BACH, J.S.: Sonatas and Partitas for Solo Violin, BWV 1001-1003 (Lucy van Dael) (Naxos: 8.554422)
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Johann Sebastian Bach is now such a revered composer that it is difficult to believe that for 150 years after his death his music had largely fallen into oblivion, and well-meaning champions were orchestrating his organ music just to keep his name alive. He was born in 1685 and was part of a long line of a Bach family that had been kapellmeisters and cantors since the middle of the 16th century. Sadly his parents both died when he was 10, and Johann was brought up and educated in music by relatives. As a teenager he would practice the violin, clavichord and organ all night, and at the age of 20 he walked 50 miles just to hear the great organist, Buxtehude, perform. He was to become a celebrated church organist, holding several major appointments in Arnstadt, Weimar and M??hlhausen over the next twenty years. Throughout the period he was busy composing, but it was after 1723, when he moved to Leipzig to take charge of church music there, that the deluge of compositions emerged. He was to remain in Leipzig for 27 years. In 1749 he underwent two operations to restore his failing sight, but it only made him blind. Miraculously his sight was restored the following year, but ten days later he died aged 65.
He left an enormous catalogue of works, much of it linked with the church. Yet at the time he was only known as a composer in his own locality, few of his works having been published. As much of it was written against the deadlines of specific events in the church calendar, his output was uneven, but his major oratorios were landmark events, and his organ music became the basis of the organ repertoire. In particular he took the art of the fugue to a state of perfection.
He was, however, active outside of the church and wrote a large number of concertos, orchestral works, and solo scores for clavichord, violin and cello.
He was also a distinguished teacher, and a number of his works were obviously intended for teaching advanced students.
Though Bach's Sonatas and Partitas stand at the very pinnacle of the violin repertoire, little is known of their origin. He seems to have composed them with no one in mind, though he had come into contact with an outstanding violinist, J.P. von Westhoff who may have provided the stimulus. The present group of six works probably date from around 1720, and they are now performed alternately - sonata, partita, sonata - in the usual Bach format. In form the sonatas are not German, but of Italian influence, using the Italian church sonata form. The partita form, on the other hand was developed from the suite format. They are works that place considerable demands on the soloist, made even more demanding by the changes that have taken place in the violin since the works were created.