My first introduction came through youtube. The video begins with a shot of a sound stage, some other cameras and cameramen, and on stage an old man in a cardigan casually playing a few bars of Frére Jacques. He stops playing and offstage you hear someone say, "Alright, stand by. Bach's Chaconne, take one." The old man is motionless for a second, bow poised above the violin and then he starts.
Suddenly the room is filled with music, and I am trapped, bound by simple notes but more than that. Somehow Johann Sebastian Bach managed to put to music the deepest emotions of my soul. D, F, A. Those are the first notes heard but the protective armour of my soul is already breached before the arrival of the next note. It isn't overt virtuosity, but a journey where every note is like the curve of a road that reveals another stunning vista, each more beautiful than the next. The journey continues and then reaches a glorious climax where all the notes climb and build in a whirlwind of sound and emotion rising to heaven, like a prayer of a saint. This moment is sublime, sacrosanct. Any other composer would end there, fully satisfied and justifiably so but Bach isn't half finished.
The music slows, allowing the listener to reflect but before long before thoughts are allowed to wander the music once again takes hold, takes control and reaches deeper still into the soul until there is an unstoppable rush of emotion at the surface with nowhere to go but up in a prayer of thanksgiving. I cannot be an atheist when I listen to this piece.
Why was I up at three am last night. To get my fix. I couldn't go to bed without listening just once more, and then once more again. Multiple listens have not dimmed my enthusiasm. I own three recordings each of which I've listened to dozens of times. At thirteen minutes long I imagine that cumulatively the amount of time I've spent listening to the Chaconne would now be measured in days.
I'm not alone in my opinion of the piece. Johannes Brahms wrote to Clara Shumann with his thoughts,
"On one stave, for a small instrument, the man writes a whole world of the deepest thoughts and most powerful feelings. If I imagined that I could have created, even conceived the piece, I am quite certain that the excess of excitement and earth-shattering experience would have driven me out of my mind."
Even as I now listen to Rachel Podger's version, I am caught fast by the music. How is it that there is so much beauty in this world of ours? How on earth did Bach managed to write this?