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Sonatas for Violin & Keyboard BWV 1014-1023
General Discussions - Part 2

Continue from Part 1

Monthly Discussion December 2008: Sonatas for violin & keyboard, BWV 1014-1019

John Pike wrote (December 3, 2008):
Sonatas for Violin and Obligato Harpsichord, BWV 1014-9

The music for discussion this month is the 6 Sonatas for Violin and Obbligato Harpsichord, BWV 1014-1019.


It has been hypothetically assumed that the Sonatas were written towards the end of Bach's time at Coethen. JN Forkel, in his biography of 1802, stated that Bach composed the works at Coethen, and Martin Geck gives this as the time and place of composition, but others speculate that the place and date of composition was around 1726 in Leipzig (Peter Williams). It is certain that the first versions of the sonatas date from "Before 1725" (Ed. Malcolm Boyd), since that is the date of the earliest surviving source.

Boyd comments "Although the first five sonatas may have been completed at Coethen, only the first two movements (and possibly the fourth) of the sixth sonata may have existed at that stage, the remainder being
added in 1725. Indeed, Hans Eppstein has suggested that its first, second and fourth movements may have been transcribed from a lost trio for Flute, violin and continuo; and various movements in the other sonatas may have been derived from lost trio sonata or concerto movements."

Martin Geck comments "The.. ..sonatas....were not all composed at the same time - which might well have been to their benefit: in its present form, the series does not have the unity and close systematic structure of the Coethen demonstration cycles, but it has a variety and richness on the order of the Brandenburg Concertos". The only typical trait the sonatas have is that they (nearly, with the exception of no.6) all belong to the Corelli sonata da Chiesa scheme, having 4 movements alternating slow-fast-slow-fast.

The six sonatas are as follows:

1. Sonata in B minor, BWV 1014
2. Sonata in A major, BWV 1015
3. Sonata in E major, BWV 1016
4. Sonata in C minor, BWV 1017
5. Sonata in F minor, BWV 1018
6. Sonata in G major, BWV 1019

The available sources suggest that Bach revised the six sonatas twice while in Leipzig. The modifications to the first five sonatas were relatively minor but the revisions to the G major Sonata (BWV 1019) were radical on both occasions:

1. The first version has six movements: Vivace, Largo, "Cembalo solo", Adagio, Solo violin with continuo, Vivace (repeat of first movement). In 1725, Bach recast the the movements for solo harpsichord and solo violin with continuo as "Courante" and "Gavotte" in the keyboard partita in E minor.
2. These two movements are not present in the second, five movement version; a "Cantabile ma un poco Adagio" movement is introduced in their place. This is an adaptation of the aria "Heil und Segen" from the
cantata "Gott, man lobet dich in der Stille", BWV 120.
3. The final version has a new "Cembalo solo" movement in place of the "Cantabile", the "Adagio" is replaced by another, and an Allegro in 6/8 time appears as the fifth movement. The theme of the latter is related to the aria "Phoebus eilt" from the cantata "Weichet nur, betruebte Schatten", BWV 202.

Guenter Kehr and Hans Christian Mueller, in the preface to the Wiener Urtext Edition comment that "This repeated revision and the fact that the sequence of movements differs from that of the other sonatas suggests that it was the first of the six sonatas to be written by Bach*. The numerical order of the other sonatas (by BWV number) also might not correspond with the dates of composition".

(* My comment: this comment seems to conflict somewhat with that of Malcolm Boyd above, at least so far as movements 3, 5 and 6 are concerned).


The six sonatas for violin and harpsichord are preserved in three sets of MS parts, E, F and G, and four MS scores, A, B, C and D. No complete autograph exists and none of the sources is based directly on an autograph.

Extant parts:

1. Manuscript E, the oldest surviving manuscript, a copy partly in Bach's hand. Staatsbibliothek, Berlin. Bach St 162. Violin part and harpsichord part, written probably 1725 (Leipzig). Title in harpsichord part: "Sei Suonate a cembalo certato e Violino Solo, col Basso per Viola da Gamba accompagnata se piace. Composte a Giov: Sebast: Bach". Was prepared in Bach's house. Contains first version of sonatas. Was copied not from original autograph but from another MS copy. Copyists of the harpsichord part: Anonymous II (who worked for Bach from 26 Dec 1724 until 9 Feb 1727) copied sonatas 1-5 and movements 1 and 2 of Sonata 6. Malcolm Boyd states that this was Johann Heinrich Bach. Movements 3-5 of sonata 6 are a copy in Bach's hand. The violin part is not complete; only Sonatas 1-4 are preserved; the copyist is unknown.

