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Oyenard, Bach’s Violin Sonatas 1 of 18 12 August 2020, 8:01 PM

Geronimo Oyenard

J.S. Bach’s Sonatas for Violin and Cembalo and the Development of the Duo Sonata


Bach’s music marks the confluence and culmination of past trends and the beginning of
new ones. Bach was an innovator on several levels, yet throughout his creative life his
temperament remained evolutionary, not revolutionary. As such, he did not overturn the
traditions and conventions of his time, but rather filled them with his own very individual ideas.
In the realm of instrumental music, Bach practically pioneered in three fields which until his day
were extremely rare: the unaccompanied sonata, the organ sonata, and the sonata with a realized
keyboard part instead of the usual basso continuo. His six sonatas for violin and cembalo, BWV
1014-1019 were arguably the first of their kind to single-handedly vindicate the role of an
independent keyboard part. Bach’s practice would in turn lead to the pre-Classical accompanied
sonata and ultimately establish the basis for the duo sonata in the modern sense.

1. Background: The Sonata for Violin and Continuo

In Bach’s time, accompanied instrumental music was almost invariably based on the basso
continuo principle. Following this tradition, one or several equally important melodic voices are
supported by a realized bass line. This practice applied to countless solo and trio sonatas in Italy,
France, Germany, and England for over fifty years.
By then, “sonatas” started to designate the continuing church (da chiesa) style, while some other
term such as “suite” or “partita” was now applied to the court (da camera) type. These sonatas
were certainly the most published of the more serious instrumental forms, even ahead of the
Baroque concerto, sinfonia or overture. The manuscript to published ratio is also astonishingly
overwhelming, usually equaling each other.
Until the high Baroque, the term “sonata” was rather general, and simply implied an instrumental
concerted work. In differentiating between sonatas da chiesa and da camera, Brossard wrote:

Sonatas da chiesa –that is, proper for the church-, […] begin usually with a grave
and majestic movement, suited to the dignity and sanctity of the place; after which
comes some sort of gay and animated fugue, etc. Those are what are rightly
known as sonatas.1

Arcangelo Corelli (1653-1713), forever known as the father of the instrumental sonata and the
concerto grosso, wrote thoroughly representative sets of solo and trio sonatas in both styles
which remained models for his students and many generations of composers, including Bach.
The first six sonatas from his Op. 5 exemplify the da chiesa style, in stark contrast to the freer,
suite-like second half of the set. The early sonatas are weightier and have a more serious
character, as a result of a richer polyphonic texture and more developed forms. In addition, a
traditional tempo marking is usually given instead of a dance-related or more programmatic title.

Sebastien de Brossard, s.v. “Sonata,” Dictionaire de musique, 3rd ed. (Amsterdam: E. Roger, ca.
1710), 24-25.
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Although Bach’s sonatas for violin and cembalo are fashioned in this manner, one can still
expect to find a movement that is a dance in everything but the title, such as the opening
sicilienne of BWV 1017, or the gigue-like concluding movement of BWV 1019.

French vs. Italian Taste in Music:

Bach excelled at synthesizing the best elements of the rival French and Italian schools into a
homogeneous yet highly personal musical language. French composers were mainly concerned
with the concept of unity, favored court and popular dance types, and their works resulted in
brilliant and spirited compositions, yet somewhat artificial and predictable to the point of
monotony. Ornamentation was mostly written-out and music was conceived as an entertainment
geared mainly towards amateurs and popular audiences. The Italians, in contrast, preferred a
more diverse approach, relying more on purely instrumental forms rather than dance types, and
their tender and cantabile melodies –especially in slow movements- served as springboards for
their freely-improvised and highly-subjective interpretations. However, Italian music could also
be criticized for bordering on confusion and eccentricity, and remaining for connoisseurs.
J.B. Lully (1632-1687) and G.P. Telemann (1681-1767) were some of the first to embrace a
mixed style, the ideal fusion of the Italian and French fashions. Influential composer and
pedagogue J. Quantz (1697-1773) felt that this style could well be called the “German Style”,
and Bach obviously represents the most salient and finished example of this evolution.

2. Bach’s Sonatas

a) Origins, Historical Background and Style

The sonatas for violin and continuo, like most of Bach’s instrumental works, date from his tenure
as Kapellmeister at the princely court of Anhalt-Cöthen (1717-1723). Similarly to the
Brandenburg concerti of the same period, these sonatas are characterized by a venturesome
approach. The composer achieves considerable variety and range of temper despite being limited
by a uniform instrumentation, and taken as a whole, it seems as if Bach conceived these works as
contrasting yet complementary entries in a single set.
As Kapellmeister to Prince Leopold von Anhalt-Köthen (1694-1728), Bach was responsible for
providing both chamber and orchestral music at his small but impressive court. The composer
found excellent professionals there, some of whom had just left the court orchestra in Berlin. The
chamber musicians included two violinists (in addition to Bach and the Prince himself), and
rehearsals probably took place in Bach’s own home, perhaps contributing to the intimate nature
of the music. The concerts, however, occurred in a hall in Leopold’s Schloss of about one
hundred seats, before an unvarying audience of princely friends and family.

Several practical circumstances determined Bach’s somewhat abrupt shift to purely instrumental
composition and the quality of the music, particularly the accompanied sonatas. In addition to
being an exceptional patron of music, Prince Leopold was also an accomplished violinist, gamba,
and harpsichord player. However, personnel reductions in the court limited Bach’s forces
available and made him concentrate on chamber music. This was probably a result of a financial
crisis, as well as the princess’ indifference towards music and the arts, and leads us to believe
that most of the accompanied sonatas were written towards the second half of Bach’s tenure.
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Especially significant for Bach and a clear motivation for the creation of these works is the
prince’s acquisition of a new clavecyn in 1719, from Berlin. With this very instrument at his
disposal, Bach single-handedly originated an entirely new genre.
Professionally speaking, Bach’s Cöthen years have been unanimously characterized as a
particularly happy and productive period by all his biographers. His relationship with the prince
remained warm and unstrained, at least until the latter’s marriage. Bach worked in peace and
composed exactly what he wanted, knowing that his music would be performed and appreciated.
Therefore, he took advantage of an atmosphere which encouraged an incredibly rich, varied and
inspired production that shows no signs of routine. The lack of deadlines, church obligations, and
organist duties enabled him to freely experiment, and create works dedicated to interested and
competent colleagues. However and disappointingly so, the accompanied sonatas still remain
mainly “for the connoisseur”, and have not attained the popularity of the Brandenburg concertos.

