Farewell My Love, an interpretation for solo piano of Bach's Dm Chaconne

JS Bach
Year of composition
Year of arrangement
Difficult (Grades 7+)
10 minutes
Classical music
Solo instrument (Piano)
Instrumental parts
Not available

Bach may have written Partita No. 2 for Solo Violin to commemorate the death of his first wife, Maria Barbara Bach. I like to think so and imagine a story when I hear it, especially the last movement, a disproportionately long chaconne. Taking many liberties with Bach's score, I wrote this interpretation of his chaconne from three sources: Bach's score, a fine piano adaptation by Busoni, and Itzhak Perlman's stunning violin performance.1 For me, it's Perlman's performance that best captures the furies and passions of this music, written in the prime of Bach's life—a life not of decorum and restraint, but filled with the passions of a full-blooded man.

He and Maria apparently loved to dance and although the form of chaconne has often been used in slow tempo, it was originally the music of a wild and bawdy Spanish dance. Some say conquistadors brought it from the New World. Others suggest it came from the Basque, the ancient people of the Pyrenees,2 coincidentally my own heritage. Bach used chaconne's characteristic step-wise descending harmonic progression and distinctive Phyrgian cadence, also called the Spanish or Andalusion cadence, in many of his works, but as far as I can discover, this may be the only piece in which he used chaconne as a distinct form.

A cantata ascribed to Bach, Herr, verlanget mich BWV 150, also uses chaconne as a distinct form for its final movement, but its authorship is uncertain. If it is by Bach, it appears he wrote it in 1707, the year he married Maria.3 As written by Bach, the Chaconne from Partita No. 2 uses both fast and slow tempos. The autograph score indicates only "Ciaccona" at the first measure. No tempo marking appears, but many of the the note values imply fast passages common in dance music.

Bach was a master of numerous forms, among them cantata, mass, concerto, fugue, and his compositions stand as the ideal for many of them. Why then would he choose a form that originated from a rowdy and salacious dance to commemorate the death of the woman he so adored? Was he unaware of its history? Or did he choose it to for that very reason—to fully express their joyous, passionate life together?

This is what I imagine he experienced as he said farewell to Maria.

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