Remembering Bach

July 28, 2011

Today is the anniversary of the death of history’s greatest composer. Numerically speaking, it is not an especially notable anniversary — the 261st, unless I am mistaken — but that does not deter me from marking the day with some music.

Casting about for a piece that would be fitting for this purpose, I thought of Eugène Ysaÿe’s Sonata No.2 for solo violin. Almost all music for solo violin is, of course, sounding in the shadow of Bach, but in this particular piece by Ysaÿe the connection is more explicit. The sonata’s first movement begins by quoting from the beginning of Bach’s own Partita No.3 for solo violin, and as the music develops this theme becomes interwoven with that of the Gregorian Dies Irae chant, from the Requiem Mass. What better way to mark Bach’s death?

Here is Hilary Hahn playing the first two movements of the Ysaÿe sonata; the first movement, which is of special interest today, lasts about 2-1/2 minutes. You can hear Bach’s Partita No.3 here, and the Dies Irae, if you don’t know it, can be heard here.

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