Since instrumental ensembles were used in all three major outlets for late 17th-century music –
the church, the theater and the court- each influenced each other upon the development of an
overall instrumental ensemble style. However, since these works were meant for smaller spaces
than the church, Bach took the acoustical element and the relative restriction of the room into
account when composing these works. In Cöthen, the composer did not have to concern himself
with the possible echoes or reverberations of a church or a theater; Bach could now turn his
attention to the more subtle elements of ensemble playing, with no fear that his nuances of line or
harmony would be blurred or swallowed by the acoustics of a large auditorium. Other
characteristic elements that Bach wisely took into account depending on the setting, the size of
the audience, and the nature of the place, include the handling and frequency of modulation,
tempo choices, control of dynamics, and harmonic subtleties. Koch compares this practice to:

a painter who shades more finely and colors in greater detail a painting intended
to be viewed from close by, than, for example, a ceiling painting which is far from
the eye and in which not only would these nuances be lost, but also the effect of
the whole be weakened. 2

b) Dating and Sources

Despite the number of existing sources, much of what we can infer as far as dating the sonatas
for violin and cembalo still remains heavily marked by speculation.
The accompanied violin sonatas BWV 1014-1019 were probably written after the sonata for flute
and cembalo, BWV 1034, and the sonatas for gamba and cembalo, BWV 1027-1029. This
becomes apparent because of the marked evolution of the compositional style. We have other
earlier surviving compositions for violin and keyboard undoubtedly attributed to Bach –which
will be discussed later-, but their style resembles the older, more traditional violin sonatas for
violin and basso continuo. These sonatas da camera (BWV 1021 in G Major and 1023 in e
minor, as well as two early versions of BWV 1019), show Bach perfecting his craft before
tackling his more mature masterpieces.
It is safe to say that the first five sonatas, consistent in style and structure, were complete when
Bach relocated from Cöthen in 1723. Of BWV 1019, only the first two movements, and possibly
Heinrich Christoph Koch, Musikalisches Lexikon (Frankfort on the Main, 1802), 821.
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even the fourth one, may have existed at this stage. During the first Leipzig years, Bach's
extremely demanding church duties may have prevented him from completing the set until 1725,
the year in which the earliest source of the sonatas -the original keyboard part in the hand of his
nephew Johann Heinrich Bach, completed by the composer himself- is dated.

We must also take into account the numerous transcriptions of some of the movements, as they
shed light onto a plausible order of composition. Whereas some of the accompanied gamba and
flute sonatas are reworkings of trio sonatas, the violin works are entirely original. Based on its
writing and texture, the third movement of BWV 1016 hints at being originally conceived as a
trio sonata; in addition, two movements of BWV 1019 come from arias from cantatas. As for
BWV 1019, its structure, character (closer to a suite, as is the earlier BWV 1021), and the fact
that there are three different versions, suggest that it was probably the first of the six sonatas to
be written by Bach. Likewise, the numerical order of the other sonatas might not be
chronological either.

We know for sure that the sonatas were not written before 1720, as all of them require the note
d3 in the harpsichord; this range was first available on the instrument which Bach brought from
Berlin in 1719. To conclude, it is also entirely possible that they originate from the early Leipzig
years, as 1725 is the date of the oldest existing source.
Following is a list of all the surviving sources, as designed by Rudolf Gerber in his Kritischer
Bericht of the Neue Bach Ausgabe (Series VI, Vol. I, pp. 137-141). Notice the discrepancies
between the different titles and headings.

A. Six Trios [!] for Harpsichord and Violin (…).

Copied between 1747 and 1759. Also includes C.P.E. Bach’s Sonata,
Wq. 154.
B. Six Sonatas for Harpsichord and Violin obbligato (…).
Published c.1800 for a private royal collection and copied from Source F.
C. Six Sonatas for Concertato Harpsichord and Violin (…).
Copied between 1787 and 1795.
D. Six Sonatas for Concertato Harpsichord and Concertato Violin (…).
Copied before 1788.
E. Six Sonatas for Concertato Harpsichord and Solo Violin, with Bass for the Viola da
Gamba, accompanying, if desired (...).
The keyboard part is complete, the violin part contains only
BWV 1014-1017.
F. [Trios] for Obbligato Harpsichord and Violin (…)
Copied before 1842.
G. Sonatas for Concertato Harpsichord, Solo Violin, with Bass for Viola da Gamba,
accompanying, if desired (…)
Copied between 1755 and 1769, from sources E and F.

There is no conclusive evidence that allows us to date the sources in a more precise manner. The
copies were also invariably made by copyists, students, and members of Bach’s circle (including
his son Carl Phillip Emmanuel and his son-in-law Johann Christoph Altnickol). Only one of the
sources has J.S. Bach’s own handwriting.
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Other Sonatas:

Complementing this set are other works for violin and continuo worth mentioning for their role
in the evolution of BWV 1014-1019. The e minor sonata, BWV 1023 has been attributed to the
Weimar years (1714-1717), and is more in line with the solo sonatas with continuo of the time.
Here the keyboard does not assume such a prominent role as it does in BWV 1014-1019 and
Bach expects the interpreter to realize his indications throughout the work.
As for the G Major sonata, BWV 1021, it is interesting to point out that the bass is also used in
Bach’s questioned Trio Sonata BWV 1038 and BWV 1022, in this case transposed to F Major. It
has been raised that BWV 1038 might not be by Bach, but rather his son C.P.E. or someone from
his circle. It is also entirely plausible the Bach himself might have written the bass line as an
exercise in counterpoint for his son or a student to complete. This sonata is also valuable to us
since it was preserved in the hand of Anna Magdalena Bach, and, much like BWV 1023, was
probably written in 1720, between the solo and accompanied violin sonatas.
Also from this period we have a Fugue in c minor, BWV 1026, which might be Bach’s earliest
work for violin and keyboard. Its dense polyphonic textures remind us of the grand fugues of the
unaccompanied works.
Finally, we should completely dismiss the sonata in c minor, BWV 1024, available in Ferdinand
David’s pioneering but poorly-edited anthology of violin sonatas, Die hohe Schule des
Violinspiels published before 1867. Its style is more Pisendel than Bach, yet its inclusion, along
with BWV 1023, has historical and pedagogical insight.

