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Bach Chaconne: Performance & Reflection

Stephen Tavani, Assistant Concertmaster, Cleveland Orchestra

I recorded Johann Sebastian Bach's "Chaconne" for solo violin for the Good Friday service at my church.

This is a piece of music which has been a kind of Mount Everest for me personally, which I had started multiple times and never finished; never performed: too intimidating. After 20 years of playing the violin, I figured it was time to climb the mountain. I have been spending many hours exploring the piece over the past few weeks during the pandemic, which has helped me keep sane.

I often feel in playing weekly with the Cleveland Orchestra like I am a tourist walking through some grand museum, passing masterpiece after masterpiece, but I am being constantly pushed along by the crowds, with only moments to enjoy and appreciate each one (we typically have 4 rehearsals per week then performances, then completely different repertoire starting the next week). I am thankful to be able to experience each one, but wish I could have more time to do so.

I have not felt like that the past few weeks. It is as if I have been painted as some minor character in the Sistine Chapel, and can walk around and explore each and every scene, meeting each character, and getting to know them. It is truly a blessing to have great music like this to explore, and I am looking forward to keep exploring it.

This piece by Bach captures so many different experiences and emotions, and I think it is appropriate for Good Friday, as it captures so much Sorrow. However there is much Hope in it as well, looking forward to Easter morning. The piece itself is in three main sections: Minor, Major, and Minor again. I once heard someone comment that this trinity of structure reflects the Trinity of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (Bach, being a devout Christian, certainly knew the significance implied). I have always felt this was a good framework for experiencing the piece: three distinct sections, yet one cohesive whole. Three distinct Persons, yet One God.

Today as we consider and lament what is happening in the world right now, also consider Good Friday. The cross of Christ is filled with infinite sorrow and lamenting, yet filled with hope.

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