Ethan Hein - Teaching Myself the Bach Chaconne with Ableton Live

Ethan Hein - Teaching Myself the Bach Chaconne with Ableton Live:

Gorgeous though the chaconne is, my enjoyment has been hampered by my inability to figure out the rhythm. All classical performers insist on doing extremely expressive (that is, loose) timekeeping. I don’t have the sarabande rhythm internalized well enough to be able to track it through everybody’s gooey rubato. Bach’s rhythms are complicated enough to begin with. He loves to start and end phrases in weird spots in the bar–the very first note of the piece is on beat two. So I needed some help finding the beat. A chaconne is supposed to be a dance, right? Bach wrote those note values the way he wrote them for a reason. Did he really want performers to assign any length they felt like assigning them? My gut tells me that he didn’t. I suspect that he probably played his own music in tempo, maybe with some phrasing and ornamentation but still with a clearly recognizable beat. I imagine him gritting his teeth at the rubato that modern performers use. Maybe that’s just me projecting my own preferences, but this sense comes from listening to a lot of Bach and performing some too.

So, I wanted to hear someone play the chaconne in tempo, just to hear how it works. And since no one seems to play it that way, I finally went and got the MIDI from Dave’s JS Bach MIDI page and put it into Ableton Live. I added a bunch of triple meter Afro-Cuban drum patterns to help me feel the beat, and had them enter and exit wherever I heard a natural section boundary in the music.

My personal favorite way to enjoy this piece is by performing it on vibraphone, but this is cool too. :)