Pieter-Jan Belder's new arrangement of Bach's Ciaccona

I hope this is acceptable!
J S Bach: Ciaccona (Partita for solo violin (BWV 1004) arr. for harpsichord solo.

A new version by harpsichordist Pieter-Jan Belder.

To get a 20% discount on this and any other of our books, use the code MIDWINTER on checkout.

About the Ciaccona:

Yehudi Menuhin described the Ciaccona from the D minor violin partita (BWV 1004) as ‘the greatest structure for solo violin that exists’. His praise is amplified in the numerous keyboard versions that have come down to us. These include arrangements for solo piano by Johannes Brahms, Robert Schumann and Ferruccio Busoni, and other versions have appeared for one hand, piano duet and, more recently, for four hands and feet at the same organ (Lyrebird Music, LBMP–038). Remarkably, few versions have been published for the harpsichord, which Pieter-Jan Belder addresses in this astonishing arrangement, which he first recorded on his CD Basso Ostinato: Passacaglias and Chaconnes (Brilliant Classics 95656). Belder’s version is here provided twice, allowing performers to use basso continuo or fully realised passages for the chaconne’s highly rhetorical arpeggiated sections.

Pieter-Jan Belder is no stranger to early music lovers, having released many CDs, including the complete Fitzwilliam Virginal Book, the complete keyboard music of William Byrd, Scarlatti and numerous other critically acclaimed releases.

We are proud to have collaborated with him on this project. The music is available in hardback, with a wire-bound cover or as a digital download.

You may view the score with Pieter-Jan’s stunning playing below or by visiting the Lyrebird Music website.


Le 13/02/2024 11:51, Jon Baxendale via The Jackrail écrit :

February 13

I hope this is acceptable!
J S Bach: /Ciaccona/ (Partita for solo violin (BWV 1004) arr. for
harpsichord solo.

A new version by harpsichordist Pieter-Jan Belder.

What are the requirements, harpsichord-wise (range, number of manuals)
to play this? And stretch-wise?

Click on the youtube link above…


[There’s something wrong with Mr Baxendale’s website at the moment, by the way, at least from over here in Australia.]

It works OK in Ireland, and so does the utube link to Pieter-Jan Belder’s playing which sounds great!

Youtube is fine - its a totally separate site. Was not referring to that.

Why is it in A minor?

Wasn’t that a standard interval Bach used for such transcriptions? @CDV will know.

A very good question. Leonhardt’s transcription is in G minor. The original is the very essence of D minor, as is the famous organ Toccata.


Le 14/02/2024 08:24, David Pickett via The Jackrail écrit :

Why is it in A minor?

A very good question. Leonhardt’s transcription is in G minor. The
original is the very essence of D minor, as is the famous organ Toccata.

The real question is why transpose it at all? There are at least two
good reasons not to: 1) As everyone knows, in unequal temperament, each
key has its own color and character, which are altered by transposition.
2) In the case of such a well-known piece that everyone has in the ear
(perhaps even as a worm, for the section in D major), and so typical of
its key, as David points out, one needs a certain time to adapt when
hearing it in the “wrong” key. It is rather ironic that the famous
versions by Brahms, Schumann, Mendelssohn, Busoni, etc. are all in D
minor and thus show more respect for the original in this regard than
these transposed HI versions for harpsichord. Lars Ulrik Mortensen also
published a version in A minor. One of its main other features is that
the Arpeggio sections are not written out ;-(

(I’m aware, of course, of the 18th-century transpositions of some other
of the violin pieces.)

@Pjbelder could you comment?

A very good question which hopefully will get a very good response, as Pieter-Jan Belder is a member of the Jackrail, so I hope he is willing to chime in. @Pjbelder

By the way, gorgeous playing in the video.

I have a question on the violin ciaccona transcriptions. My understanding is a big part of its charm is in the way violin can only hint to harmony and multiple voices, without being capable of fully express them, though the listener’s brain can often “fill-in” the missing harmonies and voices. If we play it on an instrument capable of full voice-leading, we express fully what was only intended as a hinting, our brain doesn’t do the intellectually-satisfying work of filling-in and as a result a big part of the mistery is taken away. Yes, any trascription must lose something and hopefully can add something else, but I feel for the Ciaccona the net balance is a bit a loss.

Now, my reasoning must be flawed, as the wikipedia page states there are about 200 transcriptions of the Ciaccona, so it’s clear I am wrong (Partita for Violin No. 2 (Bach) - Wikipedia. But where exactly is the flaw?

