Bach composed during his residence in Cöthen, a set of three sonatas and partitas 3, between 1703 and 1720. This is a very prolific period when he collaborated with chamber ensembles and he composed mainly instrumental works like Brandenburg concertos or the French suites. The high technical level of the musicians allowed him to add complexity in his works.
Sonatas and partitas for violin are a set of six works: three sonatas and three partitas.
The sonatas are composed of four movements and partitas with a variable number of dance moves.
The sonatas adhere to the classical structure of the sonata da chiesa (church sonata of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries), with the slow-fast-slow-fast tempo and a second movement fugue.
The first movement is slow (Adagio, Grave, Adagio) followed by a fugue in the second movement where are shown the possible effects of polyphonic violin, are explored the limits of the violin and then a transition to counterpoint is made, then a lyrical meditation (Siciliana, Andante, Largo) and ends with a quick movement with a binary structure (Allegro, Allegro assai).
Movement I – Adagio
The French and Italian styles were popular at the days of Bach. French style is nevertheless significant in the Adagio. Some elements of French style like expressiveness and freedom are present in tempo (rubato) and time, the use of ornament, especially the appoggiaturas, giving the music a special character. The creation of a polyphony illusion and linearity was a common practice in French music.
This movement has an expressive melodic quality which, combined with the use of advanced harmonies creates a memorable introduction to the sonata. The versatility of chords distinguishes this movement and promotes the richness of expression.
Movement II – Fugue
If we compare Bach’s fugues, composed for violin to his fugues for other instruments, the violin fugues are longer. The shortest of them is the Fugue in G minor.
Fugue in G minor will certainly seem, very familiar to those who are familiar with Bach’s organ music. This fugue was later reworked for the organ to be part of Prelude and Fugue in D minor, BWV 539 and for lute in the Fugue BWV 1000.
The repeated use of chords with three and four notes in this fugue is the main point of this movement. However, many different characters are played in this fugue, being one of the reasons why this movement is exciting to listen to and to play. The fugue is the central movement of this sonata.
Sonata N.1, Adagio by Isaac Stern
Movement III – Siciliana
The term Sicilian or Siciliana is used for instrumental movements or arias that were popular in the late seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Usually, it was a slow movement in 6/8 or 12/8 one or two sentences long. In the eighteenth century, many of these movements appeared in the instrumental music – inspired by Italian style. It is a dance movement originating in Sicily. It is sometimes associated with the pastoral spirit and appears as a slow movement in Baroque sonatas of Bach, Handel and Corelli, among others. The origin of the style that could bind to Sicily is extremely difficult to trace.
The third movement of the Sonata is contrasting in B flat major. In fact, in the three sonatas, Bach sets the new tone in the third movement.
This movement is a dance movement. Pastoral sense of this movement combined with the pulsating rhythmic structure is a pleasure for the listener and is very refreshing after the intense and emotionally grueling second movement fugue.
Sonata N.1, Siciliano by Lana Trotovsek
Movement IV – Presto
Presto tempo suggests a very fast playing. However, if today presto indicates a faster tempo than Allegro, previously, it indicated a moderately fast tempo.
The virtuoso and euphoria passages form in this movement a perfect combination for the ending of this Sonata. The presto is marked by strong harmony changes followed by surprising connections that make this ending remarkable.
Sonata N.1, Presto, por Miho Hakamata