Sonata No.2

Johann Sebastian Bach

Sonata No.2 in A minor


About this work

According to the manuscripts of Bach's Sonatas and Partitas for Solo Violin, BWV 1001-06, the six pieces were completed in 1720, while the composer was employed at the Cöthen court. At Cöthen, Bach devoted himself primarily to the composition of instrumental music; this period saw the composition of the Brandenburg Concertos, the violin and keyboard concertos, the orchestral suites and the first part of the Well-Tempered Clavier, among other works. Often Bach composed works of each genre in cycles, with six works in each.

In the case of the Sonatas and Partitas for Solo Violin, Bach alternated three sonatas with three partitas. The partitas consist of between five and eight dance movements, while the sonatas are in four movements, none of which is a dance except the third movement of the first sonata, in G minor, which is a Siciliana. Throughout these six works there is evidence of not only Bach's knowledge of the technical capabilities of the violin, but also of his ability to create dense counterpoint and effective harmony with one stringed instrument. The solo violin sonatas were first published between 1817 and 1828.

A rhapsodic Grave opens the second Sonata in A minor, BWV 1003. At such a slow tempo, the highly ornamented melody seems to meander at will, navigating a course of highly contrasting rhythms and decorative flourishes that release the melodic potential of the minor mode. The overall "free" nature of the Grave makes it sound like a prelude to the ensuing movement. As in all three of the violin sonatas, the second movement, the central point of the piece, is a fugue. Daunting in both size and complexity, the Fugue pushes forward relentlessly, creating a dense contrapuntal web. Bach sets the third movement apart from the others through both an Andante tempo and contrasting key. The writing is more homophonic here, with a calm melody that provides a needed foil to the harsh energy of the preceding Fugue. A lively, lighthearted Allegro, rich with rhythmic and melodic variations, returns to A minor and closes the piece.