Michelle Makarski / Keith Jarrett - Johann Sebastian Bach | Six Sonatas for Violin and Piano | ECM 2230/31



Johann Sebastian Bach began work on his Six Sonatas for Violin and Harpsichord (BWV 1014-19) while at the courts of Weimar and Köthen and returned to the compositions over several decades, revising and polishing until the years before his death. C.P.E. Bach would later pronounce the pieces “among the best works of my dear father.” Prefiguring the classic duo sonata, violin and keyboard meet on equal terms in this music, and both are challenged by Bach’s compositional demands. The group of sonatas was conceived as a set – six sonatas in six keys, three major and three minor. Bach’s first biographer Forkel wrote that the six sonatas “may be reckoned among Bach’s masterpieces in this genre. They are fugued throughout, and even contain characterful natural canons in dialogue between the two instruments. A master is required to play the violin part, for Bach knew the possibilities of that instrument and spared it as little as he did the harpsichord.”

As Makarski has noted, the approach here was the opposite of ‘casual’. “Think of it as the musical equivalent of a time-lapse exposure,” Makarski suggests, “with the camera focused on a process in Nature; planets moving, wrinkles appearing, trees leafing. You don't need to decide anything; you just watch. In our case, we just listened.”

One thinks here also of Jarrett’s early statement when recording Book 1 of Das Wohltemperierte Klavier: “This music does not need my assistance.” The intention, then as now: not to inflict interpretive ‘personality’ on the work. “It’s nutritious because it’s not me,“ Jarrett says. “I’m just throwing myself to the other guy, and asking him ‘Show me something I still don’t know about music’.”


Through the years, Makarski and Jarrett have remained in contact. They first played the Bach sonatas together at Christmas 2008, and returning to the music became a theme of their weekend meetings over the next two years. “Every time she visited we played it again.” Jarrett tells Ethan Iverson in the September 2013 issue of Down Beat.