Clip | Now Hear This “The Riddle of Bach” - An Ambiguous Key

Scott Yoo plays a duet with concert pianist Alice Sara Ott. From The Riddle of Bach.

Transcript Print

Bach's solo violin works are sometimes called the Himalayas of the violin.

And I never learned them.

So I came to Germany to figure out, not just how to play them, but how Bach would want me to play them.

Many consider this collection of work the most perfect writing for the violin.

To attempt them, I borrowed the perfect violin, the 1714 Leonora Jackson Stradivarius.

And I wanted to start with the most famous work of them all.

Bach is a national treasure here.

So I headed to Germany's National Concert Hall to talk to Alice Sara Ott, the brilliant German-Japanese pianist.

Okay. It's this way.

It's a bit like a labyrinth in here.

Alice won a Bach competition when she was fifteen.

So I hope she could help me understand the chaconne.

It's fitting that we were headed down to the basement, to get to the bottom of this dark music.

Wow! And so you get to try these pianos and pick the one you want to play in the concert.

Yes, exactly.

So there are three Steinways and I would pick one of those.

Great!

It's actually quite nice, yeah.

So Alice, I'm here in Germany because my entire life I've avoided playing the Bach partitas for solo violin.

Really?

And I decided well you know before I die, I better play them.

So you play these pieces on the piano, right?

Yes, Busoni has written an arrangement also Brahms.

So it's easier, right, on the piano?

It is easier when it comes to chords.

It is not really easy to play because it's still twenty minutes of music.

And it's like a prayer.

Scott, could you actually play the very end of the chaconne?

The last two, three bars.

Sure!

Why? Is your version different or something?

No, I wanted to... in what key does it end for you?

Ambiguous.

An ambiguous key. It's sort of D, could be D major.

But I guess I think of it in D minor.

So you see the whole piece quite dark?

I don't associate this music with happy at all.

Not at all?

Not at all.

Let me then, actually play the Busoni version.

Or the Busoni interpretation of the end.

So this is still the same.

Wow!

Instead of... Yeah.