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BACH - PARTITAS (Clavierubung Part 1)

   I returned from holiday to find the last Newsletter with our Editor's plea for contributions. Having just chosen the Angela Hewitt recording of the Bach Partitas for a birthday present and listened to it on holiday, I thought I would share my joy in this wonderful collection.

   I'm pretty sure I first met one or two of the Sarabandes as Grade 2 or 3 set pieces. One could say they were wasted on me at that age, or maybe a seed was planted. I'm sure one should never give new players anything less than the best they can manage. As a teenager I met the opening Bb partita, and at college I became hooked on the C minor, then the D major and finally after college the great E minor. They have never been far from my piano since. The G major and A minor had never quite grabbed me, and Angela Hewitt does describe the A minor as "unjustifiably rarely played".

   Angela Hewitt's playing is certainly to my taste - clarity of part playing, dance-like rhythmic vitality, interesting phrasing and awareness of structure. I found myself noticing points of interest in both the known and the unknown movements.

   One example is the Gigue that closes the A minor. It starts with this theme:

and one notices the rising sequence on beats 1 & 3 of the bars - a-b-c-d. Then the second half of the movement opens with:

The rising a-b-c-d has become a falling e-d-c. As with the closing movements of Partitas 2 and 6, the theme has been inverted.

   Moving on to the closing Gigue of the E minor. This is written:

(I have been unable to reproduce the true time signature, which apparently is a circle with a vertical line through it). Until now I have only ever heard it played in compound time:

Note how much more economical the first notation is. It is an angular theme and certain sections of the movement I could never get to sound "right" when played in simple time as written. Angela Hewitt plays it as written and makes it convincing (of course). Her explanation is that to play it thus emphasises its angularity and provides greater contrast with the preceding Gavotte. Having heard it, I concur, though it may be better to ask what Bach intended rather than rely on subjective perceptions.

   One of the sections which used to puzzle me in simple time is:

Note that the alto and bass parts are not just accompanying the top line, but are derived from the initial theme in a kind of stretto. This and a parallel passage in the second half of the movement where the idea in the top part becomes the bass are also the trickiest moments in the piece.

   To illustrate her point about the the preceding Gavotte - the score starts off with:

but triplets soon appear in the texture accompanying this motif, surely implying that it should be played to fit with the triplets. Angela Hewitt plays:

which in her words gives it "more bounce", particularly when the crotchets are almost quaver plus quaver rest.

   If I had more time and space, I could write more - perhaps on the

beauty of the Sarabandes or the switching between 6/8 and 3/4 in the G major Tempo di Minuetta, or on the the historical circumstances of their composition and publication.

   It was spooky to read in the notes that Angela Hewitt's greatest affection lies with the D major Allemande. This is always a joy to play and, though I hesitate to name a favourite, it could be mine too. I also saw a TV documentary of Joanna MacGregor recording her album "Play", and she clearly loves it too.

   I know I haven't mentioned the word organ here - there's an assumption that anyone interested in the organ must have a love or at least tolerance for Bach. Neither have I addressed the piano versus harpsichord debate. These partitas are simply a Desert Island score for me, and I hope to have triggered shared feelings of delight or inspired you to get to know them.

   Further reading:              the baffling binary gigue at

                                         time signatures at

John Hobbs

Extract from the July 07 Newsletter

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