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ClassicsOnline Home » BACH, J.S.: Partitas Nos. 3 and 4 (Rubsam)
Johann Sebastian Bach (1685 - 1750)
Partita Nos. 3 and 4
Johann Sebastian Bach was born in Eisenach in 1685, one of a
large family of musicians. After the death of his parents he moved, at the age of ten, to
Ohrdruf, with his 13-year-old brother Johann Jacob, to live with the eldest of their
brothers, Johann Christoph, an organist. Bach's own early career was as an organist, from
1708 until 1717 in the service of Duke Wilhelm Ernst, eider of the two brothers ruling the
duchy of Weimar. From 1717 until 1723 he was Court Kapellmeister to Prince Leopold of
Anhalt-Cöthen, with different musical responsibilities, largely secular. Thereafter he
served as Thomas-Kantor in Leipzig, with responsibility for music in the principal city
churches, continuing there until his death in 1750.
During the course of his life Bach, one of the leading keyboard
virtuosi of his time, published four volumes of keyboard pieces under the title of Clavierübung, in apparent acknowledgement of the
work of his predecessor as Thomas-Kantor in Leipzig, Johann Kuhnau, whose two sets of Clavierübungen had appeared in 1689 and 1692, each
containing seven suites, the second with an additional sonata. Bach's Clavierübung 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 of the
first volume of the Clavierübung again
echoes Kuhnau, whose Neue Clavierübung had consisted of seven Partiten, a use of the word that was to become
current in Germany, although originally in Italian it seems to have been used to describe
sets of variations, as in Bach's own organ chorale variations or Partite. Bach's Partitas are built round the traditional dances of
the French suite, as announced on the original title-pages, the Allemande, Courante,
Sarabande and Gigue, with w hat is there described as other Galanterien, a variety of
other short movements.
The Partitas open
with a number of different forms of movement, giving each its own character. The first has
a Praeludium, followed by an Allemande and
an Italian Corrente of appropriately simple texture. There follows an ornamented
Sarabande, a pair of Menuets and a final Italian Giga. The second Partita starts with a
Sinfonia, marked initially Grave adagio, leading to an ornamented Andante aria and an
Allegro final fugue. The succeeding Allemande is paired with a French Courante, a form of
dance of greater rhythmic complexity than its Italian counterpart. The slow Sarabande
leads to a lively enough Rondeaux, with its repeated refrain, and a final Capriccio
instead of the usual Gigue.
A French Overture starts Partita No.4, its slow dotted rhythm introduction followed by an extended fugal section. The second movement Allemande is paired with a French Courante and the Sarabande is preceded by an aria. A Minuet, in triplet rhythm, leads to a final Gigue.
This recording was produced to communicate, stimulate and
encourage the interpretation of Bach's keyboard works on the modern piano. It is based
upon recognized fundamental elements of performance practices of early music.
The interpretation of Bach's music on the modern piano remains
a confusing issue in light of the fact that the instrument basically evolved with the
romantic period. It is, therefore, no surprise that attempts frequently result in romantic
readings, a direction which can be most musical at times but may be stylistically
confusing if not actually foreign to the score. Musical preferences also favor a clean,
mathematical and metronomic realization - a safe but somewhat noncommittal solution to the
communication of Bach's artistry.
On a different level, then, is the enjoyment of incorporating
the often neglected elements of rhetoric, enegalité, the structures of the strong and
weak within a given pulse and meter, and the fingering techniques of the time (shifting
and sequential fingerings rather than consecutive scale fingerings). These components,
which are strongly interrelated and directly influence choices of articulation and
flexibility of rhythm, often answer automatically questions of style, especially when they
are understood as basic elements of the musical language.
The complex subject of ornamentation, both Bach's written out
ornaments and the liberty given in repeats of movements, is most challenging and rewarding
when there is the concept of freedom of execution and the manner is improvisational and
Dynamic shadings within figurations, motivic material, and
entire musical lines in any part of the polyphonic structure become particularly exciting
and meaningful upon melodic (and harmonic) analysis. Important pitches, in the greater
sense of the direction, can be pointed out by dynamic control and nuance and by the effect
of rhythmic flexibility within the structure of the melodic line. The degree of such
bending in time is most personal and strongly communicative when applied with balance and
refinement of taste.
The process of merging the "old" and the
"new" in Bach's keyboard works will be an ongoing pursuit for me as it will most
likely be for the pianists with an interest in early music who strive for reorganization
of the ear before fingers are expected to reflect such inner feelings. Since such musical
detail is best demonstrated by the music itself, it is my hope that this recording will be
a helpful example in this process and that listeners and students alike will find it an
enjoyable means of communication.
Wolfgang Rübsam A native of Germany, Wolfgang Rübsam received
his musical training in Europe from Prof. Erich Ackermann, Prof. Helmut Walcha and
Marie-Claire Alain, and in the United States from Dr. Robert T. Anderson. He resides today
in the Chicago area holding a Professorship at Northwestern University since 1974 and
serving as University Organist at the University of Chicago since 1981. International
recognition was established upon winning the GRAND PRIX DE CHARTRES, INTERPRETATION in
1973 and continues to grow through his recording career with over eighty recordings, many
of which have received awards. Wolfgang Rübsam performs frequently in major international
festivals and concert halls, including the Los Angeles Bach Festival; Wiener Festwochen,
Vienna; Lahti International Organ Festival, Finland; Royal Festival Hall, London; Alice
Tully Hall, New York, and conducts master classes both in interpretation of early and
romantic organ repertoire, and in interpreting the keyboard music of Johann Sebastian Bach
on the modern piano.
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BACH, J.S.: Partitas Nos. 3 and 4 (Rubsam)