Hilary Hahn plays Bach: Violin Sonatas Nos. 1 & 2; Partita No. 1

Hilary Hahn plays Bach: Violin Sonatas Nos. 1 & 2; Partita No. 1

“Bach is really grounding—I’ve played it almost every day for my entire life.” The music of J.S. Bach has sat at the center of Hilary Hahn’s repertoire ever since she daringly recorded three of the six solo works for her debut album in 1997. “Bach is really grounding—I’ve played it almost every day for my entire life as a violinist,” she tells Apple Music Classical. In this album, released over 20 years later, Hahn returned to complete the ‘set’: Sonatas Nos. 1 and 2 plus Partita No. 1, all with an undimmed intellectual and emotional fascination for this music. “I get to tell multiple stories within the music,” she says of Bach’s work. “The way it’s written is very organic and very complex. It communicates really expressively from the player to the audience.” Comparing Hahn’s two Bach recordings, her playing in this later album has a noticeably greater refinement and insight; the tone is tauter, and Bach’s melodic lines are drawn into sharper focus. Here, Hilary Hahn shares her compelling insights into this music and sheds a fascinating light on her interpretations. Sonata No. 1 in G Minor: I. Adagio “Bach wrote a set of six sonatas and partitas for solo violin which is so important for the instrument and for all violin players. This is the launch of all of it. It’s in this beautiful key of G minor—the Adagio is slow: you sink into it as a listener, you sink into it as a player and the first phrase is almost like an exhale. When it pauses, you take a breath, and then you’re on this beautiful journey through the instrument and through expression.” Sonata No. 1 in G Minor: II. Fuga. Allegro “Bach specialized in fugues among other things—the fugue is a really interesting format, and it’s a great way of building excitement for a listener and a player. Here, the theme starts at the beginning by itself and it builds; by the end of this movement, it’s so dramatic and, at the same time, so flowy, that you feel like the breath has been sucked out of you, and you’ve arrived at the top of a mountain.” Sonata No. 1 in G Minor: III. Siciliana “The Siciliana is a lilting lullaby of a movement but, for me, it has a lot of history—this is the first piece of solo Bach that I ever learned, and I remember trying to play it as such a young student. Now that I’m a professional violinist and I’ve been playing this piece for decades, I have a different feeling about it. It’s really interesting to see over time how your relationship to a piece changes.” Sonata No. 1 in G Minor: IV. Presto “Just as you’re in a peaceful mood from the end of the Siciliana, the Presto hits. It just cascades, it dances, it flies, and it’s the perfect ending to this Sonata because it really draws in a sort of fury. It draws the G minor resonance out of the violin, spins it and sends it out into the atmosphere.” Partita No. 1 in B Minor: I. Allemande “The first movement of the Partita is the Allemande, which is a slow dance. When I’m playing this, I like to sort of step around a little bit and move my body with the beats.” Partita No. 1 in B Minor: II. Double “Each dance is followed by a movement called ‘Double,’ a separate movement that follows on from the previous movement. Here, I chose to do a sort of echo of the emotion of the Allemande.” Partita No. 1 in B Minor: III. Courante “The courante was a French dance that was performed in court settings—it was a dance for couples with a lot of running steps with advances and retreats, and I think you can really hear that. You can hear that sense of motion, a sense of suspense—and the notes flow up and down the instrument in a very particular way as well.” Partita No. 1 in B Minor: IV. Double. Presto “I love that in the Double for the Courante, Bach takes it up a notch and really ups the tempo. I love to base my tempo in the Courante on what I want to do with the Double, so I kind of reverse engineer my interpretation, and I play them back to back without pause—the way this Double amplifies the energy of the previous Courante is really fun to play with.” Partita No. 1 in B Minor: V. Sarabande “The Sarabande is a beautiful movement. I sometimes play it as an encore on its own. It’s really meant to speak directly to the audience and just express the lyrical side of life.” Partita No. 1 in B Minor: VI. Double “Once I’ve played the Sarabande, moving into the Double is a very natural transition. The pieces are meant to be separate, but they’re also mirror images of each other. When I perform the Double for the Sarabande, it’s a reflection and a meditation.” Partita No. 1 in B Minor: VII. Tempo di Bourrée “And now the tempo kicks up a notch. We have the very spirited Bourrée, which is so fun to play. I always imagine people stomping their feet and spinning around.” Partita No. 1 in B Minor: VIII. Double “The final movement of this eight-movement work is the Double for the Bourrée. You would expect it to go at breakneck speed because it’s the finale, but it has a feeling of looking back at the whole piece.” Sonata No. 2 in A Minor: I. Grave “For me, the A minor Sonata is like the stately elder of all of Bach’s works for solo violin. It has a dignity and a wisdom that is beautiful to play and calming to listen to. It’s reassuring. It also seems to tell a lot of stories about life and, as a listener, if you can sit back and let those stories come to you, it’s a really special experience. The Grave is a very similar start in mood to the First Sonata—throughout this entire movement, he plays with the voicing in such a way that the violin is constantly changing character.” Sonata No. 2 in A Minor: II. Fuga “This Fuga is slightly longer than the Fuga from the Sonata No. 1, and it really requires that the player trusts the music. Bach takes you on this exploration between gentle and aggressive, and you have to be able to play into those nuances. It’s a fantastic work in its mercurial brilliance.” Sonata No. 2 in A Minor: III. Andante “For me, the Andante is the most emotional of all of the solo works written for violin. I think of it as the heartbeat movement. The pulse of it is really profound when you’re playing it. I perform it at memorial services. I’ve played it at my grandparents’ funerals. I’ve played it at events dedicated to people who were extremely important to me. And whenever I play it, I carry all of that with me in every note—I get to revisit all of those people and all of those experiences.” Sonata No. 2 in A Minor: IV. Allegro “And now we clear the air and march off into an energetic finale to this album. The end of this album is halfway through the set of Bach’s solo sonatas and partitas, and it is such a definitive ending that’s really joyful.”

Sonata for Violin Solo No. 1 in G Minor, BWV 1001
Partita for Violin Solo No. 1 in B Minor, BWV 1002
Sonata for Violin Solo No. 2 in A Minor, BWV 1003

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