In 1731, Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750) gathered six keyboard partitas that he had previously composed and published individually, and issued them himself as his Op. 1, the first part of his monumental Clavier Übung (Keyboard Practice) anthology. He dedicated them to “music lovers, for the delight of their spirits,” and although sales of his printed edition proved disappointing (Bach died with plenty of unsold copies), these magisterial dance suites circulated widely in manuscript copies.
“This work made in its time a great noise in the musical world,” Johann Nikolaus Forkel wrote in 1802. “Such excellent compositions for the clavier had never been seen and heard before. Anyone who had learnt to perform well some pieces out of them could make his fortune in the world thereby; and even in our times, a young artist might gain acknowledgment by doing so, they are so brilliant, well-sounding, expressive, and always new.”
The second of these “excellent compositions,” the Partita No. 2 in C minor, BWV 826, begins with a Sinfonia in the form and style of a French overture. An austerely noble, dotted-note introduction leads to a long and finely spun cantilena, which in turn vaults into an athletic two-voice fugue. The Allemande is suffused with a gentle melancholy, its dance elements abstracted, but the lively and purposeful Courante is kinetically emphatic. The Sarabande is lyrically open and in motion. The rhythmically vigorous Rondeau underscores the French influence in this Partita, and the Capriccio, replacing the usual Gigue at the end of a dance suite, is bold and serious music, in terms of content as well as style.
John Henken is Director of Publications for the Los Angeles Philharmonic Association.