Violin Sonata

Johann Sebastian Bach

Violin Sonata in E minor


About this work

Most of Bach's accompanied violin sonatas -- distinct from the six great solo sonatas and partitas -- pair the instrument with harpsichord alone, and cast the violin in a supporting role. Two, however, put the violin front and center, supported by a continuo of keyboard and viola da gamba. Of those two, this E minor work is the second, longer, and more emotionally complex of the two (the other being BWV 1021). BWV 1023, unlike any of Bach's other accompanied violin works, falls into only three movements, not four. The first, however, breaks into two sections, both slow. The prelude seems to cry out for organ accompaniment, with its expressive, toccata-like violin line spinning out over a pedal note. This music evokes the earlier violin sonatas of Biber, but also has hints of the famous Prelude from the Partita (BWV 1006). This soon gives way to the more conventional Adagio ma non tanto, which gives the impression of a chorale from one of Bach's cantatas spun out into a somewhat more ornate violin line. The Allemanda is the first of the work's two dance movements -- another feature this sonata has in common with the partitas; dances are excluded from all of Bach's other accompanied violin sonatas, which follow the more abstract slow-fast-slow-fast church sonata format. It is followed by a more intricate, but structurally more compact, Gigue. The challenge in each of these two movements is for the violinist to provide a sense of strong rhythmic movement while maintaining an essentially lyrical line.