When I was learning violin, I was secretly jealous of my fellow music students who studied piano. As they learned the canonic works in their repertoire—the Beethoven piano sonatas, say, or Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier—they could consult numerous performance and analytic guides to those compositions: Donald Francis Tovey’s or Hugo Riemann’s extended commentaries on the Beethoven piano sonatas and on Bach’s Well-Tempered, Heinrich Schenker’s commentaries on Beethoven’s late piano sonatas, and the extended annotations on these works in the editions of Hans von Bülow, Tovey, and others.1 No similar standard reference works existed for violinists’ canonical works—not even for Bach’s unaccompanied sonatas and partitas, Beethoven’s violin sonatas, or the major concertos. This volume begins to fill that gap by detailing many aspects of Bach’s six unaccompanied violin works, concentrating on the Sonata in G Minor.
Focusing on this sonata and its companions inspires thoughts on many larger historical, analytical, critical, stylistic, and practical issues. And so this book, while keeping an eye throughout on the solo-violin works, touches on quite a few other pieces by Bach and others and treats analytical, stylistic, and performance issues that span the past three centuries. As a result, this book is in part a performance guide for violinists, in part an analytic study, in part a rumination on aspects of Bach’s style, and in part an investigation of notions of musical form and continuity.
There is evidence that Bach’s solo-violin works have been a regular part of violin pedagogy since the eighteenth century. Certainly they have been mainstays of the violin concert repertoire since the mid-nineteenth century, when Ferdinand David and the young Joseph Joachim began performing them in public. Their long performance history, evidenced in recordings as well as in editions—and even through added accompaniments and arrangements by distinguished musicians like Felix Mendelssohn, Robert Schumann, Johannes Brahms, and Fritz Kreisler—gives us the opportunity to study the ways in which notions of Baroque style have evolved.