The small number of surviving accompanied sonatas is unusual, if not misleading. Considering
Bach’s productivity, his relatively undemanding schedule, and the popularity of the genre
demonstrated by the copious amount of works by contemporary composers, it is safe to assume
that many have been lost. However, Bach’s instrumental oeuvre from the Cöthen years was
never meant for lucrative or pedagogical purposes, and it would be unfair to put these sonatas on
the same category as many similar works in the genre by Vivaldi, Veracini, Tartini, Telemann,
and Leclair.

c) Analyses

Bach produced a new type of ensemble playing with his sonatas for violin and harpsichord. His
model is a modified version of the traditional trio sonata, which was in turn a residue of bichoral
works and textures. However, Bach does not restrict himself to imitating trio textures but
exploits the harpsichord’s potential for full-toned sonorities. This is especially evident in slow
movements, as half of them are in three parts.

[These] are essentially trio sonatas in which the first violin part of the old trio
sonata is assigned to the violin solo and the second violin part of the trio sonata is
given to the right hand of the harpsichordist. The accompaniment is then played
by the left hand, the right hand also participating at need.3

David D. Boyden, The History of Violin Playing from its Origins to 1761 (New York: Oxford
University Press, 1965), 336.
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While this theory may apply for the most part of the sonatas, in some cases we find quartet,
quintet, and even small orchestra textures. In addition, the importance of the three parts
(especially in the cembalo part) is usually much more equal and accomplished than in standard
trio sonatas.
From the many sources available, we gather that the importance of the instruments and their role
in the ensemble are much more balanced and prominent. Now both instruments become essential
to the texture (obligato) and develop more soloistic roles (concertato).

Not satisfied with what was the norm at the time, Bach the innovator went even further, and with
his set,

planned a systematic exploration of the possibilities inherent in the sonata for

obbligato harpsichord. This is particularly clear from their fast movements,
which, viewed as a whole, constitute a veritable compendium of the formal
possibilities of fugue within a trio sonata texture.4

Influences on Bach:

Although Bach has always been hailed as the cornerstone of the Baroque, his influences and
inspirations are rarely acknowledged. Concerning accompanied sonata writing in Germany,
North Germany was mainly influenced by organists such as Dieterich Buxtehude (1637-1707);
South Germany and Austria were in turn affected by Italian violin music, especially the new
schools of string ensemble playing, with Johann Heinrich Schmelzer (c.1620-1680) in Vienna,
and Heinrich Ignaz Franz von Biber (1644-1704) in Salzburg. The Italian takeover eventually
made its way to the north, so that with Buxtehude’s passing in 1707 the stage was set for Bach’s

An important link between the Italian school of sonata and Bach’s is German violinist Johann
Georg Pisendel (1682-1755), a student and admirer of Vivaldi’s. Upon his return
to Dresden, Pisendel helped popularize the sonatas and concertos of Vivaldi and Albinoni.
Although only a handful of his compositions survive, his enormous influence on Bach is evident
mainly in his unaccompanied works for solo violin, and, to a lesser extent, his accompanied
sonatas. For Bach, Pisendel was the greatest German violinist and his friend since 1709, when
they met in Weimar. He learned a great deal from him in terms of instrumental and idiomatic
writing, and eventually sent his eldest son Wilhelm Friedemann for violin instruction to
Pisendel’s pupil Graun, in Dresden.

Gottfried Heinrich Stölzel (1690-1749), another contemporary of Bach, was more prolific as a
composer of chamber music. He was active in the Leipzig Collegium Musicum founded by
Telemann between 1707 and 1710, and most likely knew Pisendel as well. His trio sonatas show
the influence of Vivaldi, Marcello and Albinoni. The works per se are not particularly

Werner Breig, “The Instrumental Music”, in The Cambridge Companion to Bach, edited by
John Butt (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997), 130.
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remarkable, but Pisendel and Stölzel did help establish the chamber sonata in Germany, and set
the stage for Bach’s masterworks.

Also of note is Bach’s almost exact contemporary George Frideric Handel (1685-1759). Bach’s
sonatas are surprisingly similar in form and structure to Handel’s, although BWV 1014-1019 are
on a larger scale and carry a deeper purpose. Handel was chiefly concerned with opera and
oratorios, and with no apparent interest in pedagogy like Bach, wrote his trio and solo sonatas on
a relatively undemanding scale. Furthermore, in his circle, instrumental music was considered
inferior to the large-scale vocal works he was famous for. Despite sharing a similar framework,
Bach’s sonatas are notably different. A greater technical skill is expected of the performers, as
well as a wide range of expression and a particular skill for clarity in bringing out the rich
polyphony and handling of the voices. Bach’s fast movements might not display as much variety
as the slow ones, but all of them carry an almost encyclopedic wealth of musical experience.

