Violin Partita no. 1 in B minor
BWV 1002 performed by Shunske Sato
Behind the music
The art of variation
Bach provides a double for each movement.
There is an old Latin saying: varietas delectat (variety delights). It seems as if Bach had this saying in mind when composing Partita no. 1. Variety was an important concept, in all sorts of ways, in the music practice of Bach’s day. We read time and again of the importance of variation, both in composing and playing music. Take, for instance, the ornamentation of a given melody or harmonic scheme, by composers and performers alike.
The art of variation recurs in different ways in Bach’s set of six solos (e.g. the Ciaccona in BWV 1004), but the variations are placed explicitly in the foreground in Partita no. 1. It is the only partita in which each dance (each movement) is followed by a Double. These Doubles are not literal replicas, however. Bach continues working with the same harmonic material, but comes up with a different solution – for example with faster notes in the Courante.
The music theoretician Johann Walther described a double as “the second strophe of an aria varied, or presented and delivered in shorter notes”, or more succinctly as “a doubling, a variation, usually in the case of allemandes and courantes”.
And Bach does indeed begin with an Allemande and a Courante. They are followed by a Sarabande and a Tempo di borea (a bourrée). This Bourrée is the only one in Bach’s whole oeuvre with a Double.
But before we get to each Double, we have already heard another variation. As usual, every dance consists of two halves, each of which is repeated once. These repeats are an invitation to the violinist to add variety to Bach’s notes by ornamenting them. Shunske Sato does so here with great verve, as he does in the other partitas and sonatas. These variations by the violinist are then followed by the Double, in which Bach himself writes a variation on the preceding section, to which the violinist can add ornaments again in the repeats. It is a wonderful sample sheet of the art of variation.
Six sonatas and partitas for solo violin
At the top of his manuscript of six solo works for violin, Bach wrote ‘Sei solo’. But did he mean six solos (which is ‘Sei soli’ in correct Italian), or did he really mean ‘Sei solo’… you are on your own? In the days before spellchecks, spelling was more a question of feeling, especially in another language. It could be that Bach deliberately did not write ‘Sei soli’ above his six violin solos, choosing rather to warn his soloists before sending them off to perform with just a bow, four strings and a few of his most difficult pieces.
Bach’s solo works are in line with the wonderful tradition of Westhoff, Biber, Matteis, Schop and others, although Bach aims not so much for virtuosity, but for interiority, playing a theoretical game with the impossibility of true polyphony on a single melody instrument. Bach understood perfectly well how our brain naturally makes music out of sounds. He was also aware of the importance of his work, calling the autograph manuscript of the sonatas and partitas from 1720 ‘Book 1’. He may have had the Cello Suites and the now solitary Flute Partita in mind as carefully planned sequels for the future. Polyphony on your own – you can hardly get your head around it.
We recorded these six sonatas in a former power station in Haarlem, which used to supply the city with power and light. This explains its nickname ‘Lichtfabriek’ (Light Factory). Inspired by this special setting, the director chose to give lighting a prominent role in the performance.
- Violin Partita no. 1 in B minor
- Partita no. 1
- chamber music
- Six partitas and sonatas for violin
- ca. 1720
- Köthen, Weimar
- Release date
- 31 October 2019
- Recording date
- 23 June 2019
- Lichtfabriek, Haarlem
- Shunske Sato
- Cornelius Kleynman, ca. 1684
- Director and editor
- Onno van Ameijde
- Music recording
- Guido Tichelman, Bastiaan Kuijt
- Music edit and mix
- Guido Tichelman
- Jeroen Simons, Marijn Zurburg
- Zen Bloot
- Jasper Leeman
- Data handling
- Eline Eestermans
- Onno van Ameijde, Marloes Biermans
- Jessie Verbrugh
- Frans Wytema, for making the Cornelius Kleynman violin available to Shunske Sato.
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