2. F. Berlin. Mus ms. Bach St. 463-468, violin part and harpsichord part. Copy by Schlichting in second half of 18th century. Was owned by CPE Bach, who wrote title jackets for the sonatas except no.4., which has no jacket.

3. G. Berlin. Mus. Ms.Bach St. 403. harpsichord part only. Originated in CPE Bach circle. Written by two people; an unknown copyist of CPE Bach's for sonatas 1-4, and Anonymous 300, who worked for CPE Bach from 1755 to about 1770, for sonatas 5-6. Contains first version of sonatas 1-4. Was copied from same MS as E, but no direct relationship between E and G.

Extant Scores

1. A. Berlin, Mus. Ms. Bach P 229. MS collection compiled by by J. Ch. Altnikol (1719-1759), Bach's pupil and, later, son-in-law, between 1744 and 1759. Also contains BWV 1030 (Trio for Flute, Violin and Clavier) and a trio by CPE Bach. This score is used for most editions published today.
2. B. Berlin, Bach P 426, by unknown copyist, c. 1800
3. C. Copenhagen. From estate of CEF Weyse. Originally belonged to his teacher JPA Schulz. Unknown copyist.
4. D. Berlin. Am. B. 61. Part of stocks of Amalienbibliothek, probably prepared prior to 1788 by unknown copyist

C and D were prepared from a common MS, but were not copied from each other. Both contain the second version of the sonatas, and both originated in Kirnberger circle. JP Kirnberger was a pupil of Bach's and
Kapellmeister to Princess Amalie of Prussia, hence its presence in the Amalienbibliothek. JPA Schulz was a pupil of Kirnberger's and probably got source C from him.

The third version of the sonatas is contained in sources B, F and G (sonatas 5 and 6). B and F were copied from the same MS. B not copied from F. Sonatas 5 and 6 in G were copied from another MS. Source A also belongs to this group of sources. It was once assumed that A was the best extant text in every respect but careful comparison with other extant sources reveals that this is not so. It does contain a few readings peculiar to it, which could be evidence of a final revision by Bach. However, A also has variants in common with C and D, unlikely to originate from Bach.


Bach produced a new type of ensemble playing with the Sonatas for violin and "Concertante" Harpsichord, and also in those for Flute and Viola da Gamba. In the past, the harpsichord had played only an accompanying role in ensemble music. But he now created the form of the duo-Sonata, or sonata for two instruments in the modern sense. The origin of the Sonatas and their derivation from the trio sonatas have been brought to light only recently (Hans Eppstein - "Studien ueber J.S. Bachs Sonaten fuer ein Melodieninstrument und obligates Cembalo", Uppsala, 1966). On the one hand, they are still denoted as "Trios" in the titles of the copies, together with the additional phrase "col Basso per Viola da Gamba accompagnata"; on the other hand the new treatment of the harpsichord is alluded to in the reference "Cembalo certato".

The sonatas were first published in Zurich in1802.

Although two sources have the designation "col Basso per Viola da Gamba accompagnata", no independent Gamba part has survived.

These pieces, although not as technically demanding as the sonatas and partitas for solo violin, are quite difficult to play in plac.

Peter Williams believes that revisions to these sonatas were amongst the very last music that Bach composed, in late 1749 or early 1750. Martin Geck comments that (presumably) J.Chr. Fr. Bach wrote on the title page of a score of the Sonatas "This trio he composed before his death".

Williams also speculates that the sonatas were compiled for WF Bach, about the same time that he was studying violin with Graun in Merseburg, c. 1726. It is not certain that they were suitable for performance at the Collegium Musicum.

Werner Brieg comments "Bach plainly planned a systematic exploration of the possibilities inherent in the sonata with obligato harpsichord. This is particularly clear from their fast movements which, viewed as a whole, constitute a veritable compendium of the formal possibilities of fugue within a trio sonata texture".

