Partitas for keyboard (Bach)

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Title page of Clavier-Übung I

The Partitas, BWV 825–830, are a set of six harpsichord suites written by Johann Sebastian Bach, published from 1726 to 1730 as Clavier-Übung I, and the first of his works to be published under his direction. They were, however, among the last of his keyboard suites to be composed, the others being the six English Suites, BWV 806-811 and the six French Suites, BWV 812-817.


These six suites for keyboard are the last set that Bach composed and the most technically demanding of the three. They were composed between 1725 and 1730 or 1731. As with the French and English Suites, the autograph manuscript of the Partitas is no longer extant.

In keeping with a nineteenth-century naming tradition that labelled Bach's first set of Suites English and the second French, the Partitas are sometimes referred to as the German Suites.[1] This title, however, is a publishing convenience; there is nothing particularly German about the Partitas. In comparison with the two earlier sets of suites, the Partitas are by far the most free-ranging in terms of structure. Unlike the English Suites, for example, wherein each opens with a strict prelude, the Partitas feature a number of different opening styles including an ornamental Overture and a Toccata.

Although each of the Partitas was published separately, they were collected into a single volume (1731), known as the Clavier-Übung I (Keyboard Practice), which Bach himself chose to label his Opus 1. Unlike the earlier sets of suites, Bach originally intended to publish seven Partitas, advertising in the Spring of 1730 upon the publication of the fifth Partita that the promised collected volume would contain two more such pieces. The plan was then revised to include a total of eight works: six Partitas in Part I (1731) and two larger works in Part II (1735).

The keys of the six Partitas (B-flat major, C minor, A minor, D major, G major, E minor) seem to be an irregular sequence, but in fact they form a sequence of intervals going up and then down by increasing amounts: a second up (B-flat to C), a third down (C to A), a fourth up (A to D), a fifth down (D to G), and finally a sixth up (G to E).[2] The key sequence continues into Clavier-Übung II (1735) with two larger works: the Italian Concerto, a seventh down (E to F), and the French Overture, an augmented fourth up (F to B-natural). Thus this sequence of customary tonalities for 18th-century keyboard compositions is complete, extending from the first letter of his name (Bach's "home" key, B-flat, in German is B) to the last letter of his name (B-natural in German is H).


Opening Praeludium from Partita No.1, BWV 825, first edition, 1731
  • Partita No. 1 in B-flat major, BWV 825
Praeludium, Allemande, Corrente, Sarabande, Menuet I, Menuet II, Gigue
  • Partita No. 2 in C minor, BWV 826
Sinfonia, Allemande, Courante, Sarabande, Rondeaux, Capriccio
  • Partita No. 3 in A minor, BWV 827
Fantasia, Allemande, Corrente, Sarabande, Burlesca, Scherzo, Gigue
Ouvertüre, Allemande, Courante, Aria, Sarabande, Menuet, Gigue
  • Partita No. 5 in G major, BWV 829
Praeambulum, Allemande, Corrente, Sarabande, Tempo di Minuetto, Passepied, Gigue
Toccata, Allemande, Corrente, Air, Sarabande, Tempo di Gavotta, Gigue

Notable recordings[edit]

On harpsichord[edit]

Close of final Gigue from Partita No.6, BWV 830, first edition, 1731

On piano[edit]

On guitar[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Philipp Spitta, Johann Sebastian Bach: his work and influence on the music of Germany, 1685-1750, Volume 3 (Novello and company, limited, 1899) p. 156.
  2. ^ Tomita, Yo (2002). "J.S. Bach: The Six Partitas". Yo Tomita's personal web space. Retrieved 31 October 2015. 

External links[edit]