BACH, J.S.: Sonatas for Violin and Harpsichord, Vol. 2 (Bob van Asperen/ Lucy van Dael) (Naxos: 8.554783)
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Johann Sebastian Bach(1685-1750)
Sonatas for Violin andHarpsichord, Vol.2, BWV 1018-1019
Johann Sebastian Bach was born in 1685 at Eisenach, the youngest of sixchildren of a family that was part of an extended musical dynasty. After thedeath of his parents, he moved in 1695 to Ohrdruf, where his eldest brother,Johann Christoph, was organist at the Michaeliskirche. His schooling in Ohrdrufcontinued until 1700, when he moved to the Michaelisschule at L??neburg some twohundred miles away. Two years later he began his professional career as amusician at the court in Weimar, followed very shortly by appointment asorganist at Arnstadt. In 1707 some dissatisfaction with the conditions andmusical possibilities there led him to move to a similar position atM??hlhausen, where he married his first wife, his second cousin Maria Barbara.
The following year he was appointed court organist at Weimar, where he alsoserved as a violinist or viola player in the court orchestra. In 1714 he wasappointed Konzertmeister, but his relationship with his employer, Duke WilhelmErnst, was uneasy, partly through his collaboration in the musical activitiesof the co-regent of Weimar, Duke Ernst August. In 1716 Bach was passed over forthe position of Kapellmeister, which he might have expected on the death of theexisting incumbent, and this led him to look elsewhere. His association withDuke Ernst August provided a way out, when employment as Court Kapellmeister tothe Duke's new brother-in-law, Prince Leopold of Anhalt-Cothen, was offered onrelatively generous terms. Duke Wilhelm Ernst showed his final displeasure byimprisoning Bach for a month, before dismissing him from his service.
The court at Cothen offered all that Bach could have wished. PrinceLeopold was young and an enthusiastic musical amateur and the Pietistpersuasions of the court meant that there was no call for church music.
Instead Bach could devoted himself primarily to secular music for the courtorchestra and its members in a fruitful series of concertos, sonatas andsuites. The period was a happy one for Bach, marred only by the sudden death ofhis wife in 1720, while he was at Carlsbad in the company of the Prince. Thefollowing year he married again. His new wife, Anna Magdalena, was the youngestdaughter of the court trumpeter at Weissenfels and employed as a court singerat Cothen. Prince Leopold's marriage in the same year to a woman whom Bachdescribed as 'amusica', however, made life at court much less satisfactory. InDecember 1722 he applied for the position of Cantor in Leipzig, where he movedthe following spring. He thus exchanged his position at a princely court forthe duties of organist and choirmaster, soon to be varied by additional workwith another collegium musicum, the ensemble established by Telemann at LeipzigUniversity. Bach remained in Leipzig for the rest of his life.
The six Sonatas for Violin and Cembalo, BWV 1014-1019, must be dated tothe years at Cothen. Bach's second son, Carl Philipp Emanuel, representative ofa newer style, in 1774 described these trios, as he calls them, as 'among thebest compositions of my dear departed father' and went on to say how well theysounded and what pleasure they still gave him, although written some fiftyyears before. In particular he praised the fine slow movements that could notbe written even in his own time in such a singable style. The word trio is 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 instrument andcontinuo, with a melody and bass, the latter with figures indicating thenecessary chords to be added. There is occasional figuring in the presentworks, suggesting a possible elaboration of the right hand part on thekeyboard. In the absence of autograph versions, these works rely on a series ofmanuscript copies by later musicians, including Bach's Leipzig pupil, colleagueand later son-in-law, Johann Christoph Altnikol.
The general pattern of the sonatas is that of the sonata da chiesa, thechurch sonata, an alternation of slow and fast movements, except in the case ofSonata No.6, which may be compiled from other works. The fifth of theset, the Sonata in F minor, BWV 1018, unusually allows the harpsichord athree-voice contrapuntal texture, leaving the violin to make its own comments.
In the second movement the violin states the theme, accompanied by an activebass part with chordal figuring. The second and third voices duly enter,providing the material from which the movement is derived. In the C minor Adagioviolin chords accompany the more elaborate antiphonal figuration of theharpsichord. To this the final triple metre Vivace gives the ascendingchromatic subject first to the violin, imitated in turn by the two lower partson the harpsichord, a theme that is the source of the impetus that drives themovement forward.
Questions have been raised about the Sonata in G major, BWV 1019, forwhich the surviving sources give varied versions. In the principal sources,including the copy made by Altnikol, the movements are as given in tracks to . Alternative versions of the third and fifth movements, tracks  and, are found in a manuscript copy by three different writers, which includesthe keyboard part of the last three movements in Bach's own hand, the only partof these works that can be thus identified, seemingly written in old age, whilethe incomplete violin part is by a younger and surer hand. The alternative fourthmovement, track , also appears in a copy once in the possession ofFrederick the Great's sister, Princess Anna Amalie of Prussia, and aneighteenth century Danish source. The other alternative third movement, track, is found in these last two sources.
In the opening Allegro of the last sonata two subjects are heardsimultaneously, the rapid semiquavers of the violin against the steadier rhythmof the upper harpsichord line, before r??les are reversed. In the E minor Largothe violin announces the subject, over the steady rhythm of the bass,followed by the second voice. The B major chord that ends the movement leads toan E minor Allegro for solo harpsichord. This is followed by a B minor Adagioin which the three parts are interwoven, in the manner of a three-partinvention. The last movement returns to the original key of G major in a lively6/8 Allegro characterized by contrapuntal imitation and the occasionalconjunction of the two upper parts.
The alternative movements include an E minor third movement in 3/8 forkeyboard solo, devised in a two voice texture in which the upper part isaccompanied by the lower. The fourth movement is replaced by a B minor Adagiothat has a repeated chromatic descending bass line against which the uppervoices weave their pattern. The alternative fifth movement has the title Violinosolo e Basso l'accompagnato. It lacks a violin part in the single survivingsource, but appears in fuller form as a Tempo di Gavotta in PartitaNo.6 in the first part of Bach's Clavier??bung. The other proposedversion of the third movement is a G major movement, marked Cantabile, ma unpoco Adagio. It starts with an embellished violin aria over a figured bass,developed, with the entry of the second voice, with the expected contrapuntalmastery and ending with a return to the opening dozen bars.