Christoph Wolff quotes CPE Bach as writing in 1774 "The 6 Clavier Trios (not even listed in the Obituary's summary catalog)...are among the best works of my dear departed father. They still sound excellent and give me much joy, although they date back more than fifty years. They contain some Adagii that could not be written in a more singable manner today". (My comment: if CPE Bach is correct about "more than fifty years", this would put the date of composition as before 1724, ie earlier than Peter Williams speculates.)


A list of some available recordings and a lengthy commentary on each sonata by Don Satz are available here:

Of these, I have:

Trevor Pinnock and Rachel Podger (baroque violin)

I also have Arthur Grumiaux and Christiane Jaccottet, Leonid Kogan/Karl Richter (on LP), Ruth Waterman and Morey Ritt, and Dmitry Sitkovetsky and Robert Hill. All are very enjoyable.


Wiener Urtext Edition
Henle Urtext Edition
BWV Kleine Ausgabe
Peter Williams "JS Bach. A Life in Music", CUP
Peter Williams "The Life of Bach", CUP
Martin Geck "Johann Sebastian Bach, Life and Work"
"The Cambridge Companion to Bach" Ed. John Butt
Christoph Wolff "Johann Sebastian Bach. The Learned Musician", OUP
"J.S. Bach" (Ed. Malcolm Boyd), Oxford Composer Companions

Francis Browne wrote (December 3, 2008):
[To John Pike] Many th thanks to John for his thorough and informative introduction to the violin sonatas. It may be worth adding that on Naxos Music Library there are, if I have counted correctly, 10 versions of these works(and one arrangement for oboe) which can be heard online.

One of the first CDs I bought from following this list some six years ago was the recording by Giuliano Carmignola amd Andrea Marcon.There is an ease and fluency about their play which gives great delight, and throughout the six sonatas, which contain a great variety of writing and make various demands on the performers, there is a rapport between them which makes for a most convincing an enjoyable interpretation of the music.

I also listened recently to the performances on Naxos by Lucy van Dael and Bob van Asperen. In a different way these also are excellent - their playing seems perhaps generally less adventurous, yet constantly illuminates many details in the music.

I have also heard Yehudi Menuhin with Louis Kentner on piano - but I found this on the whole disappointing -somehow the music never seems to come alive.

I propose to myself in the coming month the serious pleasure of getting to know these works more thoroughly - and I hope many of the readers of this list will do the same.

Julian Mincham wrote (December 3, 2008):
[To John Pike] The issue of the changes of texture and ensemble which Bach brought to the chamber works for flute, violin and gamba are of considerable historic interest.

The trio sonata was?originally for four instruments (a fact that has confused many a student over the years!) two 'upper' melodic instruments (originally violins) and a cello or gamba playing the bass line. The harpsichord generally doubled the?latter in the left hand whilst the right hand supplied the harmonies from a figured bass just as it would also do in the orchestral works with continuo. Thus four instruments provided three melodic lines.

Bach's frequent pratice was to retain one of the melodic instruments but to give the second? line to the harpsichord right hand, the left hand retaining the bass line. Still three basic melodic lines but now only requiring two instruments, providing a greater degree of focus.? This procedure led to the establishment of the term 'sonata' (originally only having the vague meaning of some sort of ensemble i.e. 'sounding together') as a work for two instruments, one of which was keyboard (see the sonatas of Haydn, Mozart, Brahms et alia. Of course it was also purloined as the name of solo works for piano e.g. the 32 sonatas of Beethoven. Had the italian Concerto been composed 50 years later it would almost certainly have been called a sonata.)

The question which has always intrigued me (although i must confess that I have never got around to researching it properly, but maybe some of the list members have done so) is this: did Bach originate this condensation of the three trio sonata lines or did he get the idea from someone else? Are there examples of such sonata writing that Bach might have heard coming from the pre Cothen period? Was he the inventor or did he take over someone's idea and simply do it better?

This last question relates to a common Bachian theme whereby he took the structural?principles of others and developed (many would say improved upon) them. He didn't write that much in theme and variation form--but when he did he led the way (e.g. the Goldberg Variations.) The same might be said of the Vivaldian ritornello principle vastly explored and extended in the Brandenburgs and eslewhere. Similarly the trio sonata. It did not form a large part of Bach's chamber music output but when he did compose it, it was outstanding (see the one?in the Musical Offering:- by 1748 virtually an archaic form probably deliberately chosen by Bach as a musical rebuke to the King----see James Gaines' Evening in the Palace of Reason, discussed on list a couple of years ago.)

