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JS BACH CONCERTO FOR TWO

VIOLINS IN D MINOR
(BWV1043)
Analysis of Vivace (1st) movement and the associated violin techniques

NOVEMBER 15, 2017


LUIS DANIEL HUED
1002720326
JS Bach Concerto for Two Violins in D minor, BWV1043

Regarded as one of the greatest composers of his time, Johann Sebastian Bach was known not

only for his wide range of keyboard works but also for his awe-inspiring reputation as an organ

virtuoso. Throughout the Baroque era of music, Bachs main instrument was the organ. However, his

rich musicality allowed him to extend his outlook beyond keyboard instruments. He eventually picked

up on the violin and became a fine violinist himself as he had been strongly influenced by Antonio

Vivaldis concerto style.

Vivaldi was an Italian composer who was much-appreciated by Bach. Vivaldi brought to the

table a rhythmic liveliness and melodic clarity that Bach absorbed and added to the blend of German

counterpoint in his summation of the Baroque style. Two pieces by Bach that show this strongly are

the Italian Concerto in F minor for harpsichord as well as the Prelude movement of the Partita no. 3

in E major for violins. Without Vivaldis influence, Bachs music would have had much less impact

than it does currently.

The topic of discussion today will be on one of Bachs most famous pieces, the Concerto for

Two Violins in D minor (BWV1043), or simply referred to as the Bach Double. The piece is believed

to be composed in the 1720s during the late Baroque period, when Bach focused a lot more of his

attention in composing musical works for solo violinists during his time in Cothen after Prince

Leopold no longer demanded elaborate music for church due to his devotion to the Reformed faith.

According to an account by Martin Geck, when Bach was appointed the Kapellmeister in Leopolds

orchestra by Prince Leopold of Anhalt-Cothen himself, he was acquainted with a few violinists at the

time. The most notable violinists being Joseph Speiss and Martin Friedrich Marcus. It is believed that

Bach wrote the Concerto for Two violins for these two principle violinists as they were both

considered to be very talented players at the time. The piece consists of three movements: Vivace,

Largo ma non tanto, and Allegro. The most popular movement that is commonly played today, the
Vivace, combines difficult violin techniques with the Baroque periods signature fugal style as well as

the ritornello style from Vivaldi, whom Bach has been influenced heavily by.

The Vivace is a very fast and lively movement. It follows a distinct format that is also common

to several of Vivaldis works known as the ritornello form. A ritornello is a musical form that is based

on a recurring theme known as the ritornello or episode, which is similar to a chorus from a more

modern perspective. As a result, the music turns into a well-interspersed piece that constantly

alternates between the orchestra tutti and the solo episodes, which is a very routine characteristic in

Baroque ritornello form. Furthermore, the movement is also written in a style such that the theme

introduced in the beginning of the music is repeated or imitated in different pitches throughout the

piece not only by the entire orchestra but also by the two solo violinists, giving the movement a very

sophisticated contrapuntal quality. This style is known as the fugal style and is also very common in

Bachs compositions. A famous example is the St. Anna Prelude and Fugue for the organ. We will see

that through the genius use of the fugal style, Bach makes an exemplary display of musical

contrapuntal beauty through the Vivace movement of the Concerto for Two Violins.

The movement starts off with a fugal exposition played by the orchestra and the second

violinist which presents one of the major motives of the movement as it appears in different sections

of the orchestra. Eventually, the lower strings pick up on the motive as well, to which the first violinist

then responds in a different pitch but identical rhythm four bars before the first solo part. After the

beginning exposition which consists of about 20 bars, the piece falls into its first episode. The first

violin starts off the solo, by opening the section with a series of string crossing and descending scales.

