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Johann Sebastian Bach

Johann Sebastian Bach (arr. Michael Votta, Jr.)

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Subtitle: From Partita No. 2 in D minor, BWV 1004

General Info

Year: 1720 / 2021
Duration: c. 13:10
Difficulty: (see Ratings for explanation)
Original Medium: Solo violin
Publisher: Manuscript
Cost: Score and Parts - $250.00. Contact Michael Votta Jr.


Full Score
C Piccolo
Flute I-II
Alto Flute
Oboe I-II
English Horn
Bassoon I-II
B-flat Soprano Clarinet I-II-III
B-flat Bass Clarinet
B-flat Contrabass Clarinet
B-flat Soprano Saxophone
E-flat Alto Saxophone
B-flat Tenor Saxophone
E-flat Baritone Saxophone
B-flat Piccolo Trumpet
C Trumpet I-II
Horn in F I-II-III-IV
Trombone I-II
Bass Trombone
Percussion, including:

  • Glockenspiel
  • Marimba
  • Triangle
  • Vibraphone


None discovered thus far.

Program Notes

Es muβ alles mӧglich zu machen sein (everything must be possible) is a phrase that Bach is said to have used often. It is an apt description of this fifth and final movement of the D minor Partita for unaccompanied violin. Its 256 measures and duration of 13 minutes make it longer than the other four movements of the D minor Partita combined, and its monumental complexity and depth are simultaneously inspiring and daunting.

No less a figure than Johannes Brahms was in awe of the work. In a letter to Clara Schumann he wrote:

On one stave, for a small instrument, the man writes a whole world of the deepest thought and most powerful feeling. 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. If one doesn’t have the greatest violinist around, then it is well the most beautiful pleasure to simply listen to its sound in one’s mind.

The Ciaconna (Bach used the Italian form of the title, rather than the French “Chaconne”) is a work born out of death and drama. In 1720, Bach accompanied his employer, Prince Leopold, on a two-month journey. Upon his return, he was devastated to learn that his wife --who had been in good health when he departed -- had died and was already buried. Some scholars believe that Bach poured his grief into this work, which became the capstone movement for the mostly-completed D minor Partita.

The Ciaccona is also one of the most arranged works in the history of music. In the century following its first publication, the chaconne was performed in a vast array of arrangements and transcriptions, including four versions by Ferruccio Busoni (from 1892, 1902, 1907 and 1916) and one by Johannes Brahms for solo piano. Busoni also commented on the number and variety of orchestral transcriptions of the chaconne performed during the early part of the twentieth century. Among this cornucopia of arrangements there are at least four other versions for wind ensemble made by David Whitwell, Yasuhide Ito, Larry Daehn and Paul Struck.

So. Why one more?

In 1802, Johann Forkel argued that perhaps no arrangements should be made: “[The] … six solos for the violin and six others for the violoncello … absolutely admit of no second singable part set to them. By particular turns in the melody, he has so combined in a single part all the notes required to make the modulation complete as a second part is neither necessary nor possible.”

But on the other hand, this music invites -- or demands -- interpretation.

As a work to be performed by one violin, much of the complexity of this music is, by necessity, presented by implication. Bach subtly suggests possible contrapuntal lines; hints at a nascent figure here or there; alludes to intriguing harmonic progressions…

The experience of the work, therefore, becomes one in which each interpreter finds a unique path through the piece built on the paving-stones of personal musical experiences, memories and imaginings -- a kind of “musical Rorschach inkblot test” that allows each of us to see into ourselves as we seek structure and meaning. Bach, as it were, invites both performers and listeners to “complete the picture” using their personal boxes of musical crayons.

It is this aspect of the piece that fascinates a potential arranger.

By fleshing out these possibilities, an arrangement takes away some of the constructive ambiguity of Bach’s original -- therefore limiting the opportunities for a listener to “interpret” -- but as Schweitzer has said about Bach’s musical era, “This epoch could not resign itself to regarding mere performers of other men’s work as artists.” And so one is drawn to recreate, reinterpret and reimagine yet again. This arrangement suggests one pathway through the work. May it stimulate you to find your own.

Philosophy of the arrangement

To me, the violin is tactile, variable and fluid -- an instrument in which all aspects of music are infinitely variable (often to the frustration of violinists!). Stephen Nachmanovitch aptly describes it as “a ruthlessly honest seismograph of the soul.” Wind instruments, by contrast, tend to be more definite, fixed and concrete. The challenge in good wind playing is to emulate the fluidity and plasticity of stringed instruments -- and by extension, the challenge of wind ensembles is to emulate the fluidity and flexibility of the orchestra.

How, therefore, can one connect wind instruments to a work that is the epitome of a work for strings? Perhaps by looking into the career of Bach himself. The noted musicologist Peter Williams has made a persuasive case that Bach’s “magnum opus” for organ, the Toccata and Fugue in D minor, was most likely originally composed for solo violin and later arranged for organ.

What if Bach had done the same with the Ciaccona? The organ, after all, is a wind instrument -- and Bach was a virtuoso organist. Might he have translated this violin work for organ and added an extempore elaboration or two?

Beyond this, the Ciaccona is essentially a solo work, and therein lies its inherent drama. There is a heroic quality about one person, holding a modestly sized instrument confronting a work of such monumental proportion and complexity. There is an element of risk -- and of courage --that is embodied in any performance of the original.

In setting the work for a large ensemble, much of the risk can be mitigated. Difficult passages for one player become much easier when shared among many. Creating a variety of textures and timbres is much easier with a large instrumental ensemble than with solo violin. I felt, however, it was vital that some of the inherent risk, danger and drama of the original find its way into the arrangement. They are as much a part of the fabric of this work as the notes.

Finally, this arrangement pays tribute to two predecessors. Ferruccio Busoni, mentioned above, made a life-long project of perfecting an arrangement of the chaconne for solo piano. Busoni also confronted the notion of transcriptions head-on: “Every notation is in itself the transcription of an abstract idea. The instant the pen seizes it, the idea loses its original form … a transcription does not destroy the archetype, which is, therefore, not lost through transcription … a performance of a work is also a transcription, and still, whatever liberties it may take, it can never annihilate the original.” Busoni’s piano arrangement is inspired, brilliant and audacious; I have incorporated a few of its features into this version.

And my thinking about setting Bach for wind band -- like so many of my musical ideas -- has been inspired by my teacher, Donald Hunsberger. This arrangement is dedicated to him.

- Program Note by Michael Votta, Jr.


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State Ratings

None discovered thus far.


To submit a performance please join The Wind Repertory Project

  • University of Maryland (College Park) Wind Orchestra (Michael Votta, conductor) - 13 November 2021 *Premiere Performance*

Works for Winds by This Composer

Adaptable Music

All Wind Works


  • University of Maryland Wind Orchestra concert program, 13 November 2021