So from those who know more non-Bach baroque music than i do, do they know of any?examples of the three line, two instrument sonata which Bach may have used as models for his own work?????

John Pike wrote (December 3, 2008):
Julian Mincham wrote:
< Similarly the trio sonata. It did not form a large part of Bach's chamber music output but when he did compose it, it was outstanding (see the one?in the Musical Offering:- by 1748 virtually an archaic form probably deliberately chosen by Bach as a musical rebuke to the King----see James Gaines' Evening in the Palace of Reason, discussed on list a couple of years ago.) >
I suspect that Bach actually wrote a lot more trio sonatas than remain. I think this is something that Wolff speculates on in "The Learned Musician" but I don't have it in front of me. I seem to remember that he speculates that a lot of music from Weimar and Coethen has gone missing, including a lot of concertos and trio sonatas etc. See also my original quotation from Eppstein.

Julian Mincham wrote (December 3, 2008):
[To John Pike] The reference is page 461 of the paperback edition. Wolff speculates that Bach 'almost certainly produced dozens of them, mainly before 1723'. He is mainly concerned with the reasons for the non survival of certain genres of Bach's output in this section of the chapter which is hardly good evidence in support of the point.

Perhaps?Bach wrote a lot more perhaps he didn't; the same speculation might be made I suppose about theme and variations.??But i don't think that this challenges the substance of my point about his adopting structural principles from others and developing them to a high and original degree.

John Pike wrote (December 3, 2008):
[To Julian Mincham] I agree on all these points, Julian. Bach scholarship is often and inevitably reduced to speculation.

Julian Mincham wrote (December 3, 2008):
[To John Pike] Absolutely. But informspeculation is also great fun!

Having said that, the amount that we now know about Bach, his circumstances and the order of the compositions (for example) has been greatly enhanced by informed scholarship since the early C20. Wolff's view of Bach as a man too powerful (in the leipzig musical arena) to be governable by lesser minds is very much at variance with the view of the downtrodden, unappreciated poor man than i read about in the Bach books of my youth (I am delighted to say!)

Julian Mincham wrote (December 3, 2008):
[To John Pike] In you reading on the violin sonatas did you come across anything on the G minor sonata for flute and cembalo? it exists also as a sonata for violin and keyboard, and I read somewhere that Bach adapted it himself--but I have never verified it and I don't know which version came first. Also in a recording that Harry sent me some time ago it was listed as an oboe concerto by CPE Bach.? Does anyone know anything of the history of this work?? (Sorry, don't have the number immediately to hand--it's the only flute sonata in Gm but it is not one of the group of six)

Bradley Lehman wrote (December 3, 2008):
[To Julian Mincham] It's the B minor flute sonata BWV 1030. An earlier version exists in G minor, but it's only the harpsichord part. It gets played most often with oboe (in part because there's a handy mid-20th-C edition by Peters giving it as an oboe arrangement).

Here's a performance of it by me, with a violinist:
We played the whole sonata, but I transferred only the first movement into a video. As I noted there in the "more info" section:"Our performance here is inspired in part by a 2007 article by Joshua Rifkin ("The B-Minor Flute Suite Deconstructed: New Light on Bach's Ouverture BWV 1067"), suggesting that the sonata BWV 1030 may have been originally for violin instead of a wind instrument."

Julian Mincham wrote (December 3, 2008):
[To Bradley Lehman] Brad? no we are talking of two different works. The Bm flute sonata I know well--my wife did her honour's thesis on it for her degree some years ago. The work I am thinking of is given as Sonata V11 in the old Schirmer edition which, unfortunately, ?is the only one I have to hand and that edition gives no BWV nos. Clearly it is tacked onto the well known set of six flute sonatas.

It is in three movements and, to identify it, the first movement begins with? a crotchet? bass line of G, Bb and D (in 3/4 time) and the harps. right hand is a rising and falling arpeggio of Gm.? The second movement is in Eb.

I have certainly heard this in oboe, flute and violin versions and have played it with a flautist. What the connection may be with CPE I have been unable to determine.

