Rarely has this music been played so naturally and with seeming effortlessness, with such a commanding knowledge of both formal proportions and idiomatic character. John Holloway, one of the most distinguished baroque violinists of our time, has researched and practiced these works for forty years. Specializing in the repertoire from the baroque period (1600-1750) he perceives Bach in the context of his predecessors and contemporaries - such as composers like Schmelzer, Biber, Veracini (whose works he has presented in highly praised recordings in recent years) rather than in the perspective of romantic and modern violin literature.
Holloway’s approach helps to highlight the extraordinary qualities of Bach’s three sonatas and three partitas. “Obviously composers like Vilsmayr, Biber, Westhoff and Pisendel had written remarkable compositions for unaccompanied violin before Bach”, says Holloway, “but nothing really prepares us for this kind of perfection. If we refer to Bach’s solo violin compositions as the Everest of violin literature we have to be aware that this mountain rises with an almost shocking abruptness above the plain. One is faced with an unprecedented combination of both musical quality, technical challenge, and intellectual range.”
Historically informed performance practice for Holloway translates as: “The more you know, the more you understand.” Holloway is convinced that every note, every detail of articulation and every slur must have been put down by a well-versed and actively practising violinist and he therefore concludes that Bach was likely a far better violinist than has commonly been thought. “Everything Bach writes is playable, and things that, in the course of the performance history, have constantly been dismissed as merely speculative and therefore completely unviolinistic in fact prove to be conceived with the instrument in hands. Many details are even very original technically.” Holloway has suggested that Bach may even have had in mind a kind of violin manual, “a ‘Geige-Übung’ for himself which, as well as establishing the limits of what he might expect from himself and other violinists in the future, perhaps also helped with his thinking about the great ‘Clavier Übung’ to come.”
“What is Bach teaching me?” is Holloway’s pre-eminent question to himself when working on the music. In his view didactic purposes can be seen not only from the astonishing variety of forms and compositional characters or from the way Bach focuses on one particular aspect in every movement. It’s the almost complete coverage of technical problems that stresses the methodical layout of the group of works. Except for the staccato, every known bowing and any conceivable way of string crossings are asked for, and of course there are multi-stopped chords in all different constellations. Understanding these aspects of course doesn’t imply that Bach’s Sonatas and Partitas should be considered mere studies; Holloway rather understands the supposedly just “technical” specifics as crucial information on the works’ idiomatic character. Consequently he strictly plays from Bach’s autograph score respecting all the written slurs – an unusual choice in the performance history of Bach’s unaccompanied violin works. “All these technical details – however uncomfortable they might seem at first sight – provide us with essential advice on the pronunciation of the text. The slurs and written bowings tell us a lot about the right dynamics and adequate tempi which of course are a central prerequisite of any convincing interpretation.”
The graphic image of the famous autograph of the “Sei solo” for Holloway is a source of inspiration in itself. “This calligraphic handwriting looks so lively, so incredibly confident and full of verve, but at the same time it’s very subtle and filigree, almost like a Fabergé egg. All this has to come together in the interpretation: beauty and precision, a personal statement and universal meaning.”
John Holloway, born 1948, is one of the pioneers in the field of baroque music and his extensive work as leader of the London Classical Players and his years as featured soloist with the Academy of Ancient Music, the Taverner Consort and the Freiburger Barockorchester established him as a major voice. His recording of Biber’s Mystery Sonatas won a Gramophone award in 1991 and Holloway’s ECM recordings of works by Biber, Schmelzer and Muffat and Veracini garnered unanimous critical acclaim. John Holloway has spent quite a bit of time as Guest Professor at the Early Music Institute at Indiana University in Bloomington as well as Music Director of the Indianapolis Baroque Orchestra (2000-2004) and Music Director of New Trinity Baroque in Atlanta (2005-2006). Holloway is professor for violin and chamber music at the Hochschule Carl Maria von Weber in Dresden.
For more details, please see: www.johnholloway.org