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Bach’s Sets: Sonatas & Partitas

Each week , we’re presenting a tiny taste of the BFX—an amuse-bouche for the upcoming Festival feast!

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Since last time we looked at his cantatas, in this BFX Bite we’ll shift our focus to Johann Sebastian Bach’s sonatas and partitas for violin, of which he composed six sets (BWV 1001-1006).

It’s rather strange to think of any of Bach’s works being ignored, but these sets, while finished in 1720, weren’t even published until 1802 (!), and mostly languished in obscurity until the famous 19th century Hungarian violinist Joseph Joachim (1831-1907) began performing them.

They consist of three sonatas da chiesa in four movements and three partitas (or “partias”) in dance-form movements. The 2nd Partita is widely known for its Chaconne, considered one of the most masterly and expressive works ever written for solo violin. In theory (no pun intended), it’s rather simple: a four-bar phrase, repeated in harmonic progression in the bass line. What makes it so remarkable is that Bach took that phrase and composed no fewer than sixty-four variations for it (clocking in at over 15 minutes, it’s longer than the rest of the movements in no. 2 combined), using every aspect of violin-playing and contrapuntal writing technique available at the time.

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On Wednesday, June 8 at 7 PM, you can hear the “queen of the Baroque violin” (Sunday Times) and Festival favorite Rachel Podger in a selection of Bach’s sonatas and partitas for solo violin.

Learn more, and get tickets for the BFX, here: https://berkeleyfestival.org/2022-main-stage/ 

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