John Pike wrote (December 3, 2008):
[To Julian Mincham] I don't know, I'm afraid, Julian. What I did come across was a reference to the other music in the Altnikol collection: BWV 1030, "and a trio for 2 violins and bass (BWV Anh 186) by CPE Bach".

A search through Eppstein's scholarly works may help you.

I have found a reference to a Sonata in G minor, BWV 1020, in the BWV Kleine Ausgabe. It states "For violin (?traverso) and Basso Continuo by CPE Bach (?). It refers readers to Anhang II, where further references are given and the statement made "The apparently reliable attribution to CPE Bach is doubted on grounds of style". Hope that helps. If you don't have the BWV, I can give you the references.

Bradley Lehman wrote (December 3, 2008):
[To Julian Mincham] Aha, yes. And your mention of "Harry" [Crosby] before should have tipped me off, too. It's the piece formerly known as BWV 1020. At Harry's recommendation in the summer I bought this terrific recording of it:
Zig Zag Territories 50902 with Edna Stern playing a Paul McNulty fortepiano, and Amandine Beyer playing a Jacquier Baroque violin. This sonata is listed here as CPE Bach's H 545.

There are samples on French Amazon:

With harpsichord, there's a good performance of it by Goebel and Hill on the Musica Antiqua Köln set of Bach's chamber music.

John Pike wrote (December 3, 2008):
[To Bradley Lehman] It's also available on a number of other recordings, including one I have: Arthur Grumiaux, Violin; Christiane Jaccottet, Harpsichord and Philippe Mermoud, Cello. I'll go and listen to it again tonight.

Other recordings are listed here:

Jane Newble wrote (December 3, 2008):
The recording of these works that I very much love is somewhat "different". I picked it up in a tiny music shop in France quite a few years ago, and it has become one of my all-time favourite CD sets.

Alice Pierot plays the violin, and Martin Gester the Georg Westenfelder organ at the église Saint Macre de Fere-en-Tardenois.

I doubt if it is still available, but it is Accord ( l'Aisne - Radio France) 205322 MU 744. It ws recorded in 1993.

Julian Mincham wrote (December 4, 2008):
Thanks to John and Brad.

It seems that there is genuione doubt as to who composed this Gm sonata (JS or CPE) and what melodic instrument it was originally conceived for.
Open questions for anyone who has the time and inclination to delve further?

Purely on the 'feel' of the syle i would veer more towards JS being the composer. It's a very attractive work and great fun to play---the keyboard writing of the first movement is particularly well laid out under the fingers. However,?it is certainly the case that the sparse bass lines of the two fast movements?seem more?suggestive of?the emergent rococco?style rather than that of Bach's usual practic of giving the three lines roughly equal activity.

John Pike wrote (December 3, 2008):
Bradley Lehman wrote (December 3, 2008):
[To Julian Mincham] I get the impression that the current view is that it may not be by either JS or CPE. This detective story has got me very interested so many thanks for raising it. I will do some more research and get back to you.

John Pike wrote (December 3, 2008):
BWV 1020

Googling around, I came across this snippet from: MDT

"There is some debate over the provenance of the Sonata BWV 1020 in G Minor, which some believe was composed by Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach, rather than by his father. C.P.E. Bach, however, gave the credit to his father." Does anyone know where he gives this credit? Mmm. Interesting

Julian Mincham wrote (December 4, 2008):
[To John Pike, regarding BWV 1020] John, will be interested to see what you might come up with.? There are a number of Bach's works which have strong stylistic characteristics of the rococco. Another example is the last movement of the Harpsichord concerto in A, BWV 1055, the main theme of which is much more JC than JS Bach.
I guess that the problems with such observations was that Bach was so eclectic that he could adopt virtually any current style if he so wished.

Julian Mincham wrote (December 4, 2008):
[To John Pike, regarding BWV 1020] jInteresting. What the prog notes don't say is that the work is also palyed by oboists!

Aryeh Oron wrote (December 7, 2008):
BWV 1020 - Provenance & Notes

[To John Pike] Regarding the recent discussion of BWV 1020, Thomas Braatz contributed a provenance & notes page of this work, formerly attributed to J.S. Bach.

