Bach was obsessive in educating himself about the music of his time, and the composers who came before him
More than anything else, I keep coming back to Bach’s solo sonatas and partitas. They’re the Mount Everest for any violinist but especially for Baroque players – and having specialised in Baroque performance for most of my career, it feels as if I return to them from a different direction. Bach is probably one of the earliest composers that most violinists play, but having performed the works of earlier composers like Corelli and Buxtehude, I’ve found I can recognise things that were in the blood of musicians from Bach’s own era – and he was obsessive in educating himself about the music of his time, and the composers who came before him.
The sonatas and partitas challenge the brain, the emotions and the fingers simultaneously, at a level that is almost unmatched. I love the story of Nathan Milstein giving a series of masterclasses in Zurich, listening to students attempting to play Bach fugues and telling them. ‘’I’m sorry, you’re not ready for this. Did you bring any Paganini?’ It’s fundamentally true – Paganini is an easier composer to play than Bach, and Milstein certainly understood that.