Bach’s use of the violin:

The main characteristic that differentiates Bach’s sonatas from those by his contemporaries is
that these are not vehicles for virtuosic display. Alas, in Bach’s set we do not find showy
variations ala Corelli, Leclair or Geminiani, capriccios as the ones found in Locatelli’s
comprehensive L’Arte del Violino, the programmatic pyrotechnics found in Tartini’s Devil’s
Trill sonata, or the copious use of double-stops and scordatura found in the works of his
compatriots Walther and Biber. Influences of 17th century violin playing in Germany are clearly
present in Bach’s unaccompanied works for violin, but except for a number of accompanying
eighth-note passages, double-stops are almost inexistent in his sonatas for violin and cembalo.
Regarding ornamentation, Bach was always a conservative. The sonatas, like most of his output,
are intended to be performed “come stá”, a practice that is also present in works ranging from
Buonamente to Veracini. Every voice is for the most part written out, with less room for
improvisation than in most works of the time. On one hand, this practice was taken as a
precaution against excessive ornamentation, a custom that was unfortunately becoming the norm
for many performers and violinist-composers towards the end of the Baroque, which bordered on
the incomprehensible. On the other, it also stands for Bach’s clear intentions for the voicing and
structure of the works.


It is difficult to generalize about Bach’s accompanied sonatas since, unlike numerous ones by
more prolific masters, no two works are really alike. For the most part of his violin and cembalo
output, Bach wrote da chiesa sonatas, the only exception being BWV 1019. Although Bach was
greatly influenced by François Couperin (1668-1733) and his presence is felt in Bach’s keyboard
suites, orchestral suites, and even in the unaccompanied violin partitas, this is not so evident in
his ensemble chamber music. The transformation in the role of the continuo from an
accompanying to a full partner is anticipated in the Frenchman’s music, but comes to full fruition
in Bach’s. Stylistically Bach was in essence a contrapuntalist, even so in those relatively few
movements in binary form, and when he would put on display the intricacies and his mastery of
counterpoint, no one came close to being his equal.
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In Bach’s sonatas the movements are usually separate, but in some cases (the third movement of
BWV 1017, the first movements of 1016 and 1018, and the second of 1019), a slow movement
ends on a dominant chord followed by the tonic at the beginning of the next movement.
Nearly all the sonatas in major contain at least one movement in minor and vice versa, and
besides the few movements in binary form, the principle of thematic evolution and harmonic
modulation to dominant, subdominant (in BWV 1019), and possibly other keys determines the
form of the movement.

As mentioned before, Bach inherited the basic format established by Corelli in his Church
Sonatas: a slow, impressive opening movement, followed by a more or less fugal fast movement,
a lighter, more loosely constructed slow movement, and a fast, dance-like finale. This sequence
of movements proved to be a model of measure and proportion, and “stands on equal footing
with Beethoven’s classic sonata model” (Vogt, 93). In Bach’s sonatas, more so than in works by
other composers, structure plays an essential role in the success of the piece. The Florentine
Francesco Maria Veracini (1690-1768) recommends playing only three or four of the movements
of his own Sonate Accademicche in order to “achieve a sonata of just proportions”. This practice
would be unthinkable in Bach’s sonatas, even in the five movement suite-like BWV 1019.

Bach adheres to this format in a surprisingly disciplined way, and it is remarkable that he
achieves considerable variety between the sonatas. Obviously, there are still inevitable
exceptions to the Corellian model, such as the opening siciliano of the c minor sonata or the
toccata-like prelude of the E Major sonata.
As stated above, Bach has been universally lauded as the master of the fugue. It is no surprise
then that the fugal second movements are usually the center of gravity of the piece. They also
represent the culmination of an era, and as a result, Bach’s fugues tend to be more complete,
consistent and concentrated than the average found in most early to mid-Baroque violin sonatas.
Fugues by Corelli, Geminiani, and Tartini are nevertheless perfectly idiomatic examples, but as
is mostly the case in Italian fugues, they suggest more activity than what actually occurs.
For the middle slow movements, always in the relative major or minor, Bach usually adopts a
texture similar to that of a concerto, as the keyboard provides accompaniment to either a solo
line (beginning of BWV 1016, third movement), or two conversing parts (in BWV 1014, and in
strict canon in 1015 and 1019). These roles can also be reversed, as is the case of the third
movement of the f minor sonata.
Last movements are more instrumental than dance-oriented, and most of them have fugal
qualities. Nevertheless, they still manage to be light enough. The gigue-like finale of BWV 1019
might be the only dance example, more in the vein of most Italian sonatas.

As noted before, Bach’s style crystallizes the ideal synthesis of French and Italian fashions,
which consolidated in the late Baroque. The sonatas display a remarkable wealth of contrasting
ideas, and considerable variety of expression, character, and affects, which individualize the
individual works even further. These works adhere to Bach’s ideal of “variety within unity” in
many aspects, such as the different type of movements, the repetition of ideas –its apotheosis
found in the two da capo like early versions of BWV 1019- and choice of tonality, to name a
few. Regarding this, all of the movements share the same key or are in the relative minor
(invariably the slow movements), and the ratio of major to minor key is equal, much like in most
contemporary composers.
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In contrast, Bach’s phrases are usually longer and more irregular than most of his colleagues’,
and cadences are fewer. But as a listener, Bach’s irregularity is hardly noticeable and, taking a
cue from Corelli, “in an easy, natural way”. This concern predates Beethoven struggle for
escaping “the tyranny of the barline”.

Tonality and Affects

In 1787, German poet, critic and writer Christian Friedrich Daniel Schubart (1793-1791)
published an interesting article entitled “Characteristics of the Musical Keys.” Although
somewhat romanticized and probably conceived and applied for later music, Schubart’s
impressions on the affects implied in the different tonalities eloquently reflect the expressive
qualities of Bach’s sonatas. It is also interesting to notice how the choice of some keys is
inherent to the period and style, while the use of other tonalities anticipate later music. It is
probably Bach’s powerfully expressive and seemingly never ending slow movements in minor
that caught the attention and inspired many poignant works by Mozart, Beethoven and
Mendelssohn. Curiously enough, there are no works by Bach in G Minor, perhaps the most
popular and idiomatic key for violin sonatas.

1. BWV 1014, in B Minor. A serious work, the imposing portal to the succeeding musical
journey. This is “the key of patience, of the silent expectation of fate. Its complaint is gentle,
without ever breaking out in offending murmurs or whimpers”.