John Pike wrote (December 7, 2008):
[To Aryeh Oron, regarding BWV 1020] Many thanks fthis. Most interesting. Does anyone have any thoughts on the composer of BWV 1022, also listed in the Anhang II of the BWV Kleine Ausgabe? I have listened to Grumiaux's recording of it and it certainly does not sound like authentic polished JS Bach to me, but there do seem to be some similarities with movements from the Sonatas for Violin and Basso Continuo in G major and E minor, BWV 1021 and 1023, which are definitely by Bach.

Julian Mincham wrote (December 8, 2008):
[To Aryeh Oron, regarding BWV 1020] Thanks to Thomas for another set of interesting pieces of information.

1020 seems to be?one more?of those works about which the real truth shall never be know. My own view (which I note is reinforced by some opinion in Thomas's notes) is that the work does NOT sound like CPE Bach and has?few (if any) ?characteristics with which he is normally associated. For this reason I don't think that he composed it. The ideas are attractive and the parts well written (I have always thought that the keyboard part is one of the?best written of the flutes sonatas for the grateful way in which it falls under the fingers.) However, as I said before the 'galante' style 'lazy' bass lines are not typical JS Bach. Even in this week's cantata 212, an oddly rustic burlesque, the busily typical JSB bass lines are well?evident.

Actually there may be another contender who's hat is not, historically speaking, in the ring and that is JC Bach.When he (occasionally) turns to a minor key for setting complete work, one does recognise stylistic elements in common with the flute sonata. Looking for example of the set of 10 sonatas taken from op?5 and 17, only two are in minor keys and op 17 no 2 in Cm has certain echoes of 1020. My own feeling is that the work was almost certainly by one of the sons,?probably?not CPE, and possibly touched up by the old man himself.

But whatever the provenance it remains an attractive work to hear and to play and it seems to work equally well on flute, oboe or violin.

Ed Myskowski wrote (December 14, 2008):
I second Francis, in his compliments to John for the very informative introduction. I have listened just a bit, before reading and thinking about writing. In fact, I am writing now only to enter an additional recording into the discussions. I have had for many years the MHS LP of these works, by Josef Suk and Zuzana Ruzickova, without giving much thought (or recent listening) to it.

As it turns out, this is the second (1968) of four (!) versions they recorded together, first in 1963, fourth in 1998. Details on availablity are sketchy (at least to my skills), it appears that only the 1998 version may remain in mainstream circulation. Both Ruzickova, and the Neupert harpsichord (no further info on MHS liner) are worthy of further investigation. More to come from me, by month end.

A quick impression of the recording: the balance (by engineers and/or performers?) is overwieghted to the <modern> violin. Nevertheless, the harpsichord is not lost, and the dynamics are sprightly (perhaps even <a la hongorese> (sp?)) where appropriate. I ran across a reviewer comment (re the 1998 edition) that the performers sound old and sleepy. Perhaps they aged a bit in the intervening thirty years? Or perhaps the reviewer was a bit prejudiced to Old Dudes?

A furtive thought: what if Chopins legendary <minute> waltz is nothing more than a typo for <minuet>?

Another furtive thought: the Suk/Ruzickova performance/recording history of BWV 1014-19 could be a candidate for a BCW MA thesis topic recommendation.

John Pike wrote (December 15, 2008):
[To Ed Myskowski] A couple of weeks ago I listened to two of the recordings I have: Grumiaux with Jaccottet and Podger with Pinnock. I found both very enjoyable, but I think that Podger's playing is more expressive. I suspect there are two reasons for this. 1. Using a baroque instrument and most importantly a baroque bow makes a big difference to performing this music the way it would have sounded to Bach. 2. Podger is a specialist in Baroque violin, whereas Grumiaux plays the entire repertoire. The overall effect with Grumiaux is very pleasant but I find Podger more satisfying at the "micro" level. Individual notes sound more interestingly shaped, whereas with Grumiaux they occasionally sound a little bland.

Two other recordings I have which I have not listened to yet are Leonid Kogan with Karl Richter on LP, and Ruth Waterman with Morey Ritt on piano. The piano in the latter definitely compares less favourably with harpsichord performances of these works in my view. Kogan and Richter I remember with great fondness. I was given the recording by my father as a child and I loved it. The playing is quite "severe" but I think it matches the music very well; this is unsanitised Bach.

