This is the most opulently splendid of the Partitas, with its regal French Ouverture (which includes a surprisingly transparent and galant fugue, with homophonic episodes); long, intense and expressive allemande, abundant in contrasting figurations composed of different rhythmic units; and French courante that nevertheless displays all the liveliness and brilliance of anItalian corrente (truly a remarkable commixture of the two opposing styles, united into one supremely clever and universal piece). Bach’s notation of the frequently continuous eighth-notes throughout the bass-line of the corrente provides an important visual cue to the player, as all twelve of them within a measure are joined by a single tail, indicating remarkable energy and “sweep”, within the conventional 3/2 time signature. Once again, French meets Italian, creating something greater than both.

The remaining movements include an Italianate aria, a sarabande of heartbreaking beauty, though its elaborate melodic contours make it hardly resemble the original dance at all, and a menuet which seems to anticipate in mood and rhythm the Italian gigue that immediately follows it – perhaps another hint of the idea of “variation” that lies at the very heart of the Partitas. The gigue is the single most brilliant movement to be found among the Partitas, featuring an ascending arpeggio subject that ends with a flattened seventh, like aquestion; then a silence and finally, the answer. Carefully worked out in three-voice imitative counterpoint, the second half of the gigue contains yet another “variation” on an earlier convention. Whereas most contrapuntal gigues invert the original subject in the second half, this one introduces an entirely new theme, immediately combined with the opening subject, which now serves as thenew tune’s countersubject, resulting in a double counterpoint that emphasizes variety and results in brilliant interplay between two contrasted ideas.

©Peter Watchorn

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