Partita for Violin No. 2 (Bach)

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The Partita in D minor for solo violin (BWV 1004) by Johann Sebastian Bach was written during 1717–1723. Professor Helga Thoene suggests that this partita, and especially its last movement, was a tombeau written in memory of Bach's first wife, Maria Barbara Bach (who died in 1720), though this theory is controversial. The partita contains five movements, given in Italian as:[1]

  1. Allemanda
  2. Corrente
  3. Sarabanda
  4. Giga
  5. Ciaccona

The Ciaccona[edit]

Performed by Ben Goldstein

Transcription of the Chaconne by Johannes Brahms for piano with left hand only, performed by Martha Goldstein

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The ciaccona (commonly called by the French form of the word, chaconne), the concluding movement of Partita No. 2 in D minor, BWV 1004, surpasses the duration of the previous four movements combined. Along with its disproportional relationship to the rest of the suite, it merits the emphasis given it by musicians and composers alike. The theme, presented in the first four measures in typical chaconne rhythm with a chord progression based on the repeated bass note pattern D D C D B G A D, begets the rest of the movement in a series of variations. The overall form is tripartite, the middle section of which is in major mode. It represents the pinnacle of the solo violin repertoire in that it covers every aspect of violin playing known during Bach's time. It is still one of the most technically and musically demanding pieces for the instrument.[original research?]

Yehudi Menuhin called the Chaconne "the greatest structure for solo violin that exists".[2]

Violinist Joshua Bell has said the Chaconne is "not just one of the greatest pieces of music ever written, but one of the greatest achievements of any man in history. It's a spiritually powerful piece, emotionally powerful, structurally perfect." He played the piece busking in L'Enfant Plaza for the Washington Post.[3]

Piano transcriptions[edit]

Since Bach's time, several different transcriptions of the piece have been made for other instruments, particularly for the piano (by Ferruccio Busoni and Joachim Raff), and for the piano left-hand (by Brahms).

Johannes Brahms, in a letter to Clara Schumann, said about the ciaccona:

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.[4]

Felix Mendelssohn and Robert Schumann each wrote piano accompaniments for the work.

Organ transcriptions[edit]

In the preface to his 1955 transcription, John Cook writes: "The Chaconne is sublimely satisfying in its original form, yet many will agree that a single violin is only able to hint at the vast implications of much of this music ... It is perhaps not unreasonable to suppose that Bach would have chosen the organ, had he transcribed the Chaconne himself, as the instrument best suited to the scale of his ideas ... A good performance on the violin may be taken as the best guide to interpretation on the organ — the two instruments are not without their points in common, and both were beloved of Bach."

The earliest version for organ is by William Thomas Best. Further transcriptions are by John Cook, Wilhelm Middelschulte, Walter Henry Goss-Custard (1915–55), and Henri Messerer (1838–1923).

Classical guitar[edit]

Andrés Segovia arranged and performed a version of the chaconne for classical guitar.[citation needed] The chaconne remains a popular piece for the instrument.[citation needed]

See also[edit]


  • Humphreys, David. 2002. "Esoteric Bach". Early Music 30, no. 2 (May): 307.
  • Rich, Alan. 2006. "Morimur: Is There Sex after Bach?" In his So I've Heard: Notes of a Migratory Music Critic, 66–67. Milwaukee: Amadeus. ISBN 1-57467-133-2.
  • Silbiger, Alexander. 1999. "Bach and the Chaconne". The Journal of Musicology 17, no. 3 (Summer): 358–85.
  • Thoene, Helga. 1994. "Johann Sebastian Bach. Ciaconna—Tanz oder Tombeau. Verborgene Sprache eines berühmten Werkes". In Festschrift zum Leopoldfest [15. Köthener Bachfesttage] , 14–81. Cöthener Bach-Hefte 6, Veröffentlichungen des Historischen Museums Köthen/Anhalt XIX. Köthen.
  • Thoene, Helga. 2001. Johann Sebastian Bach, Ciaccona: Tanz oder Tombeau?—Eine analytische Studie. Oschersleben: Ziethen. ISBN 3-935358-60-1.
  • Thoene, Helga. 2003. "Verborgener Klang und verschlüsselte Sprache in den Werken für Violine solo von Johann Sebastian Bach". In AnsBACHwoche, Almanach: 25 Juli bis 3. August 2003, 22–35. Ansbach: Bachwoche Ansbach GmbH.


  1. ^ These movements are more frequently listed by their French names on recordings and in some references[weasel words] as Allemande, Courante, Sarabande, Gigue, and Chaconne.
  2. ^ Autobiography Unfinished Journey, p. 236
  3. ^ Weingarten, Gene. "Pearls Before Breakfast". Washington Post Magazine, April 8, 2007. Accessed September 18, 2011
  4. ^ Litzman, Berthold (editor). "Letters of Clara Schumann and Johannes Brahms, 1853–1896". Hyperion Press, 1979, p. 16.

External links[edit]