Partita No.6 for Keyboard

Johann Sebastian Bach

Partita No.6 for Keyboard in E minor

BWV830 • “German Suite”

About this work

This is the last of the partitas in this set, which as a group were published in 1731, but appeared individually, one each year, beginning with the B flat major first in 1726. Preceded by the diminutive fifth partita in G major -- about half its size -- the sixth is probably the longest of the partitas, though different combinations of observing or ignoring repeats could make the fourth in D major longer. The sixth is not only grand in length, however, but in depth of expression as well, its opening toccata one of the more profound movements in any of the partitas.

Speaking of size, this toccata is also the longest movement found in any of the six. It opens with a somber introduction of dramatic character and moves onto a livelier section of serious demeanor, whose music both alternates, and is heard simultaneously, with the powerful theme from the opening. Bach's contrapuntal writing here imparts a sense of the profound, suggesting both serenity and a conflicting undercurrent. This movement bears more than a vague resemblance to Bach's famous Toccata and Fugue for organ, though the more contemplative ending here sets it apart from that great work.

The ensuing Allemande is elegant and lighter in its moderate pacing, but not without its subtleties and profundities. The music turns more animated and even somewhat dark in a variant that appears midway through. The Corrente (or Courante, in French) follows, a livelier piece, generally light and energetic. A brief Air comes next, bringing a celebratory bustle and colorful virtuosity.

The gentle Sarabande has a disrupted flow and sense of yearning throughout, but never allows these darker undercurrents to overtake the mostly serene manner. The Tempo di gavotta that follows is lively but subdued in its jaunty character. The concluding Gigue, written in 8/4 meter -- not a proper Gigue time -- is muscular and lively in its outer sections, but dark and ominous at the beginning of the brilliant fugal buildup that starts midway through. The music swells to triumphant heights at the end. This may well be the finest of the Six Partitas in the set.

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