During this time he had no duties as an organist or church musician, so turned to instrumental music, composing many of his most famous collections - the Brandenburg Concertos, the first volume of the Well-Tempered Clavier, the six French Suites, the two-part and three-part Inventions, six sonatas for violin and harpsichord, three sonatas for viola da gamba and harpsichord, the six suites for solo cello and the six works for solo violin.

Each collection comprehensively explores the possibilities of its genre. Bach explains that his purpose is not only to write good music but also to provide good material for performers to develop their art and for aspiring composers to learn the many ways a musical idea (or Invention) can be developed into a piece of music. The six solo violin pieces make up one of these comprehensive collections.

There was a tradition of unaccompanied violin music in southern Germany with Biber as its most famous exponent, but it cannot be said that Bach obtained anything more than the general idea from this tradition. What was remarkable was a polyphonic composer like Bach writing music for a single string instrument including both a chaconne and fugues requiring extravagant multi-stopping. He also creates a continuous melodic line by constructing it from motifs, which suggest or outline chords, so that the music sounds harmonic. And when he wants to give the impression of several melodic strands, he moves from different, sometimes remarkably widely apart, registers within the phrase. Between these techniques he builds a magnificent body of sound. The intensity for both player and listener is renowned; the lack of distraction from other instruments or melodies gives no rest and allows for no lapses of concentration.

A rhapsodic Grave opens the second Sonata in A minor. At such a slow tempo, the highly ornamented melody seems to meander at will, navigating a course of highly contrasting rhythms and decorative flourishes that release the melodic potential of the minor mode. The overall free nature of the Grave makes it sound like a prelude to the ensuing movement. As in all three of the violin sonatas, the second movement, the central point of the piece, is a fugue. Daunting in both size and complexity, the Fugue pushes forward relentlessly, creating a dense contrapuntal web. Bach sets the third movement apart from the others through both an Andante tempo and contrasting key. The writing is more homophonic here, with a serenely beautiful melody that provides a needed foil to the harsh energy of the preceding Fugue. A lively, lighthearted Allegro, rich with rhythmic and melodic variations, returns to A minor and closes the piece.

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Sonata No.2 in A minor 1003

Composer: Johann Sebastian Bach (b. 1685 - d. 1750)
Performance date: Saturday 2nd July 2016
Venue: St. Brendan's Church, Bantry, Co Cork, Ireland

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Composer Johann Sebastian Bach (b. 1685 - d. 1750)
Work Title Sonata No.2 in A minor 1003
Composition Year circa 1720
Work Movements 1. Grave
2. Fuga
3. Andante
4. Allegro
Artist(s) Tamsin Waley-Cohen [violin]
Performance Date Saturday 2nd July 2016
Performance Venue St. Brendan's Church, Bantry, Co Cork, Ireland
Event Coffee Concert
Duration 00:19:03
Recording Engineer Richard McCullough, RTÉ lyric fm
Instrumentation Category Solo
Instrumentation vn
Programme Note Writer © Francis Humphrys

Bach's maturity can be conveniently divided into his three appointments; as organist from 1708-17 at Duke Wilhelm's Court at Weimar; as Kapellmeister at Cöthen from 1717-23 and finally as Kantor at Leipzig for the remainder of his life. His Leipzig period is often divided into three, the time before1730 when he undertook the prodigious task of composing a well-regulated church music, that is a cantata for every Sunday and Feast Day in the church calendar over a period of five years. This is followed by the period from 1730-42 when he wrote his extraordinary keyboard exercises, culminating with the Goldberg Variations. And lastly there is the final phase when he tried to put his publications in some sort of order and indulged his late obsession with canons and counterpoint, as in the Musical Offering and the Art of Fugue.

The Sonatas and Partitas for Solo Violin without bass accompaniment date from his time at Cöthen, where his employer was a music loving Prince, who went to immense trouble and expense to build up an orchestra of 18 top-class players. During this time he had no duties as an organist or church musician, so turned to instrumental music, composing many of his most famous collections - the Brandenburg Concertos, the first volume of the Well-Tempered Clavier, the six French Suites, the two-part and three-part Inventions, six sonatas for violin and harpsichord, three sonatas for viola da gamba and harpsichord, the six suites for solo cello and the six works for solo violin.

Each collection comprehensively explores the possibilities of its genre. Bach explains that his purpose is not only to write good music but also to provide good material for performers to develop their art and for aspiring composers to learn the many ways a musical idea (or Invention) can be developed into a piece of music. The six solo violin pieces make up one of these comprehensive collections.

There was a tradition of unaccompanied violin music in southern Germany with Biber as its most famous exponent, but it cannot be said that Bach obtained anything more than the general idea from this tradition. What was remarkable was a polyphonic composer like Bach writing music for a single string instrument including both a chaconne and fugues requiring extravagant multi-stopping. He also creates a continuous melodic line by constructing it from motifs, which suggest or outline chords, so that the music sounds harmonic. And when he wants to give the impression of several melodic strands, he moves from different, sometimes remarkably widely apart, registers within the phrase. Between these techniques he builds a magnificent body of sound. The intensity for both player and listener is renowned; the lack of distraction from other instruments or melodies gives no rest and allows for no lapses of concentration.

A rhapsodic Grave opens the second Sonata in A minor. At such a slow tempo, the highly ornamented melody seems to meander at will, navigating a course of highly contrasting rhythms and decorative flourishes that release the melodic potential of the minor mode. The overall free nature of the Grave makes it sound like a prelude to the ensuing movement. As in all three of the violin sonatas, the second movement, the central point of the piece, is a fugue. Daunting in both size and complexity, the Fugue pushes forward relentlessly, creating a dense contrapuntal web. Bach sets the third movement apart from the others through both an Andante tempo and contrasting key. The writing is more homophonic here, with a serenely beautiful melody that provides a needed foil to the harsh energy of the preceding Fugue. A lively, lighthearted Allegro, rich with rhythmic and melodic variations, returns to A minor and closes the piece.