Going through my sheet music this evening, I stumbled across the Ciaccona (or Chaconne). Tucked away in the middle of Bach’s beautiful Sonatas and Partitas for solo violin, this piece is as haunting to listen to as it is fiendishly difficult to play.

The 6 Sonatas and Partitas are known as a reference work for advanced violinists. However, even the best will approach the Ciaccona with respect — sometimes taking years to prepare it for performance. Even Johannes Brahms, himself no slouch when it came to composing, had this to say about the Ciaccona in a letter to 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 you have thirty minutes to spare, pour yourself a glass of wine, and settle back to enjoy this sublime performance of Bach’s Partita No. 2 in D Minor — including the Ciaccona starting at 13:50. Recorded in 1978 at a BBC Radio 3 lunchtime concert in London, this interpretation by Itzhak Perlman remains one of the greatest on record.

Johann Sebastian Bach, Partita no. 2 in D minor for solo violin (BWV 1004).
Live recording from Saint John’s Smith Square, London (1978).
Itzhak Perlman
violin

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