Cappella Mediteranea

Bach Before Bach

We thought it would be interesting to compare Bach’s early works (he was an excellent violinist himself) with the works of his precursors to observe this earlier universe and see how music evolved up until Bach. – Chouchane Siranossian

“With this recording, Chouchane Siranossian and Leonardo García Alarcón present one of the most lively and profound interpretations I have ever heard. In Siranossian’s expressive, playing, everything seems imbued with meaning. This collaboration with Balász Máté and Alarcón is delightful.”

Remy Franck

The violin according to Bach

In the first half of the 17th century, European composers were using instrumental music to experiment with sound and expression. They took inspiration from vocal rhetoric to create a new instrumental language that was characterised by increased virtuosity, invention, improvisation and a quest for unfamiliar and surprising sounds. Like the organ and harpsichord, the violin was the instrument of choice to experiment with these new techniques. It sparked the imaginations of seventeenth- and eighteenth-century Italian and German musicians like Farina, Schmelzer, Mealli, Buxtehude, Biber, Pisendel and Bach. Violinist Chouchane Siranossian and harpsichordist Leonardo García Alarcón, both of whom have recorded with Alpha Classics, have chosen to explore this repertoire, which notably includes Bach’s BWV 1019, 1021 and 1023 sonatas.

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You both play a wide range of repertoire that goes up to the 21st century. What made you decide to return to the violin’s roots?
Chouchane Siranossia: We tend to forget about the violin repertoire that existed prior to Johann Sebastian Bach’s Sonatas and Partitas. Yet many other composers came before Bach, including his own family, which was made up of several renowned musicians who had a great influence on him. Johann Paul von Westhoff and Johann Georg Pisendel’s Sonatas for solo violin by, for example, foreshadow the arrival of the Sonatas and Partitas with polyphonic writing that was typical of the German violin school. […]

Vocal repertoire underwent significant development in the 17th century and before. Did it have an influence on this new, purely instrumental repertoire?
Leonardo García Alarcón: I see an obvious link between Monteverdi and Bach in this interplay of influences that Chouchane mentions. Farina came from Mantua and may well have witnessed the premiere of L’Orfeo or the Vespero as a child. Monteverdi was the first person in the history of music to give the violin such a prominent place. To him, the violin was the only instrument that could express all human emotions and in particular, anger. As soon as the first public theatre was created in Venice in 1637, the violin became the instrument of choice to express the most intense emotions. The viola da gamba was relegated to the sidelines, as it maintained its role as an intimate, courtly instrument. Farina also composed one of the first descriptive scores, Capriccio stravagante, which ultimately culminated in Vivaldi’s Four Seasons. Capriccio stravagante confirms what Monteverdi said: the violin is Apollo’s new lyre, and for this lyre to be truly a lyre, it must be polyphonic. It was the Germans and Austrians who first developed this multi-part writing for the violin. Bach mastered this style at a very early age, beginning with the sonatas for violin and continuo BWV 1021 and 1023, which we have recorded here. In them, he pays tribute to all the inventions of the 17th century and opens the door to the 18th century. We are also presenting his very complex fugue in G minor BWV 1026, the only one written for violin and continuo. All these works are masterpieces of instrumental music, yet they are not that far removed from vocal music. You can hear text, the breathing between phrases, the consonants and vowels. During Bach’s time, vocal music was omnipresent in the minds of composers.

Extracts – Interviewed on 22 March 2021 by Claire Boisteau


Released by Alpha Classics on 5 November 2021


Johann-Sebastian Bach – Violin Sonata in G major BWV 1021
Carlo Farina – Sonata Quinta detta la Farina
Johann Gottfried Walther – Passagagli, from sonata n°6
Johann Sebastian Bach – Adagio, from Violin Sonata in C minor BWV 1024
Johann Sebastian Bach – Fugue, from Violin Sonata in G minor BWV 1026
Georg Muffat – Sonata in D major
Johann Sebastian Bach – Violin Sonata in E minor BWV 1023
Johann Paul von Westhoff – Sonata III, Imitazione delle campane
Andreas Anton Schmelzer – Victori der Christen

Chouchane Sinarossian, Bach before Bach, Cappella Mediterranea