2. BWV 1015, in A Major. A rather tranquil, yet bright sonata, which “contains declarations of
innocent love, contentment over its situation, [and] hope of reunion at the parting of a lover”.

3. BWV 1016, in E Major. Noble, rhythmic and brilliant, this work exclaims “loud shouts for
joy, laughing pleasure and still not altogether full gratification”.

4. BWV 1017, in C Minor. The true centerpiece of the set, this lamenting and grievingly
impassioned sonata is reminiscent of the aria Erbarme dich, mein Gott from the St. Matthew’s
Passion. The infinitely expressive key of c minor, which would become a trademark in
Beethoven’s music, depicts “lamentation of unrequited love . Every languishing, longing, and
sighing of the love-crazed soul lies in this key”

5. BWV 1018 in F Minor. Also a staple of the Sturm und Drang and later Romantic composers,
this is an unusually studious and resigned piece. While not as intense and despairing as Schubart
describes it, this key illustrates some of the Tombeau aspects of the sonata, with its hints of
“depression, wailing for the dead, groans of misery, and yearning for the grave”.

6. BWV 1019 in G Major. Arguably the more sturdy, determined, and hearty entry in the set. In
this carefree partita, “everything rustic, moderately idyllic and lyrical, each quiet and satisfied
passion, every tender recompense for sincere friendship and true love, every gentle and serene
motion of the heart can be expressed splendidly in this key”
Classification of Sonata Movements:

By structure:
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In Bach’s sonatas, we invariably find two models, a thoroughly composed ternary (ABA) model,
and a more complex binary one with repeats. In the latter, the B section is always longer than the
A section, and usually includes a reprise, which basically makes it a disguised ternary model, as
in the second movement of the fifth sonata (m. 52). This shows that the ternary form prevails
whenever a movement exceeds a certain length. In other words, if the A section equaled the B
section in length and weight, then the reprise would not be necessary.
Bach recognized the significance of the reprise concept more so than his predecessors and
exploited it accordingly. He was a pioneer in this practice, and he anticipated the advent of both
Classical sonata and Rondo structures. In many cases the reprise is literal (as seen in the second
movement of the A Major sonata and the opening and closing movements of the G Major one),
while in other cases it is more hidden or even tentative (fourth movement of BWV 1018 as a
stretto, beginning in m. 123). In a different approach, we could also assert that this practice
translates the concerto principle (tutti-episode-tutti) to the realm of chamber music.

Depending on their texture and the different roles that Bach gives to the parts, we may classify
the different sonata movements into five types:

1. Solo with accompaniment. Found in BWV 1016, first movement; BWV 1017, first and
third movements; and BWV 1018, third movement. However, in the first three examples
the keyboard figurations are of great interest and vital to the texture, which make them of
more importance than a mere accompaniment part.
2. Duo with bass accompaniment. This type in particular, obviously derived from the trio
sonata, helped Bach redefine the genre. Examples are extraordinarily varied and
In the first movement of BWV 1014, the right hand of the keyboard presents two almost
parallel lines, one of them sometimes breaking away to respond to the violin line. When
the violin accompanies he does so in double-stops, which enriches the texture and the
polyphony considerably and suggests a quintet texture. In the third movement of the same
sonata, Bach contrasts sixteenth-notes in the melodic parts against accompanying eighth-
notes in the bass, providing a clearer interplay between the voices.
In the third movement of BWV 1015, the two treble voices engage in beautifully
expressive canon against a constant and florid bass line of running sixteenth-notes.
The corresponding movement of BWV 1016 also consists of a duet between the violin
and the right hand of the keyboard. At first, the latter consists of eighth-note chords over
an ostinato (suggesting a more elaborate accompanying part), but eventually becomes an
equal partner to the violin.
Finally and despite the absence of the violin, the keyboard solo of BWV 1019 (third
movement) is nevertheless a duo, which even becomes a trio at certain points.

3. Trio with bass line as equal or almost equal third voice. Represent roughly half of the
movements in the sonatas, and develop organically from the previous type (in some
cases, within the same movement). The most accomplished movements are the first and
fourth movements of BWV 1014 and 1015, the second movement of BWV 1016, and the
fast movements of BWV 1017, 1018 and 1019. Also of note is the brief Adagio of BWV
Oyenard, Bach’s Violin Sonatas 11 of 18 12 August 2020, 8:01 PM

4. Quartet. This is applied consistently to the opening movement of BWV 1018, although
this texture can be occasionally found in other sonatas. In this particular case, we find a
three-part keyboard part complemented by the violin’s lyrical comments on the
underlying dialogue.
5. Concerto. The third movement of BWV 1017 presents the violin and the right hand of the
keyboard as soloists in a double concerto (in mm. 35-77 and the corresponding 92-102).
For the rest of the movement they act as the Tutti, framing the aforementioned solo

Balance between the movements: the case of BWV 1019

Issues of contrast and balance between the movements are evident in the fact that Bach made
changes to and supplied different versions of two of the sonatas. For BWV 1018 the composer
created an alternate keyboard part for the third movement. The second version becomes more
rhapsodic, with its continuous thirty-seconds instead of the original sixteenth-note arpeggios, and
attain interesting dissonant and chromatic shadings. For BWV 1019 however, changes were
structurally more profound and progressive.
There are three different versions of the G Major sonata, all of them with more than the four
movements common to the other sonatas.

- First version (Cöthen). The first and last movements (Vivace) are identical, therefore
carrying the da-capo principle to its highest point. The second movement is a brief but
solemn Largo, which is present in all three versions. This is followed by an unspecified
Cembalo Solo in e minor and an Adagio. The fifth movement is simply marked Violino
solo è Basso l’accompagnato, and the first movement frames the work. This is the only
version of BWV 1019 that has six movements.

Eppstein argues that the fifth movement can be played as a string duo without keyboard, as an
equal and corresponding counterpart to the two-part writing of the preceding movement for
keyboard alone.

