Sunday 21 December 2014

Great yearning nobility: Bach - Busoni - Ogdon

This is one of my very favourite pieces of music - the Chaconne movement from JS Bach's Violin Partita number 2 in D minor (certainly one of the finest things he ever wrote) - transcribed for piano by the titanic  perfomer-composer-intellectual Ferruccio Busoni - and played by England's best-ever pianist John Ogdon (1937-1989). 

This recording, then, is greatness multiplied, concentrated and captured on tape. It evokes in me a state of mounting yearning, growing but never quite satisfied - because pointing - with surety - beyond any possible experience of this world.


Jonathan C said...

I could not agree more with your final statement. Busoni's transcription of Bach's Chaconne is not only one of the finest pieces ever composed; it's music that points directly to the transcendental. I've said here before that Beethoven's last three piano sonatas were to me some of the most convincing evidence of the existence of God. The Chaconne is another. Some of the late Mozart piano concertos also seem to have been channeled directly from heaven.

William Zeitler said...

I like this recording of the original violin version a lot, particularly since they record the player playing in front of an altar:

Brahms also loved this piece and did his own piano arrangement. However, he wanted to honor the delicacy of the solo violin version, so he arranged it for piano LEFT HAND ALONE (in contrast to Busoni's virtuoso approach). Apparently Clara Schumann was having troubles with her right hand, so he wrote it for her (Bach being put into service to help someone in trouble. But of course.). As a pianist myself, this is the version I prefer to play. It is very difficult for me to get through this piece without choking up. Here's a decent performance of it:

Here's an article by Arnold Steinhardt (violinist in the fabulous Guarneri Quartet) about learning to play it. It also includes a picture of him playing it at the grave site of Bach's wife, for whom Bach apparently composed it.

William Zeitler said...

You didn't mention the back story in your article: as the story goes, Bach wrote the Chaconne in memory of his first wife, after he returned from a trip to discover that she had died.

Bruce Charlton said...

@WZ - Thanks for your comments

William Zeitler said...

The link to the Arnold Steinhardt article went missing somehow. Here it is: