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?
“The greatest structure for solo violin that exists”
“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.”
“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.”
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.
- Menuhin, Yehudi, Unfinished Journey, 1976, p 236.
- Weingarten, Gene, “Pearls before Breakfast” Washington Post Magazine, April 8, 2007.
- Litzman, Berthold, ed., Letters of Clara Schumann and Johannes Brahms, 1853-1896. Hyperion Press, 1979, p. 16.