- Second version (Leipzig). The opening movement remains the same -this time marked
Presto-, as does the following Largo. There is a new third movement with the
superscription (unusually explicit for Bach) Cantabile, ma un poco Adagio, which is the
expressive core of the work, “remarkable for a singularly bridal feeling” (Spitta) which
becomes the expressive core of the work. The last two movements (an Adagio and the
opening Presto), correspond to the fifth and sixth movements of the first version.

This structure -three slow movements framed by two or actually one- fast movement is highly
unusual, and makes this version the least often performed of the three.

- Third version (after 1731). Also written in Leipzig, this version is the most often played
and seems to be Bach’s definitive version of the work. The first two movements remain
the same, although there is a new cembalo solo marked Allegro, instead of the
corresponding dance-like movement of the preceding version. The fourth movement is
also new, a more elaborate and ornate Adagio that compensates for the elimination of the
Oyenard, Bach’s Violin Sonatas 12 of 18 12 August 2020, 8:01 PM

original fifth movement. This is the only version that concludes with an original finale
movement (Allegro).

Eppstein states that the first version of the work could be chronologically the first sonata of the
set, possibly dating from before 1720. It is closer to a suite than to the da chiesa model he
embraces in the remaining sonatas, and it is also reminiscent of BWV 1021.
Many of its experimental and progressive characteristics (the concerto-like opening, the idea of a
cembalo solo present in all versions, the da capo framing device, and the succession of three
slow movements in the second version) show Bach’s style evolving and striving for a more
concise and uniform one, one which he applies to the remainder of the set.
All of the movements also went through different incarnations. The first, second and fourth
movements of the original were reportedly transcribed from a lost trio sonata or concerto for
violin, flute and continuo, and the third and fifth movements were subsequently transcribed by
Bach as Courante and Gavotte for his Partita in e minor, BWV 830 (1730). The Cantabile, ma
un poco adagio is also seen in his Cantata BWV 120, with a solo violin part.
In the Baroque, most sonata sets have an organizational principle, such as the cumulative effect
implied when something special is made of the last sonata (such as a virtuosic series of variations
on La Follia in Corelli’s Op. 5, or an extended solo capriccio in Locatelli’s Op. 6). As a result
and regardless of the above-mentioned chronological and stylistic concerns, it is also entirely
possible that Bach deliberately concluded the set with a suite in a lighter vein.

Analysis of compositional techniques:

Bach’s music is linear and polyphonic. Everything is intensively organized, meticulously

interrelated, and little is left to chance. The structure and identity of his works are based on a
clear arrangement of the number and use of required parts. This does not need to apply to a
complete work but to specific movements. For instance, the texture in the first movements of
BWV 1014 and BWV 1016 increases from three to six parts, yet their linear structure can be
easily recognized (2+2+2 or 1+3+2). Fast movements are usually in three-part, trio sonata
texture, that is, two fully equal melody parts above a bass. The three-part writing condensed into
a duo ensemble makes the lines more elaborate and compact. Bach also usually saves one part
for later, thus enhancing the polyphony.
His unique approach to his chamber works follows the pattern of fugal writing, and also applies
to slow movements (first movements of BWV 1014 and BWV 1018). There are also examples of
expositions of movements in which the two melody parts begin simultaneously with two
thematic lines of equal or almost equal importance (fourth movement of BWV 1014). This
structure is similar to those of “double fugues”, where both themes are played at the same time.
As a master of counterpoint, Bach reaches the zenith of three-part writing in his chamber works.
He shows us that everything necessary can be expressed in three well-managed parts; any
addition would signify a hindrance or dependence between the parts. However, Bach’s
imagination cannot often be confined to three parts, and we have numerous examples of this in
his sonatas.

Characteristics of the themes:

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Bach’s themes found in his chamber works exhibit some common traits that do not appear in his
other works and seem to make them chamber music-specific. This is something that Classical
and Romantic composers were aware of and exploited accordingly in their own works, but Bach
was the only composer of his time who had such a deep understanding of this practice.
Generally speaking, we can assert that Bach’s chamber music themes are of a more extreme
rhythmic variety, since the small scoring and the intimacy of the setting enable more complex
rhythms to be intelligible.

a) Opening Themes in Slow Sonata Movements:

The themes in the slow movements are generally much more imaginative than in any other class
of themes. Individual phrase lengths vary dramatically, which creates internal tension, and they
are also more irregular and loosely constructed than faster movements.
We can differentiate two types of slow movements:

Fantasia type: where wide-ranging themes extend in great melodic curves, figurations and
overall Baroque exuberance. They usually develop from the opening theme (opening of BWV
Arioso type: the themes are more compactly constructed, out of motifs, and over a running bass
line (see BWV 1016, third movement). They provide a more relaxed, playful, serenade-like
effect, and are less related to original theme.

b) Opening Themes in Fast Sonata Movements:

For his fast movements, Bach usually differentiates between so-called “themes of motion” (the
orchestral opening of BWV 1016, fourth movement) and the more rhythmically profiled themes
(last movement of BWV 1017). This in turn can be classified into the rather uncomplicated,
diatonic ones rooted in dance and folk (finale of BWV 1019), and the more “artistic”, complex,
chromatic ones. Although dissimilar in most formal aspects, Bach would craft themes in such a
way that would enable fragmentation, and themes from last movements are usually more
compact than those found in second movements.

c) Middle themes:

As opposed to Classical models, Bach’s middle themes do not contrast with the opening ones but
are rather related to and develop organically from them. They provide distance from the main
theme as well as new material when the opening one cannot sustain an entire movement on its
own. Present in the second movement of BWV 1015 (beginning in m. 30), and in the opening of
BWV 1019 (mm.22-25).

d) Lengths:

Bach’s themes are usually longer than the norm and highly elaborate. Therefore, we find fewer
cadences than in most sonatas of the time. There are also many examples of “easy” asymmetry;
for instance in the opening theme of BWV 1015, fourth movement (six measures long), and the
unusually complex theme from the fourth movement of BWV 1017, (sixteen measures long).
Oyenard, Bach’s Violin Sonatas 14 of 18 12 August 2020, 8:01 PM

e) Linear Thematic Development:

