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          Page 4.       The Chaconne  

Below is a copy of the original manuscript of the Chaconne believed to be in the hand of Anna Magdelena.  That it has survived for 290 years is one of the marvels of history.

Though most often heard as a stand-alone work, the Chaconne is the fifth movement of the Partita in D minor for unaccompanied violin. It undoubtedly dates from Bach's Cöthen period (1717-23) and was probably written for Joseph Spiess the highest paid instrumentalist of the Cöthen court.

Yehudi Menuhin, pictured here with Bruno Walter, played it in Carnegie Hall at the age of 12 (some sources say age 10).  Years later in his autobiography, Unfinished Journey, he referred to the work as: "The greatest structure for solo violin that exists" (p. 326). 
 
 Three hundred years after the approximate date of its composition, its popularity remains undiminished.  The number of postings of both amateur and professional performances on YouTube is considerable.  An approximate count will reveal over two hundred by solo violinists,  plus dozens of other arrangements for guitars, lute, flute, four cellos, marimbas, the Japanese shamisen, carillon, not forgetting Brahms’ version for the left hand.  A recording of the complete Chaconne played by Arthur Grumiaux is to be found at:  9. Chaconne for Solo Violin . Several arrangements for orchestra exist. They range from chamber ensemble versions to the full symphony orchestration by Leopold Stokowski . Link no. 10 is an arrangement by Mauricio Romero is played by Camerata Latina in L'Eglise Saint Germain-des-Près  10.  Chamber orchestra

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The Busoni Transcription

 

Ferruccio Busoni’s piano transcription of the Chaconne dates from 1895.  It is now a staple part of the repertoire of most concert pianists.  There are over a hundred-and-fifty recordings on YouTube using Busoni’s transcription.  

 Interestingly, Vladimir Horowtitz withdrew from public performance for twelve years after 1953 but when he returned in 1965, and played again in Carnegie Hall, from the vast range of piano literature available to him he opted to begin with a Bach-Busoni transcrption of the Toccata, Adagio and Fuge in C.  Of the many interpretations of Busoni's transcription of the Chaconne availble, a version by Helene Grmaud has been selected:  11. Bach-Busoni Chaconne (Helene Grimaud)

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Chaconne Organ Transcriptions 
 
There are only a handful of arrangements for organ. The main ones, in order, are by W.T.Best, Wilhelm Middelschulte, W.H. Goss-Custard and John Cook, sometime copyist for Vaughan Williams and Britten and later organist of The Church of the Advent, Boston. He published his transcription in 1955 and wrote in his Preface:

          The Chaconne is sublimely satisfying in its original form, yet many will agree that a single violin is only able to hint at the vast implications of much of this music; It is perhaps not unreasonable to suppose that Bach would have chosen the organ, had he transcribed the Chaconne himself, as the instrument best suited to the scale of his ideas. A good performance on the violin may be taken as the best guide to interpretation on the organ and both were beloved of Bach.

 Despite those remarks, throughout 50 years of attending a host of organ recitals and reading the content of hundreds of programmes, not  until 2004 did I encounter an organ performance of the piece. That was the year Priory Records issued a DVD of Ian Tracey playing the work in Liverpool Cathedral: a well-reviewed, wholly successful venture. 

 1.  Best's arrangement is can still be obtained from musicroom.com via the print-on-demand service offered by Novello at £12.95

 2.  John Cook's transcription oublished in 1955 is demanding and ideal for the virtuoso player.  The score is available from musicroom.com for £15.95

 
 
3. Walter Henry Goss-Custard made a transcription during his period as organist of Liverpool Cathedral (1915-55).  This was recorded by the present organist, Ian Tracey, and was issued as a DVD by Priory Records in 2004.  The transcription has not been published and remains in manuscript form in the cathedral archives.  Would-be players may be disappointed but listeners can be thankful that the film/recording venture was so superbly captured. 

 

 How ironic that the superb Willis reeds of the largest organ in Britain were called upon to crown Bach's masterpiece conceived initially for a single violin.

4. Bärenreiter reissued the complete works of Wilhelm Middelschulte in 2011.  His version of the Chaconne is to be found in Volume 4 priced at £29.00. 

5. Both Mendelssohn and Schumann wrote piano accompaniments for the work. These are available from Scribd at: Scribd Bach Chaconne  ; they are rewarding to study.  

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My own familiarity with the work began as far back  as 1955 when I discovered the version by Joachim Raff (1822-82). Fifty years later in 2010 I produced an organ transcription.  The organ fraternity, for a variety of reasons, has never responded to the Chaconne in the way that violinists and pianists have done. So I have made the score available as a free download . 

 The links to the completed manuscript are:  Bach Chaconne.pdf 

                                 Optional       Chaconne cover and notes PDF.pdf

              Its first public performance took place in a Lunchtime Concert at Wells Cathedral, Somerset on 23rd August 2013.                          

                                                                   

                                                    Programme:

                   Prelude in E flat, Clavierübung 3 …...……............................... .. J.S.Bach

                    Three Dances from Terpsichore..…...............................Michael Praetorius

                    Chaconne from Partita No. 2 for solo violin,.....  J.S.Bach, Transcr.  Rogers

                                                                  (First performance) 

                       Toccata in G………..……….…........................................Théodore Dubois

                                

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Johann Sebastian Bach

 

Chaconne

 

from Partita No.2 for solo violin

 

 Arranged for organ

by

David Rogers

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Reviews

"I much enjoyed playing through your excellent arrangement of the Chaconne.  It lies well under the hands."

                                                     A former editor of The Organ magazine

 

"Many thanks for your transcription which I enjoyed. It was most interesting to see it first-hand.  For what it's worth I think you make real sense of it in a very accessible way.I really do think you should put it forward for publication and I am sure there is a niche in the market.’  "

                                                                The Liverpool Cathedral organist

 

‘Congratulations on a beautifully-written  and imaginative realisation of Bach’s score

        Anne Marsden Thomas, Director St Giles International Organ School

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This transcription  can be printed free of charge from :

 Bach Chaconne.pdf

       Chaconne cover and notes PDF.pdf 

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