The Bach Chaconne
Free Download

The fifth and final movement of J. S. Bach's Partita No. II in Dm [BWV 1004], the Chaconne, is often played alone as its own entity. Although it was written for a solo violin, many other instrumentalists have endeavored to play this piece. I wanted to play it on the electric guitar. There were some immediate concerns:

  • Classical guitarists play it one octave lower, due to the range of the instrument. I wanted to hear it in its original register, therefore I would need 27 frets to accommodate the whole piece. (Or use some imagination to solve this puzzle, perhaps ghost bends or harmonics for the high notes.)

  • The violin bow in Bach’s time was apparently able to play chords. Modern violin bows can only play two strings at a time, due to a straight bow being drawn across strings over a curved bridge. Therefore modern violinists play chords in various ways, usually breaking them into double stops or sweeping through the chord in an arpeggio fashion. We have no way of knowing how Bach would have played the chords himself. He wrote them as chords – and very well could have played them as chords. One could argue that since chords can be played on a guitar, that that is how I should play the chords in the Chaconne (i.e. not broken or swept), and in fact, it would be more accurate! Yet, I have grown to love the Chaconne the way modern violinists play it, so I find myself playing the chords the way they do. Especially the intro – it is so classic.

  • There are two sections where Bach writes out a chord line and specifies “arpeggio”. In the first section it appears as if he suggests a pattern. Most violinists start out playing this pattern, but they vary it throughout, using straight arpeggio patterns, double stops, tremolo, etc. Again, there is no way to know how Bach would feel about this. Since he was also a great improviser, perhaps he would welcome a performer’s individual interpretation.

  • Interpretation. This is a given and in fact we all know that every performer brings his or her unique essence to any written piece of music, even if they play it exactly as written. Others will add subtle dynamics and inflections, and some will even change notes! Busoni expands on the harmony for his piano version, and it has been said that Segovia referred to this for his guitar version. Even among modern violin versions, there are variations, especially in the arpeggio sections. As I learned the Chaconne, I listened to as many versions as I could find. Ultimately I knew that I would have to hear exactly what is on the paper as well (sans any instrumental idiosyncrasies), so I entered the whole thing into Power Tab, which I present here. There is no interpretation anywhere, except for (out of necessity) the arpeggio sections, which is as minimal as possible.

Chaconne Info Doc (29 kb) ==> Info  (right click, "save target as ...")

Bach Chaconne Power Tab Score (73 kb) ==> Power Tab  (right click, "save target as ...")

MP3 audio of Power Tab Score (12 MB) ==> Power Tab Audio  (right click, "save target as ...")

Above files for educational purposes only. Meant to present what is on the paper as much as is possible. Refer to as many interpretations as you can.

Free Power Tab Software ==>

Endearing book by a professional violinist that explores the Bach Chaconne in many different ways:
Violin Dreams by Arnold Steinhardt

More Detailed Notes:
  • The music is entered in as it appears in the score, therefore, no violin-isms will be heard. Chords will be heard as chords and not swept or "double stopped".

  • Extra notation is used here to accommodate Power Tab software, e.g., rests, ties, lower and upper melody. Therefore the manuscript will not appear exactly as the score, but all note and rest values are preserved.

  • The music is not lowered an octave as is the standard practice for transposing violin music to the guitar. Therefore the guitarist will need up to 27 frets, but only in a few instances - measures 86-87 and measures 158-159. I will leave it to the performer to solve these problems.

  • There are unisons in various parts of the score. I consider some of these optional on a guitar due to difficult fingering. These unisons probably employ an open string on the violin, which can not be used on the guitar in this register.

  • There are two sections in the score where JS Bach specifies a chord line to be played as arpeggios. Note that all recorded versions vary with the choices of a particular violinist. Variations include straight arpeggios, broken chords via double stops, tremolo, etc. In the first section I continue the rhythm pattern in measure 89 and apply it throughout, all the way to the apparent end, measure 120. In the second section (measures 201 - 208) I employ double stops à la most violinist interpretations. This is possibly due to the previous measure (200) ending with a chord that is commonly double-stopped, therefore, the pattern is continued.

  • There are also sets of variations within the piece. Many violinists will express this by using a rest or a fermata at the end of some sets. These are not in the score. The Power Tab will play the piece straight through without any such dynamics.

  • All performers add their own dynamics, and many are similar. There could be some basis in tradition, but also, the piece seems to suggest its own dynamics. Bach did not specify any.

  • The entire work employs an ostinato form, a four-measure phrase that repeats until the end with no interludes. This phrase is simply the tonic moving down to the dominant. That is [D C Bb A - one dotted half note per measure] in the D minor section, and then [D C# B A] in the D major section (which starts at measure 133), then returning to [D C Bb A] when the piece finishes in Dm (starting at measure 209). Of course, this phrase isn't always obvious but is the basic foundation for profound melody, harmony and rhythm.

  • I strongly encourage anyone that loves this piece to listen to as many versions as possible.

BT August 31, 2010

Post Script

I made every possible attempt to create an accurate Power Tab. It is possible that I could have made a mistake here or there, but I checked it all very thoroughly. Power Tab has a score checker that helped immensely. I also tried my best to get advice from classical violinists. It seems that the friendly ones hadn’t learned the Chaconne so they were not able to help. I did my own research as well to help understand the piece. All of the tablature is based on my conception of the electric guitar. I will post any revisions that I make. The current version will be uploaded and the file name will indicate the last update, e.g. "chaconne_draft810.ptb" ==> "draft810" means "August 2010 version".

Presenting the Bach Chaconne in guitar tablature will probably be considered a sacrilege by many musicians all over the world, in particular (I would expect) classical violinists. “Amateur guitarists will be botching this piece everywhere you go”, one might protest. The lady doth protest too much, methinks. When you play this piece simply remind the offended that it is in D minor, the saddest of all keys.

Chaconne Tablature Arrangement and Text © 2010 Bud Tristano

The Chaconne by J.S. Bach is in the public domain