Bach develops his thematic lines from different sources. In the first movement of BWV 1017,
the linear development of the first theme is derived predominantly from triads and seventh
chords. There are also instances where themes originate from scalar, stepwise progressions (see
the last movement of BWV 1016). But more common and interesting are examples where these
principles are intermingled, such as in the last movement of BWV 1015. The basic line ascends
stepwise and then descends, while being coupled with leaps of fifth, octave and tenth, over a
relatively static “bass” line. The same applies to the second movement of BWV 1017.
In Bach’s music, the idea of musical symmetry –that is, when the line ascends incrementing
tension and then descends in order to release it- is also altered. We have instances with a more
commonly longer ascent, but also fewer, rather unique ones where the arch can be perfectly even
or imperfect (second movement of BWV 1016 and last movement of BWV 1018)

f) Rhythm:

Bach had an unprecedented sense of rhythm, much richer and more imaginative than many of his
contemporaries and even later composers. It continuously inspired Beethoven, Schubert, Bartǒk,
and Stravinsky among others, but after 1830, the rhythmic palette of most composers became
confined to a few limited formulas. Bach’s achievements seem even more remarkable since he
did not have the freedom of meter that more modern composers have.
Bach’s rhythms usually begin with long values and become progressively smaller (opening of
the second movement of BWV 1018). Smaller values are usually introduced in weak beats, but if
a long value occurs then, it is usually syncopated (third movement of BWV 1019).
The third movement of BWV 1016 is an example of melodic beauty, but also of rhythmic
balance. A sustained chord establishes the tonality, followed by a series of triplets starting in the
lightest part of the measure. The second statement begins earlier, creating a greater sense of
urgency, and flows seamlessly until the triplets are interrupted by a different rhythm (two
sixteenths), which acts as a brake, and is followed by a syncopation.

g) Sequence technique:

This technique was common practice in Baroque music and many composers used it to the point
of becoming tiresome and predictable. Bach avoided stereotyped, mindless sequences, and for
such purposes deliberately created themes that would support his unusual approach. His
sequential development is not simply horizontal -that is, thematic and melodic- but is usually
paired with a vertical, harmonic sequence. Descending sequences were also more common than
ascending ones, being instrumental in the easing of tension). Bach exploited secondary seventh-
chord sequences, which would ultimately be put to great use by much later composers like
Brahms and even Bruckner.

h) Harmony:
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Bach’s use of harmony clarifies the form, course and structure of a movement, as cadential
points and excursions into other keys help separate its distinct parts.
Structure and harmonic plan of the first movement of BWV 1016:

- mm. 9-10: cadence in B Major

- mm. 13-14: cadence in F-Sharp Minor
- m. 19: cadence in C-Sharp Minor
- mm. 24-25: return to E Major
- mm. 26-27: A Major (?)
- mm. 33-34: final cadence

We also find many harmonically daring instances in some of the sonatas. The chromatic bass
used in the second movement of the E Major sonata reveals that Bach’s thinking was mainly
linear, as in measure 22 we find a D natural against a D#, in order to avoid the tritone.
Bach’s development and use of the material in rapid sonata movements is usually concentrated,
sometimes excessively so (see the last movement of BWV 1018). This is rather clear in the
second movement of the first sonata. Measures 13-15 show us that the
violin line comes from the keyboard right hand outline, while the bass derives from measure 4.

Summary of Bach’s Innovations:

Bach’s main contribution to the genre was that he was the first composer to apply true trio sonata
texture to duo sonatas, which freed the keyboard instrument from the role of being a mere
continuo instrument and elevated it to being an equal partner. By doing so, Bach’s sonatas
almost single-handedly contributed to the creation and development of the popular
“accompanied” keyboard sonata of the Rococo and Classical eras. Eppstein believes that this
genuine duo texture can be regarded as a personal innovation of Bach's. In his biography of
1802, Forkel wrote:
They [...] may be reckoned among Bach's first masterpieces in this field. They are
throughout fugued; there are also a few canons between the clavier and the violin
which are extremely singing and full of character. The violin part requires a
master. Bach knew the possibilities of that instrument and spared it as little as he
did his clavier.5

Bach also made no distinction between the instrumental character of the two melodic
instruments, which made his sonatas surprisingly idiomatic yet technically challenging.

As an evolutionary composer, Bach took motivic writing to the next level, and many examples
found in the sonatas show us the degree of concentration with which he worked. In addition to
mastering the art of counterpoint, Bach also excelled at extracting a motif from a theme and
treating and exploiting it individually. This procedure paved the way for the development
principle in Classical sonata forms, especially in the music of Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven,
Hans T. David and Arthur Mendel, editors, The Bach Reader: A Life of Johann Sebastian
Bach in Letters and Documents (New York: W.W. Norton, 1945), 343.
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and ultimately inspired generations of later composers who would perfect the art of motivic
composition to the point of exhaustion.

Bach’s polyphonic style ultimately proved to be the true mode of speech for chamber music. To
discover that fact in an era of homophony was the task of Haydn and Mozart, as this would not
be strictly limited to the violin and keyboard genre, but would also predate the origins of the
piano trio and quartet, and even the string quartet.

From a historical perspective chamber music and concerto forms were not as established as
religious vocal music. Chamber music was an unofficial, unpretentious genre, one in which Bach
could try out all his experiments. Bach was the first one to recognize the untapped breadth of
expression available in the genre, and consequently injected substance to it. His standards are
still valid today as he gave chamber music its true meaning.

Another characteristic trait of the transitional style pre-Classical was the incorporation of
orchestral effects, such as the more concertante elements and many of the devices of the
Mannheim School that would become popular beginning in the mid-18th century. It is quite
fascinating to notice precursors to these techniques in Bach’s sonatas (see the opening movement
of the E Major sonata for the former and the keyboard part of the Allegro of the G Major sonata
for a foretaste of the Mannheim “rocket”).

