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ClassicsOnline Home » BACH, J.S.: French Suites Nos. 3-6, BWV 814-817
Johann Sebastian Bach (1685 - 1750)
French Suites Nos. 3- 6, BWV 814- 817
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 often, 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 Kapellmeisterto 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. This final period of his life involved him in activity with the Collegium musicum of the University, for which he arranged earlier instrumental concertos for solo harpsichord or harpsichords, and in the assembly and publication of a number of his compositions, in particular a series of four volumes of keyboard music, the Clavierübung.
In 1720 Bach's first wife, Maria Barbara, died, during her husband's absence from Cöthen on a visit with his patron Prince Leopold to Karlsbad. During the thirteen years of their marriage she had born him seven children, of which four now survived. The following year Bach took a second wife, Anna Magdalena Wilcke, a daughter of the court trumpeter at Weissenfels. She had had musical training from her father and from her uncle, an organist, and her musical development continued with the help of her new husband, who provided her with a number of keyboard pieces, including the first five of w hat were later known as the French Suites, to which Bach later, in Leipzig, added a sixth. The basic movements of the French suite were the dances Allemande, Courante, Sarabande and Gigue, forms that retained their basic rhythms and patterns, while no longer intended in this form for practical dancing.
The Allemande of Suite No.3 in B minor leads to a French Courante and a slow Sarabande, succeeded here by the less usual Anglaise, representative of the English country dance as adapted for French court purposes. A pair of Minuets, the second a Trio framed by are petition of the first, precedes a final Gigue. French Suite No.4 in E flat major opens with the expected Allemande, coupled with an Italian Corrente form of Courante, a simpler and livelier version of the dance, not distinguished by the use of the Italian title, as it is in Bach's Partitas. The slow Sarabande is followed by a duple-time Gavotte, an Air and a Minuet without a central Trio section. The suite ends with the usual Gigue, the second and lower part entering in imitation of the first. Suite No.5 in G major again has an opening Allemande and Italian Corrente, under the title Courante. The Sarabande leads to a Gavotte and to a tuneful Bourrée, typical of the general texture of the French Suites, with their tendency to the melodic rather than the contrapuntal. The Bourrée is followed by a Louré, a theatre dance of some choreographic complexity, here stylized in its late Baroque instrumental form as a slower version of the Gigue, leading to a rapid final Gigue, in which the lower of the two parts enters later in imitation at the octave of the upper part, the order of entries reversed in the inverted version of the second section of the dance.
French Suite No.6 in E major in one manuscript source starts with a Prelude, found also in the first volume of The Well-Tempered Clavier. The suite proper opens with the expected Allemande and an Italian-style Courante or Corrente. An ornamented Sarabande is succeeded by a Gavotte and a Polish Minuet, folIowad in one source by the so-titled Petit Menuet. The following Bourrée precedes the final Gigue, with its contrapuntal imitation and inversion.
@ 1994 Keith Anderson
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 favour a clean, mathematical and metronomic realisation - 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, inégalité, the structures of the strong and weak within a given pulse and metre, 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 imaginative.
Dynamic shadings within figurations, motivic material, and entire musical lines in any part of the polyphonic structure becomes 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 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.
A native of Germany, Wolfgang Rübsam received his musical training in Europe from Erich Ackermann, Helmut Walcha and Marie-Claire Alain, and in the United States from Robert T. Anderson. Based now in the Chicago area, he has held a professorship at Northwestern University since 1974 and since 1981 has served as University Organist at the University of Chicago. International recognition came in 1973, when he won the Grand Prix de Chartres, Interpretation, and has continued to grow through his recording career, with over eighty recordings, many of them winning awards. Wolfgang Rübsam performs frequently in major international festivals and concert-halls, including the Los Angeles Bach Festival, the Vienna Festwochen, the Finland Lahti International Organ Festival, London's Festival Hall and the Alice Tully Hall in New York. He gives masterclasses in the interpretation of early and romantic organ repertoire and in the interpreting of the keyboard music of J. S. Bach on the modern piano.
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BACH, J.S.: French Suites Nos. 3-6, BWV 814-817