String crossing is a finger technique that is easy to understand but difficult to master. When developed

correctly, the passage becomes a seamless sequence of alternating notes, as opposed to chalkboard

scraping sounds produced when poorly executed. In other words, it is hit-or-miss when it comes to

this short section. The initial four-note string crossing is then followed by a descending scale, which

is again followed by another series of string crossing and scale combination but in a different pitch.
The first violin solo then tones down through two-bar modulations to allow the second violin to

transition into the solo part. It is at this moment you may notice that the second violin repeats the

exact same notes the first violin just played at the start of the episode. At the end of the second violins

spotlight, it is worth noting how well the two solo violin parts interact with each other within this

episode alone. Notice that the soloists are constantly trading off between taking the spotlight and

having the supporting role. This is a recurring theme that Bach has managed to execute perfectly and

appears multiple times throughout each episode.

After the first major episode, the orchestra comes back to pick up on the original motive of

the piece, which is very similar to the beginning portion but cut short by a substantial amount. After

this short intermission, a second major episode follows which presents itself as being much more

challenging as the first. While this solo part also incorporates the usage of string crossing, what differs

this episode from the previous is the usage of arpeggios which precedes the string crossing portion

presented in the first ritornello. To make matters more complicated for the soloists, this particular

solo switches between keys quite often, starting from what was originally a D minor to a G minor and

then to a C minor shortly after. As a result, the sheet music for this section is riddled with accidentals

which can be very jarring for the performers.

Furthermore, what is arguably the most challenging part for the soloists come from the

sequences that build up to the climax of this episode which requires a substantial amount of precise

finger positioning on the neck of the violin. To shed some light on violin positioning, when playing the

violin at an advanced level, it is recommended that open strings (G, D, A, E) are not played and are

rather substituted by playing them on any string other than the desired notes string. For example, an

A can be played using the pinky on the D string and G can be played using the ring finger on the same

string, rather than playing the open string itself without the left hand on the fingerboard. Due to this,

a big chunk of the ritornello requires the usage of finger positional shifting between the second, third,

and fourth position. The default finger position used is known as the first position. The most
challenging part is recognizing what notes correspond to which fingering on the violin as the second

and fourth position require line and space notes to be played using either index or ring finger as

opposed to the middle finger and pinky for the first and third position. Having a firm grasp of these

techniques are essential to mastering the movement and is important in that not only does it add a

brighter texture to the sound, but is also a part of the fingering that makes playing, especially the fast

passages, effective, such that it avoids unnecessary string crossing.

Finally, after all the tension that is built up using sequences during the second ritornello, it is

all resolved by the end portion of the ritornello. This last section features, once again, the signature

string crossing opening followed by short scales which is taken verbatim from the very first episode

of the movement. The section then concludes by transitioning into the tutti which finishes off the fugal

exposition established in the beginning of the piece through incorporating the entire orchestra plus

the two soloists. A very fitting conclusion to a very intricate and alluring piece.

Overall, it is worth noting that as a listener, the beauty of the piece is demonstrated through

the difficulty to distinguish which violin part is playing what melodic line throughout almost the

entire piece. Both violinists are treated equally such that the melodic phrases are very well-balanced,

not only between the tutti and the soli but also at the level of the duet. The polyphonic quality and the

incorporation of counterpoint in this movement is simply a stroke of genius as Bach manages to make

the transition between the supporting and spotlight role almost seamless.
Bibliography

Bach, Johann Sebastian. Concerto for Two Violins in D minor 1st movement (BWV1043), Violin II.
Suzuki Violin School, violin part, vol. 4. Edited by Shinichi Suzuki: Summy-Birchard Inc,
1978.

Bach, Johann Sebastian. Concerto for Two Violins in D minor 1st movement (BWV1043), Violin I. Suzuki
Violin School, violin part, vol. 5. Edited by Shinichi Suzuki: Summy-Birchard Inc, 1978.

Bach, Johann Sebastian. Bach: Double Concerto; Violin Concertos Nos. 1 & 2. Cond. Itzhak Perlman.
Sony Classical, CD-92732, 2007.

Geck, Martin. Johann Sebastian Bach: Life and Work. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2006.

Highly recommended recording to follow along: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vesrqFeq9rU