Partita No.3 for Violin

Johann Sebastian Bach

Partita No.3 for Violin in E major


Recommended recording

Curated by Guy Jones, Head of Curation

About this work

Although J.S. Bach described his six sonatas and partitas for solo violin as Libro primo (Book 1), he never followed them up with a second volume; so the Partita for solo violin No. 3 in E major, BWV 1006 (Cöthen, 1720), stands as the composer's last utterance in the unlikely medium of the unaccompanied violin. There were some solo violin works that predate Bach's efforts -- Biber's Passacaglia, Westhoff's Six Partitas -- but they cannot compare.

This Partita is perhaps the most exuberant and cheery of the three in the book; while it is no picnic in the park for the violinist, it offers easier going than the chaconne in the second partita with its strings of double and triple stops. The work consists of dance movements that are mostly French in origin and that diverge from those in the other two : Preludio, Loure, Gavotte en Rondeau, Menuet I and II, Bourrée, and Gigue. The Preludio, which was adapted by Bach for use in two of his cantatas, proceeds almost entirely in brilliant sixteenth notes. A Loure is a slow subspecies of French jig, usually (as is the case here) in 6/4 time; Bach's is perhaps a less heavy dance than the average loure. The Gavotte is, as the name suggests, set up as a kind of rondo, with restatements of the opening material surrounding contrasting episodes; the happy gavotte tune is played five times in all (six if one counts the repeat of the opening eight bars). The two Menuets are traditionally played da capo with the end result: Menuet I -- Menuet II -- Menuet I. The Bourrée is short and rapid. A gigue can be either French in style or Italian; Bach selects the quicker, snappier Italian variety to close the E major Partita.

Bach at some point transcribed the entirety of this Partita for solo lute; that version is known as BWV 1006a.