Bach created major musical monuments in almost every genre available at the time, other than opera. His genius shines with a special light, however, in the three sonatas and three partitas he wrote for solo violin in 1720, and the six suites for solo cello he composed about the same time. Bach was then in service to Prince Leopold of Cöthen and his employer was keenly interested in instrumental music; Bach wrote a lot of it during this period, from the six "Brandenburg" Concertos to the Clavier-Büchlein collection of harpsichord pieces he wrote for his nine-year-old son Wilhelm Friedemann.
Bach's distillation of multi-part contrapuntal techniques into basically single lines in his unaccompanied violin and cello works is astonishing for its expressive vigor even more than for the sheer technical mastery displayed. The Prelude for the Third Partita - a collection of dance movements - must have been a particular favorite; he later arranged the whole suite for lute and reworked the Prelude again as the Sinfonia for his Cantata No. 29, with a dashing obbligato organ part. The violin original is an athletic showpiece of non-stop energy, virtuoso fiddling, and polyphonic imagination.
- John Henken is the Los Angeles Philharmonic's Director of Publications