The 8' and 16' violone in J. S. Bach's music

Margaret Urquhart
Supervising team:
Prof. Frans de Ruiter (promotor)
Started in 2015
17th century music, 18th century music



An investigation into the use of the 8’ and 16’ violone in the music leading up to and including J. S. Bach’s compositions in northern Germany in the 17th and 18th centuries. 

J. S. Bach’s music is hugely popular in the ‘historically informed performance‘ field. We have arrived at a ‘status quo’ of performing his music. How historically accurate is this? There are still many essential questions to be answered, concerning many aspects of his work. The ones which I particularly want to tackle after a lifetime of performing Bach’s music as a violone player, are:  ‘what type of violones were used to perform Bach’s music in his time?’ and ‘ which octaves and tunings are appropriate for his stringed bass instruments?’ 

For at least the last 15 years or so, there have been heated debates about the size of the appropriate choirs and ensembles, and the octave at which the low stringed instruments should play. Sigiswald Kuijken, ‘La Petite Bande’ , for example, no longer uses a 16’ violone in his Bach performances, replacing it with two ‘basse de violons’ . Philippe Herreweghe , ‘Collegium Vocale Gent’, on the other hand, uses a 16’ violone in almost all of Bach’s cantatas and oratorios, including in the arias and recitatives. Which view is right, do both have elements of truth or would the ‘historically informed’ result be different from both artist’s present choices?