This is a question about a short part in Bach's Partita for Violin (BWV 1004) as played and interpreted by several different artists/instruments,

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which can be heard at 19:56 on this Youtube upload.

In the nicely played violin on that version the sequence beginning with the C sharp (second measure in the image above) is played (I think) as written, without pause or lengthening of notes.

In Segovia's (guitar) version at about 3:54 the C sharp is held for more or less an additional beat. He's entitled to whatever license he took but the timing for the part that follows is not easily parsed for someone unfamiliar with the original. I have read complaints to this effect in comments but can't find them at the moment. It was a question-mark in my own thinking until I troubled to look up the original.

This is a masterful version by J. Feeley on Youtube which tracks Segovia's timing at 3:36. Here is a nice harpsichord version which also gives more or less two beats to the C sharp at 4:13.

By contrast, here is Itzhaq Perlman, who plays it exactly as written at 4:19.

My question is whether, in light of potential and in my case actual confusion about the timing of the runs, the arguably slight alteration of timing is not too much?

There is no scientific answer to this question but I'd be interested in what experienced musicians have to say about it. Any edits to clarify the question welcome.

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    The string player and keyboard player traditions of interpreting (solo) Bach have diverged substantially - principally because violinists can use dynamics (both between notes and within a note) and harpsichordists rely solely on timing and articulation. I tend to think all string players play Bach wrong, and I'm sure the string players think the same about all keyboard players. – Alexander Woo Sep 17 '18 at 20:04

When you are playing this on a violin, you'll arrive in third position and the C♯ itself will be in second position. The note preceding it will be on the E string, the note following it will be on the E string, and the C♯ itself will be on the A string. This gives it an isolated voicing and you actually can let it ring on a bit while continuing the phrase.

Now much of Bach's music is inherently polyphonic and melodic accents in a single voice cannot afford to disrupt the overall timing when other voices have different phrasing and accents. That usually tends to give comparatively little leeway for deviating from the timing and you have to "catch up" for every liberty you take.

For a solo piece, catching up in that manner can feel a bit contrived unless we are talking about a dance, and this is actually formally a "partita", a collection of dances. For the sake of the (mostly imaginary) dancers then, if you don't catch up for longer phrasing of accented notes, you need to insert what amounts to whole beats, and maybe even two off them in order to not catch them on the wrong foot.

So this may be sort of an explanation for the more esoteric execution choices. On a violin, for this note I'd just take care to get the positions right (Bach doesn't spell them out, but like in several other of the violin solo pieces, there is one vastly preferable fingering most of the time: those are pieces written for rather than against the violin) but keep the beat reasonably steady. I am not licensed to talk for other instruments.


Here's what one experienced musician thought was not "too much."

Wanda Landowska, playing Bach on the harpsichord: "When she held on to a fermata, worlds tottered and the sun stopped. ...She took liberties, all kind of liberties, but like all great artists she could get away with them." - Harold Schonberg, "The Great Pianists."

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