The six partitas BWV 825-830 are among the last of Bach’s keyboard suites to be composed. They were published from 1726 to 1730 as Clavier-Übung I (“Keyboard Exercise”). The title-page of the first partita, published in 1726, reads as (italic is mine):
Keyboard Practice, consisting of preludes, allemandes, courantes, sarabandes, gigues, minuets, and other galanteries, composed for music lovers, to refresh their spirits, by Johann Sebastian Bach, Actual Capellmeister to His Highness the Prince of Anhalt-Cöthen and Directore Chori Musici Lipsiensis. Partita I. Published by the Author. 1726.
Ref. argues that Bach was strongly inspired (on ‘inspiration’, cf. this post) by Johann Kuhnau, his predecessor at the post of director of music in Leipzig (where Bach took office in 1723) as a sort of homage mixed with with pride. This is what  says:
Bach’s partitas were modelled on Kuhnau’s Neue Clavier-Übung; from this work Bach took the general title and the name ‘partita’ (or Partie). Without this historical tie, it is difficult to explain why Bach decided to publish this sort of entertainment music at this particular point in time. Kuhnau, in fact, published two sets of Clavier-Übungen, in 1689 and 1692 respectively, each containing seven partitas. They were some of the best-known keyboard works at the time in Germany. Bach’s partitas can, therefore, be seen as his homage to his predecessor, not by nostalgic means but by ‘new compositional challenge’. This is evident in the stylistic contents of Bach’s sets as if his intention was to update Kuhnau’s original contributions. The break with Kuhnau is also apparent in the shape of the collection. Bach wrote only six partitas, and not seven. (In fact, we learn from a newspaper advertisement on 1 May 1730 that Bach hesitated about writing a seventh.) The key scheme of the collection is different; Bach took the idea and developed it from his predecessor. Kuhnau’s scheme was a simple one, based on ascending scale: the first set explores major keys only (C–D–E–F–G–A–B-flat), while the second uses minor keys only (c–d–e–f–g–a–b). Bach’s key-scheme (B-flat–c–a–D–G–e) starts from the point where Kuhnau left off, and mixes major and minor modes quite randomly. Here, yet again, Bach goes one step further than Kuhnau: Bach’s scheme is, in fact, a sophisticated sequence based on gradually expanding upward and downward intervals—viz. 2nd up, 3rd down, 4th up, 5th down, 6th up—which, effectively, forms a hybrid, two-dimensional (or crescendo) shape.
The result was astonishing and far surpassed the earlier work of Kuhnau. As J.N. Forkel in his pioneering biography of Bach (1802) says : “… such splendid keyboard compositions had never previously been seen or heard. Whoever learnt to perform any of these pieces to a high standard could make his fortune in the world”.
These partitas are so beautiful, sensual and… complex, that I find it apropos here to pay (a very modest) tribute to the female (keyboard) interpreters of Bach. They not only mastered the extremely demanding music of Bach, but also had to impose themselves and find their way in the man-dominated world of classical music.
Let’s start wit the beautiful Maria Tipo interpreting the full set of the partitas:
Another complete set, this time by Tatiana Nikolayeva (cf. this post about her) is available here :
The first Partita in B flat, BWV 825, by Rosalyn Tureck
The Partita No 2 in C minor, BWV 826, by Martha Argerich
The Partita No.3 in A minor, BWV 827, by Tatiana Nikolayeva
The Partita No.4 in D major, BWV 828, by Eunice Norton
Click here to watch in youtube. (cannot be embedded).
Zuzana Ruzickova playing the Partita No.5 in G major, BWV 829 (harpsichord)
Christiane Jaccottet playing the Partita No.6, in E minor, BWV 830, in harpsichord
Agi Jambor playing the 6th Partita, in E minor, BWV 830 (Yes, it’s my favorite partita)
And last but not least, here’s one of my all time favorite performances; a wonderful interpretation of the Partita No.6 in E minor, BWV 830, by Tatiana Nikolayeva
… and many other great artists this post couldn’t cover.
I hope that these wonderful pieces did refresh your spirits as Bach intended them to do.
 Yo Tomita – The Six Partitas
- Bach’s Partitas for keyboard
- Great Women Pianists
- Women at the Piano