Partita No.4 for Keyboard

Johann Sebastian Bach

Partita No.4 for Keyboard in D major

BWV828 • “German Suite”

About this work

Bach composed the six partitas in 1726, but issued only the first that year, publishing the others individually, one each year until 1731, when all were issued as a set. These brilliant half-dozen works are easily among Bach's most significant keyboard efforts. Comprised of dances (Allemande, Courante, Sarabande, and Gigue) and other pieces, each partita is a suite divulging much color and often requiring a good measure of virtuosity from the performer. This fourth partita and the sixth are the two longest, each lasting well over 20 minutes when repeats are ignored, and thus a half-hour or likely more when they are observed.

The D major partita opens with a brilliant and lengthy Overture (or Ouverture in the French spelling used by Bach). Its character has been likened to the style of French operatic overtures of the period, not least because of its slow, dramatic opening and succeeding fast section. That section is the heart of the piece -- light and colorful at the outset, then turning more substantive and muscular as thematic development grows amid much deft contrapuntal activity.

The ensuing Allemande is no less substantial in size (the first two movements, in fact, comprise over half the length of the entire suite). But the music of the Allemande also contains a good measure of expressive depth in its largely subdued and serene manner. The ensuing Courante is light and jovial, the perfect foil for the serious yet calm character of the preceding piece. The fourth movement features a jaunty Aria, whose counterpoint has a muscularity in its rippling digital flow.

The ensuing Sarabande is sweet and gentle in its slow pacing and augurs a kind of melting lyricism that will flower in the Classical and Romantic periods. A relatively brief Menuet follows, beaming its sunny rays in a graceful and lively but unhurried way. The Gigue, as usual, closes out this partita with fast, brilliant writing. Here the music seems busily to be working its way downward or upward, always with a sense of glee and industriousness, subtly crafted counterpoint abounding.

Done