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ClassicsOnline Home » BACH, J.S.: Partitas Nos. 3-5
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During the course of his life Johann Sebastian Bach, one of the leading keyboard
virtuosi of his time, published four volumes of keyboard pieces under the title
of Clavier-Übung, apparently in acknowledgement of the work of his predecessor
as Thomas-Kantor in Leipzig, Johann Kuhnau, whose two sets of Clavier-Übung
had appeared in 1689 and 1692, each containing seven suites, the second with
an additional sonata.
Bach's Clavier-Übung began with a set of six Partitas, published between
1726 and 1731 and was followed in 1735 by a second volume containing two contrasted
works, the Italian Concerto and Overture in the French Style. The third volume,
published in 1739, contained a collection of organ music, and the fourth, published
in 1741-1742, the Goldberg Variations.
The choice of the word Partita as a title for the suites that form the first
volume of the Clavier-Übung again echoes Kuhnau, whose Neue Clavier-Übung
had consisted of seven Partiten, a use of the word that was to become current
in Germany, although originally it seems to have been used in Italian to describe
sets of variations, as in Bach's own organ chorale variations or Partite.
The six Bach Partitas of the Clavier-Übung are built around the traditional
dances of the Allemande, Courante and Sarabande, and all of them end with a
Gigue, except the second, which has six instead of seven dance-movements, and
ends with a Caprice. Although works of this kind tended to be published in sets
of six, Kuhnau had included seven Partiten in each of the parts of his Clavier-Übung,
and Bach seems originally to have intended to include a similar number. Kuhnau's
suites were grouped into one set in major keys and the second in minor keys,
and Bach's set includes three major and three minor, although they are not presented
in any particular order of keys.
The Partitas open with a number of different forms of movement, giving each
its own character. The first has a Praludium, the second a Sinfonia, the third
a Fantasia, the fourth an Ouverture, the fifth a Praeambulum and the sixth a
Toccata. The title-page of the first complete edition of the Partitas, which
had appeared singly from 1726, promises sets of Preludes, Allemandes, Courantes,
Sarabandes, Gigues and andern Galanterien. This final category turns out to
include a Capriccio, a Burlesca, a Rondeau, and a Passepied, among other things.
Partita No. 3 in A Minor, BWV 827, opens with a Fantasia in two parts, similar
in form to a Two-Part Invention. The Allemande is followed by an Italian Corrente,
the dance that occurs in four of the Partitas, while two have French Courantes,
the former a more spirited dance than the more solemn French dance, with its
rhythmical ambiguities. The Burlesca and Scherzo are not derived from dances,
although they are in characteriestic dance form. The first of these seems to
have no striking peculiarities or quirks of humour, and appears, in any case,
as a Minuet in the collection of pieces assembled for the use of Bach's second
wife, Anna Magdalena. The Scherzo is light-hearted enough and represents the
only use of the term by Bach. The Partita ends in a Gigue.
Partita No. 4 in D Major, BWV 828, opens with an Overture in the French style,
its solemn introduction, in dotted rhythm, followed by a livelier fugal section.
The Allemande and Courante are succeeded by an Aria and the expected Sarabande,
a brief Menuet leading to the final Gigue.
The Praeambulum which opens Partita No. 5, BWV 829, provides an introduction
in concerto style. The Allemande is again paired with an Italian Corrente, followed
immediately by a Sarabande. The Tempo di Menuetto has curious cross accentuation
in its simple texture, and leads to a Passepied, a triple-time dance of French
derivation, and a final Gigue.
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BACH, J.S.: Partitas Nos. 3-5