|About this Recording
8.550693 - BACH, J.S.: Partitas Nos. 3 and 4 (Rubsam)
Johann Sebastian Bach (1685 - 1750)
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 imaginative.
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.
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