Catapulting into Classical

A headlong leap into music, history, and composing

Haiku Wednesday: Chaconne

4 Comments

He came home that night
And called her name; no reply.
There never would be.

And then they told him:
In his absence she had died,
And was laid to rest.

His love, his wife, and
The mother of his children,
Gone.  How could this be?

How would he go on?
A home so full; so empty.
How would he go on?

Bach’s Chaconne, performed by Jascha Heifetz on a 1742 Guarneri del Gesù, the David

“The greatest structure for solo violin that exists”

Yehudi Menuhin2

“Not just one of the greatest pieces of music ever written, but one of the greatest achievements of any man in history.  It’s a spiritually powerful piece, emotionally powerful, structurally perfect.”

Joshua Bell3

“On one stave, for a small instrument, the man writes a whole world of the deepest thoughts and most powerful feelings.  If I imagined that I could have created, even conceived the piece, I am quite certain that the excess of excitement and earth-shattering experience would have driven me out of my mind.”

Johannes Brahms4

The Chaconne performed so exquisitely above by Jascha Heifetz is the last movement of Bach’s Partita in D minor for solo violin (BWV 1004).  The Chaconne is widely believed to have been written in memory of Bach’s first wife, Maria Barbara, though we can never know for sure.

Maria Barbara Bach died suddenly, unexpectedly, in 1720 at the age of 35.  By that time she had borne seven children.  Three of them had died at a young age.

At the time of her death, Johann Sebastian Bach was in Carlsbad with Prince Leopold of Anhalt-Cöthen, his employer.  In these days of instant communication, we forget that there once was a time when news travelled slowly, or sometimes not at all.  By the time he returned home, his wife had already been buried.  He faced life alone, with four children to raise.

He soldiered onward.  And in the Chaconne one might see a grief ennobled, and made universal.

One cannot help but be struck by the quote from Brahms, the composer of his own testimony to grief, the German Requiem.

But we cannot end on such a dark note; let me tell the rest of the story.

Seventeen months later, Bach married Anna Magdalena Wilcke, and the Bach family grew ever larger.  He lived a long and musically productive life.  He left us many masterworks.  But that Chaconne…it is in a category of its own.

If you visit YouTube, you will find many fine performances of the Chaconne on many different instruments, from organ to guitar to marimba.

References

  1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Partita_for_Violin_No._2_(Bach)
  2. Menuhin, Yehudi, Unfinished Journey, 1976, p 236.
  3. Weingarten, Gene, “Pearls before Breakfast” Washington Post Magazine, April 8, 2007.
  4. Litzman, Berthold, ed., Letters of Clara Schumann and Johannes Brahms, 1853-1896. Hyperion Press, 1979, p. 16.
  5. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maria_Barbara_Bach
  6. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anna_Magdalena_Bach
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4 thoughts on “Haiku Wednesday: Chaconne

  1. “Though we can never know for sure.”

    We know the notes In them is the reply There would never be.

    He wrote them The way he saw The way he heard.

    And so we hear them too They are always there On the paper.

    Ink on lines Left on the strings Right on the bow.

    There were no words There was no face There were no hands.

    Only time and what went on In the mind, and how it became The reply that would never be.

    Motes in the sunbeam Falling gold, slow fire Which can always be But never again In just that same way Except for those notes He wrote in reply.

    Through our ears Our hands reach into the stream Of sunlight flowing To warm us as we see And as we hear The way he did The reply that could never be.

    I am very glad to have it. It’s been a long time.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Yep. And dozens of fine recordings.

    Thanks, Chris!

    Tom

    Like

  3. Beautiful. I’d not heard this before. Such intensity. Thank you!

    Liked by 1 person

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