Johann Sebastian Bach (1685 - 1750)
Sonatas for Violin and Harpsichord, Vol.1, BWV1014-1017
Johann Sebastian Bach was born in 1685 at Eisenach, wherehis father was employed as a town musician and as a member of the courtorchestra, the youngest of six children of a family that was part of anextended musical dynasty. After the death of his parents, he moved at the ageof ten to Ohrdruf, to the house of his eldest brother, Johann Christoph,organist there at the Michaeliskirche. His schooling in Ohrdruf continued until1700, when he moved to the Michaelisschule at Luneburg some two hundred milesaway. Two years later he began his professional career with employment at thecourt in Weimar, followed very shortly by appointment as organist at Arnstadt,where his family had connections. In 1707 some dissatisfaction with theconditions and musical possibilities at Arnstadt led him to enter the necessarytest for appointment as organist at Muhlhausen, where he married his first wife,his second cousin Maria Barbara. The following year he was appointed courtorganist at Weimar, where, as in 1703, he also served as a violinist or viola playerin the court orchestra. In 1714 he was appointed Konzertmeister, but hisrelationship with his employer, Duke Wilhelm Ernst, was uneasy, partly throughhis collaboration in the musical activities of the co-regent of Weimar, DukeErnst August. In 1716 Bach was passed over for the position of Kapellmeister,which he might have expected on the death of the existing incumbent, and thisled him to look elsewhere. His association with Duke Ernst August provided away out, when employment as Court Kapellmeister to the Duke's newbrother-in-law, Prince Leopold of Anhalt-Cothen was offered on relativelygenerous terms. Duke Wilhelm Ernst was unwilling to release him from his dutiesat Weimar, showing his displeasure finally by imprisoning Bach for a month,before dismissing him from his service.
The court at Cothen offered all that Bach could havewished. Prince Leopold was young and an enthusiastic musical amateur and the Pietistpersuasions of the court meant that there was no call for church music. InsteadBach could devoted himself primarily to secular music for the court orchestraand its members in a fruitful series of concertos, sonatas and suites. Theperiod was a happy one for Bach, marred only by the sudden death of his wife in1720, while he was at Carlsbad in the company of the Prince. The following yearhe married again. His new wife, Anna Magdalena, was the youngest daughter ofthe court trumpeter at Weissenfels and employed as a court singer at Cothen.
Prince Leopold's marriage in the same year to a woman whom Bach described as 'amusica',however, made life at court much less satisfactory .In December 1722 Bachapplied for the position of Cantor in Leipzig, where he moved the followingspring, exchanging his position at a princely court for the duties of organistand choirmaster, soon to be varied by additional work with another collegium musicum,the ensemble established by Telemann at Leipzig University. Bach remained in Leipzigfor the rest of his life, at first providing the church cantatas necessary forhis primary employment, then re-arranging earlier concertos for the collegium musicumand consolidating the very considerable body of work that he had alreadywritten.
The six Sonatas for Violin and Cembalo, BWV 1014-1019,must be dated to the years at Cothen. Bach's second son, Carl Philipp Emanuel, harpsichordistto Frederick the Great at Potsdam, and then Cantor at the Hamburg Johanneum,described them in 1774 as 'among the best compositions of my dear departedfather' and went on to say how well they sounded and what pleasure they stillgave him, although written some fifty years before. In particular he praisedthe fine slow movements that could not be written even in his own time in sucha singable style. Carl Philipp Emanuel refers to these sonatas as trios, anaccurate description of their general three-part contrapuntal texture, with theupper parts given to the violin and the right hand of the keyboard-player,while the left hand takes the bass. The sonatas, which have their counterpartin the organ sonatas, the sonatas for viola da gamba and cembalo and for fluteand keyboard, are distinct from those written essentially for solo instrumentand continuo, with a melody and bass, the latter with figuring for the additionof the necessary chords. There is occasional figuring in the present works,suggesting a possible elaboration of the right hand part on the keyboard. Inthe absence of autograph versions, these works rely on a series of manuscriptcopies by later musicians, including Bach's Leipzig pupil, colleague and laterson-in-law, Johann Christoph Altnikol.
The general pattern of the sonatas is that of the sonatada chiesa, the church sonata, an alternation of slow - fast - slow - fast.
The Sonata in B minor, BWV 1014, allows the upper register of thekeyboard a fuller texture in a descending figure that answers the bass, soonjoined by the sustained opening note of the violin, descending in more rapidfiguration and later taking over the keyboard chordal writing. The following Allegro
allows the violin to offer a subject, against a figured bass, before the entryof its imitation in the upper register of the keyboard and then in the lower. Themusic is impelled forward by the contrapuntal energy the theme inspires, thebasis of what follows. The D major Andante weaves a fine contrapuntal texturebetween the three parts, while the final Allegro contrasts two elements,the initial semiquavers of the harpsichord with the forthright theme stated bythe violin, to be echoed by each voice in turn.
The Sonata in A major, BWV 1015, has the three voicesentering in apparent canon in a movement that lacks any tempo direction. Onceagain the violin offers a fugal theme in the second movement, accompanied byfigured chords before the entry of the second voice, followed by an entry inthe bass register. As it proceeds this Allegro gives the violin at timesan accompanying role, leading to a passage of rapid arpeggios, after which theoriginal entries return in order. There follows a fine F sharp minor canon betweenthe two upper voices, against the steady pattern of the third. The final Prestoagain allows the violin to state the subject, accompanied by figured chords,before the entry of the second and third voices.
There is a fuller keyboard texture in the opening Adagio
of the Sonata in E major, BWV 1016, with its fine-spun violin aria. Itis the upper register of the harpsichord that introduces the theme of thefollowing Allegro, to be imitated at the dominant by the violin. The Csharp minor Adagio ma non tanto entrusts the violin with tripletfiguration in a melody later passed to the harpsichord, accompanied by violinchords, the whole set over a transposing chaconne bass. The violin introducesthe theme of the final Allegro, answered by the harpsichord, which hasprovided spare accompaniment to the opening subject. The rhythm of the movementis varied by the introduction of triplet figuration in the violin part, latertaken over by the harpsichord but finally superseded by the original metre.
The Sonata in C minor, BWV 1017, opens with a verysingable Siciliano. The following Allegro introduces