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 between 1717 and 1720.


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The partita contains five movements, given in Italian as:

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

These movements are more frequently listed by their French names: Allemande, Courante, Sarabande, Gigue, and Chaconne.

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),[1] though this theory is controversial.[2]

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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Yehudi Menuhin called the Chaconne "the greatest structure for solo violin that exists".[3]

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."[4] He played the piece busking in L'Enfant Plaza for The Washington Post.[4]

Piano transcriptions[edit]

Since Bach's time, several 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.[5]

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

Organ transcriptions[edit]

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).

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."

Cello transcriptions[edit]

There is a transcription of the Chaconne for solo cello made by cellist Johann Sebastian Paetsch in 2015. This has been published by the Hofmeister Musikverlag in Leipzig.[6]

Guitar transcriptions[edit]

The Chaconne is often performed on guitar. Marc Pincherle, Secretary of the French Society of Musicology in Paris, wrote in 1930: "If, insofar as certain rapid monodic passages are concerned, opinion is divided between the violin and the guitar as the better medium, the guitar always triumphs in polyphonic passages; that is to say almost throughout the entire work. The timbre of the guitar creates new and emotional resonance and unsuspected dynamic gradations in those passages which might have been created purely for the violin; as for instance the variations in arpeggi."[7]

The most well-known transcription for guitar is the Segovia transcription. Many guitarists today prefer to play the Chaconne directly from the violin score.[8]

Orchestra transcriptions[edit]

There are a number of transcriptions of the Chaconne for orchestras of different sizes, including Leopold Stokowski's transcription for a full symphony orchestra.[9]


In 2005 Joseph C. Mastroianni published Chaconne The Novel. Milo, abandoned by the father who introduced him to Chaconne, studies in Spain for four years to master the piece.[10]

In 2008 Arnold Steinhardt, the violin soloist and first violinist of the Guarneri String Quartet published Violin dreams, a memoir about his life as a violinist and about his ultimate challenge: playing Bach's Chaconne.[11]

See also[edit]



  1. ^ Thoene 1994; Thoene 2001; Thoene 2003.
  2. ^ Altschuler 2005, 79, 85; Anderson 2002; Erickson 2002; Humphreys 2002; Rich 2006; Silbiger 1999, 374n34.
  3. ^ Menuhin, Yehudi (1976). Unfinished Journey. p. 236. 
  4. ^ a b Weingarten, Gene. "Pearls Before Breakfast" (article text only); includes video. Washington Post Magazine, April 8, 2007. Accessed September 18, 2011
  5. ^ Litzman, Berthold (editor). "Letters of Clara Schumann and Johannes Brahms, 1853–1896". Hyperion Press, 1979, p. 16.
  6. ^ Leipzig: Friedrich Hofmeister Verlag, FH 3021, 3 Pieces from BWV 565, 903, 1004, Leipzig 2015, (Editor/Arranger - Johann Sebastian Paetsch), ISMN: 9790203430216
  7. ^ "Bach's Chaconne and the Guitar". Cumpiano. Retrieved 26 October 2014. 
  8. ^ Christopher Berg (10 August 2009). "Bach, Busoni, Segovia, and the Chaconne". Pristine Madness. Retrieved 26 October 2014. 
  9. ^ William Ander Smith (1 January 1990). The Mystery of Leopold Stokowski. Fairleigh Dickinson Univ Press. p. 243. Retrieved 31 October 2014. 
  10. ^ Joseph C. Mastroianni. "Chaconne The Novel". The Devil's Advocate. Retrieved 26 October 2014. 
  11. ^ Melissa Block (18 January 2007). "Violin Dreams': Chasing Bach's Elusive Chaconne". NPR Music. Retrieved 26 October 2014. 


  • Altschuler, Eric Lewin. 2005. "Were Bach's Toccata and Fugue BWV565 and the Ciacconia from BWV1004 Lute Pieces?" The Musical Times 146, no. 1893 (Winter): 77–86.
  • Anderson, Rick. 2002. "Johann Sebastian Bach: Morimur. Hilliard Ensemble; Christoph Poppen. ECM 289 461 895-2, 2001." Notes, second series, 59, No. 1 (September): 145.
  • Erickson, Raymond. 2002. "Secret Codes, Dance and Bach's Great 'Ciaccona'". Early Music America 8, no. 2:34–43.
  • 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.

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