Bach’s contribution towards the evolution of the genre can be explored through the works of his
son Carl Phillip Emanuel (1714-1788), who was court composer at the court of King Frederick I.
C.P.E held his father’s accompanied works in high esteem, and in a letter to Forkel from 1774,
he writes:
The six clavier [and violin] trios ... are amongst the best works of my dearly
beloved father. Even now they sound very good and give me many delights,
regardless of the fact that they are over fifty years old. There are several Adagios
among them which even today could not be composed in a more singing style.6

Although in C.P.E. Bach’s early trio sonatas (W. 143-149, 162) the treble parts dominate the
texture -King Frederick was an accomplished flutist- as soon as he felt secure the young Bach
would try out new instrumental relationships. His two trios (W. 161) of 1751 already have a fully
written-out keyboard part, and an optional se piace part for the cello. This was probably inherited
from his father’s set, as he himself –and some contemporary sources- referred to these sonatas as
“trios”. C.P.E.’s more sophisticated works already anticipate the established duo sonata of the
late 18th century, and overlook the more common transitional accompanied sonata of the 1760’s
and 1770’s. They also provide an important link between J.S. Bach’s accompanied sonatas and
the Classical piano trio perfected by Haydn and Mozart.

Bach-Dokumente, Vol. III: Dokumente zum Nachwirken Johann Sebastian Bachs 1750 bis
1800, ed. H.-J. Schulze (Kassel etc. and Leipzig, 1972), No. 795. Translated by Richard D.P.
Oyenard, Bach’s Violin Sonatas 17 of 18 12 August 2020, 8:01 PM

Apart from his sons, the list of composers immediately succeeding Bach that were influenced by
the master is mainly reduced to somewhat minor figures, who nevertheless recognized his genius
and somewhat adopted his style into their instrumental and chamber works. These include the
duo and trio sonatas of Christoph Graupner (1683-1760), Franz Xavier Richter (1709-1789),
Christian Gottlob Neefe (1748-1798), Johann Gottlieb Goldberg (1727-1756), and the brothers
Carl Heinrich (1704-1759) and Johann Gottlieb Graun (1703-1771), the latter a violinist who
taught Wilhelm Friedemann Bach.

From a pedagogical point of view, violinist Ferdinand David (1810-1873) was one of the first
musicians to appreciate the value of Bach’s accompanied sonatas. David was exposed to Bach’s
music through the Mendelssohn circle and was the first one to not only edit sonatas BWV 1014-
1019 and publish them as a set, but also included the e minor sonata, BWV 1023 and the
wrongfully attributed c minor sonata, BWV 1024 to his anthology of 18th century violin sonatas,
Die hohe Schule des Violinspiels (“The High School of Violin Playing”, c.1867). Although
heavily influenced by Romantic standards and practices, his efforts were nevertheless
instrumental in bringing Bach’s chamber music back to light.

But finally and more importantly, Bach might also have been the first successful “crossover”
composer. Earlier in the Baroque, differentiation between the vocal and instrumental mediums
was much more marked and specialized, as instrumental composers such as Corelli, Geminiani,
and Tartini would never attempt vocal composition, and vice versa. It is to Bach’s credit that he
single handedly became the first exception to such an established and long-running
standardization, even outdoing Vivaldi -at least in quality and depth- and foreshadowing the
advent of Haydn, Mozart, Mendelssohn, Schubert, Schumann, and Brahms, to name but a few.

J.S. Bach’s Sonatas for Violin and Cembalo and the Development of the Duo Sonata

Oyenard, Bach’s Violin Sonatas 18 of 18 12 August 2020, 8:01 PM

Baron, John Herschel Baron. Intimate Music: A History of the Idea of Chamber Music.
Stuyvesant, N.Y.: Pendragon Press, 1998.

Breig, Werner. "The Instrumental Music." In The Cambridge Companion to Bach, edited by
John Butt, 123-135. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997.

Loft, Abram. Violin and Keyboard: The Duo Repertoire, Vols. 1 and 2. New York,
N.Y.: Grossman Publishers, 1973.

Newman, William S. The Sonata in the Baroque Era. Chapel Hill, N.C.: The University of North
Carolina Press, 1959.

Rowen, Ruth Halle. Early Chamber Music. New York, N.Y.: King's Crown Press of Columbia
University Press, 1949. Reprinted with permission by Da Capo Press, 1974.

Vogt, Hans. Johann Sebastian Bach's Chamber Music: Background, Analyses, Individual Works.
Johann Sebastian Bachs Kammermusik. Translated by Kenn Johnson, edited by Reinhard
G. Pauly. Philipp Reclam & Co., Stuttgart: 1981. Portland, Oregon: Amadeus Press,1988.

Wolff, Christoph. "Bach's Leipzig Chamber Music." In Bach: Essays on his Life and Music,
223-238. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1991.

Theses and Dissertations

Claypool, Richard David. "J.S. Bach's sonatas for melody instrument and cembalo concertato: an
evaluation of all related manuscript sources." Ph.D. diss., Northwestern University, 1975.
Schubart, Christian Friedrich Daniel. "Characteristics of the Musical Keys." (1787) New
England Review, Winter/Spring 2005. Translated by Ted DuBois.


Bach, Johann Sebastian.The Music for Violin and Cembalo/Continuo, Vol. 1 and 2. Edited and
Annotated by Richard D.P. Jones. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1993.

Bach, Johann Sebastian. Six Sonatas for Violin and Harpsichord, BWV 1014-1019, Vol. 1 and 2.
Edited by Bernhard Stockmann, Hans-Christian Mueller, Guenter Kehr, and Fritz
Neumeyer. Vienna: Wiener Urtext Edition, 1973.
Bach, Johann Sebastian. Sonatas in G major, E minor; Fugue in G minor: for violin and basso
continuo, BWV 1021, 1023, 1026. Edited by Peter Wollny, Zvi Meniker, and Andrew
Manze. Kassel/New York: Barenreiter, 2005.

David, Ferdinand. Die hohe Schule des Violinspiels, Vols. 1-4. Revised by Friedrich Hermann.
Leipzig: C.F. Peters, c.1920

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