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Rachel Barton Pine: Tiny Desk Concert

The music of Johann Sebastian Bach is essential, like air and water, for many classical musicians. Pianist András Schiff starts every day with Bach — sometimes before breakfast. "It's like taking care of your inner hygiene. There's something very pure about it," he says. Cellist Matt Haimovitz notes that he's been playing and thinking about the Bach Cello Suites for more than 30 years. He even plays them in bars.

Violinist Rachel Barton Pine began playing Bach in church at age 4. Ever since, she's been mastering and re-mastering Bach's set of six Sonatas and Partitas--more than two hours of solo violin music that looms like a proverbial Mount Everest for any serious fiddler. The trick is getting the details down. Bach left us with the notes but not much else. Pine recently analyzed every measure of these works, and prepared a new edition of the music with her own dynamic markings, phrasing indications, bowings and fingerings.

For this performance, Pine chose three contrasting movements from the set and plays them on her Guarneri del Gesu violin, which was built in 1742 — eight years before Bach died. She highlights the spirit of the dance in the "Tempo di Borea" (a Bourée from the First Partita). She unfolds a serene melody, just lightly accompanied, in the "Largo" (from the Third Sonata), and she closes with the intertwining "Fuga" (from the First Sonata), which sounds like three violinists in deep discussion.

Although the Sonatas and Partitas brim with technical demands, Pine says that every time she plays them, it's as if she's "conversing with the very best of friends."

Testament: Complete Sonatas & Partitas For Solo Violin By J.S. Bach is available now ( iTunes) ( Amazon).

Set List

  • J.S. Bach: "Tempo di Borea" (from Partita No. 1)
  • J.S. Bach: "Largo" (from Sonata No. 3)
  • J.S. Bach: "Fuga" (from Sonata No. 1)
  • Credits

    Producers: Tom Huizenga, Niki Walker; Audio Engineer: Josh Rogosin; Videographers: Niki Walker, Claire Hannah Collins; PA: Sophie Kemp; Photo: Claire Harbage/NPR.

    For more Tiny Desk concerts, subscribe to our podcast.

    Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

    Tom Huizenga
    Tom Huizenga is a producer for NPR Music. He contributes a wide range of stories about classical music to NPR's news programs and is the classical music reviewer for All Things Considered. He appears regularly on NPR Music podcasts and founded NPR's classical music blog Deceptive Cadence in 2010.