Except that violins are not tempered…

I dont regard it as a question of temperament colour, but simply of pitch level.

But a precedent for a keyboard transcription of the chaconne being in A minor is the organ transcription of the fugue from the first Violin Sonata. The violin version is in G minor, whereas the organ version (S. 539) is in D minor.

There are other examples of transpositions of works by JSB made by the composer for keyboard, but I cant bring them all to mind. No doubt somebody has written a learned treatise on this!


Andro states that “violins are not tempered”, but David Boyden’s History of violin playing says that string players in the 18th century were accustomed to tuning their open strings to the keyboard. I’m sorry I can’t be more specific, because I don’t have access to the book now.


For a solo piece? I’m having difficulty with that idea.

There are a number of factors that go into making a transcription, and numerous examples of Bach transposing when arranging music for keyboard. The most famous examples are the various Bach harpsichord concertos that were arranged from other instrumental concerti. Bach regularly goes up to a high e3 in his violin music. The harpsichords he had didn’t go above d3. So in the cases of the 3 violin concerti that come down to us, in every case, Bach’s keyboard arrangement of the same piece transposes it down a whole step to make the highest note in the harpsichord part d3. Thus the E Major Violin Concerto BWV 1042 becomes the D Major Harpsichord Concerto BWV 1054. (The others: A minor to G minor, and in the case of the double violin concerto, D minor to C minor.)

The Chaconne goes up to f3. In typical Bach thinking, he would have to transpose it down to (at least) B minor to be able to fit all the notes on his harpsichord. But Bach didn’t only do whole step transpositions.

There are even more extreme transpositions, for example the Violin Fugue from his Solo Sonata 1 BWV 1001 which is in G minor. His version of the same piece in his Prelude and Fugue for Organ is in D minor, a difference of a fourth!

So although I agree that change of key can have some effect on the affect of a piece, Bach transposed pieces numerous times in his career. And usually for practical reasons, which doesn’t surprise me in the least with this great composer!

It will be interesting if Pieter-Jan Belder lets us know why he chose A minor for his transcription, but it sounds terrific, nonetheless!

For example the double violin concerto BWV 1043, in d minor, transcribed as double harpsichord concerto BWV 1062, in c minor. I wonder if he transposed for reasons of range of the harpsichords or for reasons of temperament, or maybe other reasons?

If violins really were regularly tuned to harpsichords in the 18th century rather than in pure 5ths, it would give me a new explanation why Leopold Mozart disliked playing on open strings, something I heard somewhere and wondered about.
And if violinists really were habituated to paying with tempered tuning I suppose they might also have played this way in solo pieces.
There are a lot of “ifs” here though, for what may just have been an exceptional practice. Also, if 18th-c. violins could be tempered, when did this practice stop again, or is it sometimes followed nowadays in HI performances as well as for practical reasons? (I have had string players who didn’t like my harpsichord tuning but did not adapt theirs to it.) I am asking this from a position of genuine naive ignorance, as a non-violinist.

Here is my statistics.
AFAIK J.S. Bach did not have a transposition standard for transcriptions.

I know 17 transcriptions by J.S. Bach.
These are the ones where I know the original tonality.

BWV592 in G major from Johann Ernst von Sachsen … in G major
BWV593 in a minor from Vivaldi’s Op.3 No.8 in a minor
BWV594 in C major from Vivaldi’s RV208 in D major
BWV596 in d minor from Vivaldi’s Op.3 No.11 in d minor
BWV539 Fugue in d minor from his solo violin piece in g minor

BWV972 in D major from Vivaldi’s Op.3 No.9 in D major
BWV975 in g minor from Vivaldi’s Op.4 No.6 in g minor
BWV976 in C major from Vivaldi’s Op.3 No.12 in E major
BWV978 in F major from Vivaldi’s Op.3 No.3 in G major
BWV980 in F major from Vivaldi’s Op.4 No.1 in B flat major
BWV1065 for 4 harpsichords in a minor from Vivaldi’s OP.3 No.10 in b minor

In the above list, in most cases Bach kept the original tonality!
In three of them he transposed a whole tone down:
BWV594 from D major to C major
BWV978 from G major to F major
BWV1065 from b minor to a minor

In one he transposed a major third down:
BWV976 from E major to C major

In one he transposed a fifth down:
BWV539 from g minor to d minor

Surely, as other fellow Jackrail members have pointed out, many factors contributed: I find most likely a better fit to the keyboard range and also playing technique.