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The Bach Partitas with Richard Goode
J.S. Bach Pianist Richard Goode recently released a CD of Bach's Partitas Nos. 1, 3 and 6. Four years ago, he released Partitas Nos. 2, 4 and 5. Fred Child visited with Goode in his apartment to talk with him about each of these remarkable sets of dances.

Richard Goode
Richard Goode
Credit: Michael Wilson, Nonesuch
J.S. Bach: The Six Partitas



Hear 30-second selections

audio icon Partita No. 1: Courante

audio icon Partita No. 2: Allemande

audio icon Partita No. 3: Scherzo

audio icon Partita No. 4: Sarabande

audio icon Partita No. 5: Gigue

audio icon Partita No. 6: Sarabande

Keyboard practice consisting of preludes, allemandes, courantes, sarabandes, gigues, menuets and other galanteries, composed for music lovers to refresh their spirits.

 
-- J.S. Bach's inscription on the title page of his partitas.

J.S. Bach wrote his six Partitas for the keyboard in the late 1720s and published them himself in 1731. At the age of 46, despite having already composed hundreds of cantatas, the Well-Tempered Clavier, and the St. Matthew Passion, among other works, the Partitas were Bach's first published body of works.

A partita is a suite made up of popular Baroque instrumental dances of contrasting styles and rhythms. Standardized during Bach's time, the German form of the partita contained the allemande, the courante, the sarabande and the gigue as its core, while other dances could be arranged around them.

As Mr. Goode explained to Fred, while Bach did not invent the partita, he mastered it, making his partitas more elaborate and more ambitious than any partitas composed up to that time. Never repeating himself, Bach expanded and deepened this idea and rhythmic form, with each piece becoming an expressive work on its own. Bach wrote a total of about 30 partitas for solo violin, solo cello, orchestra, including these six partitas for keyboard.

Richard Goode on Bach's Partitas

Partita for keyboard No. 1 in B flat major, BWV 825
Bach's Partita No. 1 may be the most instantly accessible of the group. According to Goode, on the whole it "sort of sounds like Mozart. There is a kind of crystalline, euphonious and limpid grace about this partita."

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Partita for keyboard No. 2 in C minor, BWV 826
While the final capriccio movement is one of the most technically difficult pieces to play, Goode confesses that the allemande is the most difficult dance for him to interpret in these partitas. The allemande cannot always be described definitively as a dance or a song, but rather is an in-between movement with an in-between tempo. Goode also reflects on how "rather wonderfully Bach has related the movements" in his second partita.

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Partita for keyboard No. 3 in A minor, BWV 827
Goode describes the Partita No. 3 as having a split personality, with grim movements that are off set by more tender movements. After the core dances of the allemande, courante, and sarabande, the burlesque and scherzo movements come on like "two slightly sinister clowns" that show clearly the basic character of this partita.

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Partita for keyboard No. 4 in D major, BWV 828
After the grim and "hard as nails" quality of the previous A minor Partita, this mammoth Partita in D major, clocking in at 32:06 on this recording, comes bursting out like the sun with its opening overture that recalls the pageantry of the French court. Goode describes the suite as ceremonial, grand, and celebratory, with a sort of see chanty thrown in the middle.

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Partita for keyboard No. 5 in G major, BWV 829
Bach's partitas aren't meant to be danced to, as evidenced by certain sarabandes that almost completely lose any dance feeling. However, Goode can't play certain movements without feeling the character of the dance, especially in the rhythms of the courante and the passepied of the Partita No. 5. With a final gigue that has "trills erupting in all sorts of nasty places," this suite is perhaps the most virtuosic of Bach's keyboard partitas.

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Partita for keyboard No. 6 in E minor, BWV 830
Goode believes that Bach conceived his partitas for keyboard as a set that builds to a climax in this final partita. While these suites were written for the harpsichord and the clavichord, early keyboards with limited dynamic range compared to the modern piano, Goode tries to hear what the music is saying, and translate that into the language of the piano. Goode jokes, "I think I would have to be dead to play that [passage] without a crescendo."

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In Depth

Rosalyn Tureck: The High Priestess of Bach

Dancing to Bach -- Violinist Hilary Hahn and the Bach Concertos

The Variations of Glenn Gould -- Glenn Gould and the Goldberg Variations

J.S. Bach in the PT 50 -- Essential Classical CDs

"Brandenburg" Concertos Nos. 1 - 6

"Goldberg" Variations, BWV 988

Mass in B minor, BWV 232
 

Other Resources

  • Biography of Richard Goode

  • Nonesuch

  • Marlboro Music School & Festival Web site
        Richard Goode is Co-Artistic Director with Mitsuko Uchida

  • The J.S. Bach Homepage