Bach’s Sonata No. 2 in A Major for Violin and Harpsichord, BWV 1015: Canons of Joy

With the Six Sonatas for violin and harpsichord (BWV 1014-1019), J.S. Bach spectacularly reimagined the Baroque trio sonata.

Traditionally, the form, developed by composers such as Arcangelo Corelli, consisted of two solo instruments and continuo. The continuo involved a partially improvised accompaniment in which the keyboard player would be given the bass line and the harmonic “short hand” of figured bass notation. It was an arrangement which was not unlike the harmonic changes in a jazz chart.

In contrast, in the Six Sonatas, Bach’s keyboard lines move into the foreground. They are richly melodic and written out. The violin and harpsichord become equal partners in a vibrant musical conversation involving three independent contrapuntal lines—the violin, and the right and left hand keyboard voices.

The equality of the three voices can be heard immediately in the opening moments of the Sonata No. 2 in A Major, BWV 1015. The three voices enter into a sensuous canonic conversation, initiated by the violin. As if to chase away the melancholy of the previous Sonata in B minor, this opening movement, set in a gently flowing 6/8 time, is awash in pastoral sunshine. Following the slow-fast-slow-fast structure of the “church” sonata (sonata da chiesa), the second movement is a joyful Allegro in 3/4 time, filled with glittering running lines. The third movement (Andante un poco) moves to F-sharp minor with another, more intimate, canonic dialogue between the violin and harpsichord. The final movement (Presto), built on the ultimate infectious, whistleable melody, brings the Sonata to a close with a cheerful three-part fugal dialogue. Notice the passages in which the violin joyfully enters with the theme a beat later than expected, to form another canon (12:05).

Bach wrote the Six Sonatas for violin and harpsichord between 1717 and 1723 while he was employed as Kapellmeister in Köthen. Produced by the Netherlands Bach Society, this performance from December 6, 2021 features the Croatian violinist Bojan Čičić with the British harpsichordist, Steven Devine:

Featured Image: the title page of Bach’s Six Sonatas for Violin and Harpsichord. 

About Timothy Judd

A native of Upstate New York, Timothy Judd has been a member of the Richmond Symphony violin section since 2001. He is a graduate of the Eastman School of Music where he earned the degrees Bachelor of Music and Master of Music, studying with world renowned Ukrainian-American violinist Oleh Krysa.

The son of public school music educators, Timothy Judd began violin lessons at the age of four through Eastman’s Community Education Division. He was a student of Anastasia Jempelis, one of the earliest champions of the Suzuki method in the United States.

A passionate teacher, Mr. Judd has maintained a private violin studio in the Richmond area since 2002 and has been active coaching chamber music and numerous youth orchestra sectionals.

In his free time, Timothy Judd enjoys working out with Richmond’s popular SEAL Team Physical Training program.

1 thought on “Bach’s Sonata No. 2 in A Major for Violin and Harpsichord, BWV 1015: Canons of Joy”

  1. Sublime. If I were to choose one human being in all of history to worship or hold in the deepest spiritual esteem as having come closest to the Divine, it would be J. S. Bach. More than anyone, IMO, Bach’s works consistently inhabit the transcendent. Others too yes, but just imagine his muses! Imagine how he embodied music, its inner geometry and temporality, how he must have heard it in his mind’s ear to have produced such a massive oeuvre of celestial gems.


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