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Except for the ciaccona, the movements are dance types of the time, and they are frequently listed by their French names: Allemande, Courante, Sarabande, Gigue, and Chaconne. The final movement is written in the form of variations, and lasts approximately as long as the first four movements combined.
Performance time of the whole partita varies between 26 and 32 minutes, depending on the approach and style of the performer.
Professor Helga Thoene suggests that this partita, and especially its last movement, was a tombeau written in memory of Bach's first wife, Maria Barbara Bach (who died in 1720), though this theory is controversial.
Yehudi Menuhin called the Chaconne "the greatest structure for solo violin that exists".
Violinist Joshua Bell has said the Chaconne is "not just one of the greatest pieces of music ever written, but one of the greatest achievements of any man in history. It's a spiritually powerful piece, emotionally powerful, structurally perfect." He played the piece busking in L'Enfant Plaza for The Washington Post.
Johannes Brahms, in a letter to Clara Schumann in June 1877, said about the ciaccona:
On one stave, for a small instrument, the man writes a whole world of the deepest thoughts and most powerful feelings. 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.
In the preface to his 1955 transcription, John Cook writes: "The Chaconne is sublimely satisfying in its original form, yet many will agree that a single violin is only able to hint at the vast implications of much of this music ... It is perhaps not unreasonable to suppose that Bach would have chosen the organ, had he transcribed the Chaconne himself, as the instrument best suited to the scale of his ideas ... A good performance on the violin may be taken as the best guide to interpretation on the organ -- the two instruments are not without their points in common, and both were beloved of Bach."
The Chaconne is often performed on guitar. Marc Pincherle, Secretary of the French Society of Musicology in Paris, wrote in 1930: "If, insofar as certain rapid monodic passages are concerned, opinion is divided between the violin and the guitar as the better medium, the guitar always triumphs in polyphonic passages; that is to say almost throughout the entire work. The timbre of the guitar creates new and emotional resonance and unsuspected dynamic gradations in those passages which might have been created purely for the violin; as for instance the variations in arpeggi."
The most well-known transcription for guitar is the Segovia transcription. Many guitarists today prefer to play the Chaconne directly from the violin score.
There are a number of transcriptions of the Chaconne for orchestras of different sizes, including Leopold Stokowski's transcription for a full symphony orchestra.
In 2005 Joseph C. Mastroianni published Chaconne The Novel. Milo, abandoned by the father who introduced him to Chaconne, studies in Spain for four years to master the piece.
In 2008 Arnold Steinhardt, the violin soloist and first violinist of the Guarneri String Quartet, published Violin Dreams, a memoir about his life as a violinist and about his ultimate challenge: playing Bach's Chaconne.
Schumann, Clara, and Johannes Brahms. 1927. Letters of Clara Schumann and Johannes Brahms, 1853-1896, 2 vols., edited by Berthold Litzmann. Encore Music Editions. London: E. Arnold; New York: Longmans, Green and Co. Reprinted, Westport, CT: Hyperion Press, 1979. ISBN0883557614.
Silbiger, Alexander. 1999. "Bach and the Chaconne". The Journal of Musicology 17, no. 3 (Summer): 358-85.
Smith, William Ander. 1990. The Mystery of Leopold Stokowski. Rutherford, Madison, and Teaneck: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press; London and Toronto: Associated University Presses.
Thoene, Helga. 1994. "Johann Sebastian Bach. Ciaconna--Tanz oder Tombeau. Verborgene Sprache eines berühmten Werkes". In Festschrift zum Leopoldfest [15. Köthener Bachfesttage] , 14-81. Cöthener Bach-Hefte 6, Veröffentlichungen des Historischen Museums Köthen/Anhalt XIX. Köthen.
Thoene, Helga. 2003. "Verborgener Klang und verschlüsselte Sprache in den Werken für Violine solo von Johann Sebastian Bach". In AnsBACHwoche, Almanach: 25 Juli bis 3. August 2003, 22-35. Ansbach: Bachwoche Ansbach GmbH.