Violin Sonata No.5

About this work

The fifth of J.S. Bach's six authentic sonatas for violin and harpsichord (BWV 1014 - 1019), the Sonata in F minor, BWV 1018, is not the full-blown formal experiment that its immediate successor BWV 1019 in G major is; nor does it offer such stylistic deviation as we find in its immediate predecessor BWV 1017 in C minor. In its own quiet way, however, the Sonata in F minor, BWV 1018, breaks the mold firmly established by the first three of the six violin/harpsichord sonatas. The slow movement that opens this four-movement sonata is of stunning length; the other, internal slow movement is of a kind not found elsewhere in these six sonatas, and its two fast movements appear, as we shall see, in reverse order.

Beyond its great length, the Largo first movement of BWV 1018 boasts a texture unlike any other in Bach's chamber music -- a harpsichord part in three voices explores, in detail, the contrapuntal and developmental possibilities latent in a single seven-note subject, while the violin adds a flexible obbligato line. The first of the two fast movements, an Allegro, is of the variety that, if we look elsewhere in the violin/harpsichord sonatas, usually comes last: a quasi-fugal, binary-form essay complete with repeat signs. Melody as we usually understand it is altogether absent throughout the Adagio third movement. Instead, there is a rich four-voice texture divided into two pairs: the violin takes one of the pairs and sets it up as pulsating double-stops, the harpsichord takes the other pair and sets it up as two opposing voices of thirty-second-note bursts. For the final Vivace Bach employs the three-section form usually used for the second movement (here the central section is particularly brief); but it is doubtful that Bach would ever have used such a dance-like movement as the second movement in a chamber sonata, whereas it serves perfectly as a finale.

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