Harry W. Crosby wrote (December 15, 2008):
Let me thank all who have contributed to this discussion (in which I lack the ability to contribute) offering many interesting facts, insights, speculations, and evaluations. Only the last of these is available to me, but I am oh-so-ready to add to that revelatory list: people's favorites. Especially in this case, since I absolutely love these sonatas and play them as often as I can while fighting the fear that I might overdo and somewhat break the spell.

I am sure most of you are much too sophisticated to imagine that those who disagree are misled, ignorant, or just plain wrong headed. The truth is that, quite apart from musical accuracy or finesse, favorite performances are chosen on the basis of the listeners person, who he is, what he needs, what particular nuances lead him to relate to, choose, and need one or perhaps two performance more than all others, perhaps lead him to find others difficult listening with a comparison to the favorite ringing in his ears. So, it is wonderful that we have quite a number of fine and quite different interpretations.And since I have thick skin and am only a lost soul listener in this world which also can involve so many other senses and interests, I will happily, even proudly name and tout my favorite recording of all time (and I have owned and play six of the others prominently discussed in the days recently past, or in 2001). Well, my favorite is on the Alpha label and the artists are Pablo Valetti, violin, and Celine Frisch, harpsichord. For me, their take on all these wonderful works is, above all, rich, assured, strong, graceful, satisfying. If any of you find yourself listening to this, to me, magical pairing, your reaction will be a measure of yourself, of course, but it will, for better or worse, tell you something about me.

Peter Bright wrote (December 15, 2008):
[To John Pike] Those are my two favourite recordings of these works. I agree with your assessment that the Podger/Pinnock set is the most satisfying overall. Nevertheless, there are some sublime individual movements in the Grumiaux recording - which for me makes it an essential part of my library. I am at work at present, but from memory mv 3 from BWV1015 (andante un poco) in which the harpsichord echoes the majestic sweeping violin lines is supremely effective. Other favourite movements include the first track from CD1 (the adagio from BWV1014), and the beautiful siciliano from BWV1017. Nevertheless, in other places Grumiaux can sound a little stiff and nowadays I am drawn more to the lighter, more playful tones available to Baroque instruments - and of course, Rachel Podger is a supremely talented interpreter of Bach...

Robert Tifft wrote (December 16, 2008):
Ed Myskowski wrote:
< I have had for many years the MHS LP of these works, by Josef Suk and Zuzana Ruzickova, without giving much thought (or recent listening) to it. As it turns out, this is the second (1968) of four (!) versions they recorded together, first in 1963, fourth in 1998. Another furtive thought: the Suk/Ruzickova performance/recording history of BWV 1014-19 could be a candidate for a BCW MA thesis topic recommendation. >
I have all four recordings of these sonatas by Suk and Ruzickova. Perhaps what is most remarkable about the four recordings is how similar the artists overall approach to the music is eatime they recorded it, especially since the recordings span a period of 35 years. A different harpsichord is used each time and the recorded balance varies, but nothing really significant regarding the interpretation has changed. They seem to have settled on an approach in 1963 and stuck with it throughout their careers. That being said, the recording mentioned above on MHS (recorded by Erato in 1969) is easily my favorite. The balance does favor the violin, but Suk's tone is so beautiful I don't really mind and Ruzickova's Neupert can still be clearly heard. Their tempos will seem slow compared to most recordings, but I don't think it is really worthwhile to compare this recording to the many others currently available. One simply has to accept it on its own terms (or reject it). For me, the performances are very satisfying and I'm surprised at how often I return to it. It is currently available on CD in Europe:

Their third traversal is still available from Japan:

The Leonid Kogan/Karl Richter set was mentioned recently and this is also easily available from Japan:

The beautiful performances on violin and organ by Alice Pierot and Martin Gester were also mentioned earlier this month. This is a uniqueset (I don't think anyone else has recorded all six sonatas with organ since Michele Auclair and Marie-Claire Alain in the 1950s - a vaulable set of LPs if you happen to have them). Pierot and Gester are currently available at mid-price in Europe:

The only thing that bothered me with this recording is that they recorded the first version of the G major sonata (BWV 1019a) and yet they play the fourth movement from the third version. There is no explanation in the book.

