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Bach- Busoni Chaconne from the Partita No. 2 in D Minor, BWV 1004

January 6, 2021

Chaconne, Italian Ciaccona, forms the fifth and final movement of the Partita No. 2 in D Minor, BWV 1004. It is one of J. S. Bach’s monumental works (It may not be an appropriate description because there are so many of them), and written for solo violin. The Chaconne is the longest movement of this Partita, almost a half of the entire piece. Bach composed the Chaconne sometime between 1718 and 1720. It was written after returning from a trip and found his wife (and the mother of seven of his children), Maria Barbara, had died. Johannes Brahms described this Chaconne in his letter to his soul mate, Clara Schumann.

“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. If one doesn’t have the greatest violinist around, then it is well the most beautiful pleasure to simply listen to its sound in one’s mind.”

J. S. Bach was trained in the late 1600s as a Lutheran town organist. Musicians of Bach’s generation did not need to feel an emotion in order to depict it in their compositions. J. S. Bach often signed “Soli Deo Gloria (For the Glory of God Alone)”. It was the next generation, beginning with Bach’s own son, Carl Philipp Emanuel, who began to demand that a musician express emotions in their works.

Does it matter? Personal, occupational, or religious. The Chaconne moves us soulfully.

Ferruccio Busoni (1866-1924) transcribed this Chaconne for solo piano in 1893. I have been thinking about learning this transcription since my conservatory era! It is time. Simply, I am deeply attached to this Chaconne, and with my poor violin skill, I can’t play it on violin, even the first note.. J. S. Bach was very curious to adapt new ideas. In 1705, a young J. S. set out from the city of Arnstadt to make the journey on foot to Lübeck, almost 400 km, to hear a great organ playing by Dietrich Buxtehude. He wanted to hear the organ giant play and walked 400 km both ways! I am not sure how J. S. Bach would react to this transcription, but I am sure he would be curious to hear it.

Bach- Busoni Chaconne is my current project. I have been studying a violin score and listening to violinists’ recordings. It is so wonderful to play Chaconne. At this point, it does not matter to me whether I am playing violin or piano. I am playing J. S. Bach’s Chaconne.