Johann Sebastian Bach: Sonata for violin and obbligato keyboard in A major (BWV 1015)

I. Dolce
II. Allegro assai
III. Andante un poco
IV. Presto

Prior to J. S. Bach, the harpsichord in ensemble music was primarily a means of harmonic support. The harpsichordist would read from a figured bass—in other words, the part was rarely written out in full. Bach raised the level importance of the harpsichord to be equal to the other instruments: playing a melodic and contrapuntal role.

This sonata comes from a set of six sonatas thought to have been completed around 1725. His son, Carl Philipp Emanuel wrote in 1774:

The 6 Clavier Trios [BWV 1014-1019] are among the best works of my dear departed father. They still sound excellent and give me much joy, although they date back more than fifty years. They contain some Adagii that could not be written in a more singable manner today.

Bach, a master of harmony and counterpoint, would not settle for imperfect sounds, no matter where he was. Johann Reichardt recalled:

Johann Sebastian Bach once came into a large company while a musical amateur was sitting and improvising at a harpsichord. The moment the latter became aware of the presence of the great master, he sprang up and left off with a dissonant chord. Bach, who heard it, was so offended by this musical unpleasantness that he passed right by his host, who was coming to meet him,
rushed to the harpsichord, resolved the dissonant chord, and made an appropriate cadence. Only then did he approach the host and make him his bow of greeting.

© Greg Smith, 2009