SONATA n0. 1 IN G MINOR, BWV 1001
These performances are based on the arrangements in our book.
Similarly to how the first movement of the Well Tempered Clavier begins with a middle C and a C-major arpeggio in the middle of the keyboard, the Sonatas and Partitas open with the violin introducing itself, sounding its lowest note and sweeping up through one of its signature chords. Being a guitarist, I find it serendipitous that Bach finishes his work with the BWV 1006 Gigue playing a descending arpeggio on the guitar's signature chord, E major, and then ending on our lowest note.
All three sonatas are in the style of Sonata da chiesa, or Church Sonata. In fact every sonata has at least one surviving movement written for the keyboard; also, the fugue in BWV 1001 was transcribed in Bach’s time for the organ. Therefore, it is likely that parts of these Sonatas were incorporated into church services.
The writing style in the opening movement, Adagio, grew out of the improvisatory prelude, in which a composer would write only a very general outline, and the performer was expected to improvise divisions and counterpoint within the prescribed framework. These preludes were often written without barlines and were played with extreme freedom in every respect. In Bach's Adagio, while all aspects may be written out with meticulous detail, the piece comes alive when performers play with a certain freedom, as though they may be improvising. Furthermore, it will be helpful to performers to study the movement, discover how the harmonies interact, and become aware of the basic underlying melody, as it would sound without the elaborate divisions and embellishments.
The Fugue that follows then has a stronger contrast, with its crisp rhythm and tightly interwoven structure. There are several videos on this site that discuss the structure of this well known and much loved piece.
The Sicilianas in compound time, along with the Allemandas in simple time, seem to have been written strictly as musical interludes, and in Bach's time were not actually danced in Ballets or in courts, as there are no surviving choreographies, or any kinds of written descriptions of them actually having been danced. Nevertheless, this Siciliana does sound like a dance with its slow lilting rhythm, and like all the third movements in the Sonatas, this one is characterized by beautiful lyrical lines and is in a closely related key, here Bb.
The Presto that closes the movement is reminiscent of a more archaic era, with its sequences that carry on for many repetitions. They give the effect of long sweeping waves that take the listener from one section to another, ending the Sonata with brilliant bravura writing.