My first encounter with these works was through the Vanguard LPs with James Buswell and Fernando Valenti (never issued on CD) - yet another unique interpretation with perhaps the slowest slow movements ever. The music made a huge impression on me and these sonatas still rank among my very favorite Bach works. I NEVER tire of them and I have well over a dozen recordings representing just about every possible interpretive point-of-view. And yet I don't think there really is a definitive recording - at least not that I have heard. Every recording I have offers at least some insight and I wouldn't want to part with any of them, and yet none satisfy me 100%. I guess that's what makes collecting fun: the quest for the perfect recording of your favorite music.

Martin Spaink wrote (December 16, 2008):
For what it's worth, I second Harry's good opinion of Frisch/Valetti. There are some very special moments where the music from their hands casts a deep spell, like in the opening lamento of f-minor, that sent shivers down my spine or however you express that sort of thing.. only backdraw for me is the harpsichord registration on A-major Andante un poco. I have (had) in my possession most performances by HIPpies, of which some made a lasting impression, notably Leonhardt-Kuijken which is already 35 years old! There are so many recordings out that deserve attention, Bob van Asperen-Lucy van Dael, Hill-Goebel all have a lot to say. In choice of tempi, clarity of articulation and polyphonic textures Frisch-Valetti maintain the standard set by Leonhardt-Kuijken but they move even more close to the fire, creating an enveloping intimacy, very compelling indeed.

Ed Myskowski wrote (December 16, 2008):
Robert Tifft wrote (in response to my post):
>That being said, the recording mentioned above on MHS (recorded by Erato in 1969) is easily my favorite. The balance does favor the violin, but Suk's tone is so beautiful I don't really mind and Ruzickova's Neupert can still be clearly heard.<
Thanks for correcting my oversight: neglecting to mention the original recording by Erato, and also for gently correcting the date (not 1968, as I wrote). I agree with your comment on tone and balance, although I gather that the <modern> violin is not to everyones taste, even as an alternative. Note the reviews in BCW archives, baroque violin exclusively.

>Every recording I have offers at least some insight and I wouldn't want to part with any of them<
I can dig it! Sometimes difficult to explain to domestic partners, however.

Ed Myskowski wrote (December 17, 2008):
I intended to respond to the inquiry re BWV 30 first, but I received the Ngai/Watchorn performance of the violin/harpsichord sonatas today, and I would like to cite a few of Peter Watchorns comments, before addressing the question re BWV 30.

The reviews archived on BCW (Donald Satz and Kirk McElhearn) were influential in my selecting this version to explore next, among the many baroque violin options. Other factors:

(1) not many of the multitude of versions are easily available, including other highly recommended ones.

(2) I happened to find a copy at a good price (hard to resist, for some of us)

(3) I am intent on catching up with Peter Watchorns work, after discovering him via Brad Lehman and the Bach/Lehman tuning, through BCML, only to realize that I had overlooked Peter on the Boston scene for several years.

(4) I greatly enjoy the more recent Watchorn solo harpsichord releases on Musica Omnia, for inspired performances, accompanied by very informative booklet notes.

From a quick listen, I agree with Kirks review in every way, and I would refer anyone possibly interested in this recording to read his comments. What influenced me to write are some specific thoughts from Peter Watchorns notes, re balance and microphone placement, relevant to my thoughts on the BWV 30 recording:

<The result is a violin sonata with (often distant sounding) harpsichord accompaniment ... For recording, this imbalance is often corrected by close miking of the harpsichord, and presenting it in a completely different soundscape from the violin ...> [end quote]

Kirk states this from the positive perspective: <Harpsichordist Peter Watchorn ... sets out with the goal of bringing his instrument to a central position in the soundscape, but, rather than miking it closely to achieve this, uses a very large instrument (a copy of a German harpsichord by Johann Heinrich Harraß) similar to one that Bach may have used.> [end quote]

The issue of close miking to be continued, re BWV 30 by Milnes.


Sonatas for Violin & Keyboard BWV 1014-1023: Details
Comparative Review:
Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7
Reviews of Individual Recordings:
Carmignola & Marcon | Comberti & Tilney | Ngai & Watchorn [Satz] | Ngai & Watchorn [McElhearn] | Ronez & Kubitschek | Standage & Ad-El
General Discussions:
Part 1 | Part 2

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Last update: ęDecember 22, 2008 ę01:11:02