The Partita in D minor for solo violin (BWV 1004) by Johann Sebastian Bach was written during the period 1717–1723 and some scholars—Professor Helga Thoene prominently—suggest it was written in memory of Bach's first wife, Maria Barbara Bach. The partita contains five movements:
A strong common theme is shared between the first four movements. In the Allemande, there is a hint at the repeated bass, which from then on continues to haunt the piece until it makes its full appearance in the Ciaconna. While the first four movements reflect the standard German baroque dance suite, the overall dark character of the partita is enhanced by the monumental Ciaccona which closes the work.
Notable recordings of the Partita have been made by Ida Haendel, Henryk Szeryng, Midori Goto, Nathan Milstein, Arthur Grumiaux, Lara St. John, Gidon Kremer, Jascha Heifetz, Itzhak Perlman, Yehudi Menuhin, Leonid Kogan, Hilary Hahn, Rachel Podger, Ann Fontanella, Peter Chang, and Julia Fischer to name a few.
The Ciaccona (commonly known as Chaconne in French), the concluding movement of the partita, lasts some 13 to 15 minutes, surpassing the duration of the previous movements combined. The theme, presented in the first four measures in typical chaconne rhythm with a chord progression based on the repeated bass note pattern D D C♯ D B♭ G A D, begets the rest of the movement in a series of variations. The overall form is a triptych, the middle section of which is in major mode.
This ciaccona is considered a pinnacle of the solo violin repertoire in that it covers every aspect of violin-playing known during Bach's time and thus it is among the most difficult pieces to play for that instrument. Since Bach's time, several transcriptions of the piece have been made for other instruments, particularly for the piano by Ferruccio Busoni and Alexander Siloti and piano/left-hand by Brahms, and for full orchestra by Leopold Stokowski and Joachim Raff, as well as for the guitar, first transcribed by Spanish guitarist and composer Andres Segovia. At least three transcriptions have been published for organ solo. Recently, a bassoon transcription by Arthur Weisberg was written to highlight the capabilities of his new key systems for the bassoon. The Chaconne was also transcribed for Flute by Danish Flutist Toke Lund Christensen, then re-transcribed by Denis Bouriakov.
The Ciaccona is commonly included as a required repertoire piece in violin competitions all over the world.
Johannes Brahms, in a letter to Clara Schumann, said about the ciaccona:
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.