BACH, J.S.: Partitas Nos. 3-4, BWV 827-828
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Johann Sebastian Bach (1685 - 1750)
Partita Nos. 3 and 4
Johann Sebastian Bach was born in Eisenach in 1685, one of alarge family of musicians. After the death of his parents he moved, at the age of ten, toOhrdruf, with his 13-year-old brother Johann Jacob, to live with the eldest of theirbrothers, Johann Christoph, an organist. Bach's own early career was as an organist, from1708 until 1717 in the service of Duke Wilhelm Ernst, eider of the two brothers ruling theduchy of Weimar. From 1717 until 1723 he was Court Kapellmeister to Prince Leopold ofAnhalt-Cothen, with different musical responsibilities, largely secular. Thereafter heserved as Thomas-Kantor in Leipzig, with responsibility for music in the principal citychurches, continuing there until his death in 1750.
During the course of his life Bach, one of the leading keyboardvirtuosi of his time, published four volumes of keyboard pieces under the title of Clavier??bung, in apparent acknowledgement of thework of his predecessor as Thomas-Kantor in Leipzig, Johann Kuhnau, whose two sets of Clavier??bungen had appeared in 1689 and 1692, eachcontaining seven suites, the second with an additional sonata. Bach's Clavier??bung began with a set of six Partitas, published between 1726 and 1731, and wasfollowed 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 in1741-1742, the Goldberg Variations.
The choice of the word Partita as a title for the suites of thefirst volume of the Clavier??bung againechoes Kuhnau, whose Neue Clavier??bung had consisted of seven Partiten, a use of the word that was to becomecurrent in Germany, although originally in Italian it seems to have been used to describesets of variations, as in Bach's own organ chorale variations or Partite. Bach's Partitas are built round the traditional dances ofthe 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 ofother short movements.
The Partitas openwith a number of different forms of movement, giving each its own character. The first hasa Praeludium, followed by an Allemande andan Italian Corrente of appropriately simple texture. There follows an ornamentedSarabande, a pair of Menuets and a final Italian Giga. The second Partita starts with aSinfonia, marked initially Grave adagio, leading to an ornamented Andante aria and anAllegro final fugue. The succeeding Allemande is paired with a French Courante, a form ofdance of greater rhythmic complexity than its Italian counterpart. The slow Sarabandeleads to a lively enough Rondeaux, with its repeated refrain, and a final Capriccioinstead 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 andencourage the interpretation of Bach's keyboard works on the modern piano. It is basedupon recognized fundamental elements of performance practices of early music.
The interpretation of Bach's music on the modern piano remainsa confusing issue in light of the fact that the instrument basically evolved with theromantic period. It is, therefore, no surprise that attempts frequently result in romanticreadings, a direction which can be most musical at times but may be stylisticallyconfusing if not actually foreign to the score. Musical preferences also favor a clean,mathematical and metronomic realization - a safe but somewhat noncommittal solution to thecommunication of Bach's artistry.
On a different level, then, is the enjoyment of incorporatingthe often neglected elements of rhetoric, enegalite, the structures of the strong andweak within a given pulse and meter, and the fingering techniques of the time (shiftingand sequential fingerings rather than consecutive scale fingerings). These components,which are strongly interrelated and directly influence choices of articulation andflexibility of rhythm, often answer automatically questions of style, especially when theyare understood as basic elements of the musical language.
The complex subject of ornamentation, both Bach's written outornaments and the liberty given in repeats of movements, is most challenging and rewardingwhen there is the concept of freedom of execution and the manner is improvisational andimaginative.
Dynamic shadings within figurations, motivic material, andentire musical lines in any part of the polyphonic structure become particularly excitingand meaningful upon melodic (and harmonic) analysis. Important pitches, in the greatersense of the direction, can be pointed out by dynamic control and nuance and by the effectof rhythmic flexibility within the structure of the melodic line. The degree of suchbending in time is most personal and strongly communicative when applied with balance andrefinement 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 mostlikely be for the pianists with an interest in early music who strive for reorganizationof the ear before fingers are expected to reflect such inner feelings. Since such musicaldetail is best demonstrated by the music itself, it is my hope that this recording will bea helpful example in this process and that listeners and students alike will find it anenjoyable means of communication.
Wolfgang R??bsam A native of Germany, Wolfgang R??bsam receivedhis musical training in Europe from Prof. Erich Ackermann, Prof. Helmut Walcha andMarie-Claire Alain, and in the United States from Dr. Robert T. Anderson. He resides todayin the Chicago area holding a Professorship at Northwestern University since 1974 andserving as University Organist at the University of Chicago since 1981. Internationalrecognition was established upon winning the GRAND PRIX DE CHARTRES, INTERPRETATION in1973 and continues to grow through his recording career with over eighty recordings, manyof which have received awards. Wolfgang R??bsam performs frequently in major internationalfestivals and concert halls, including the Los Angeles Bach Festival; Wiener Festwochen,Vienna; Lahti International Organ Festival, Finland; Royal Festival Hall, London; AliceTully Hall, New York, and conducts master classes both in interpretation of early andromantic organ repertoire, and in interpreting the keyboard music of Johann Sebastian Bachon the modern piano.