Hyperion Records

French Overture in B minor, BWV831
composer

Recordings
'Bach: Angela Hewitt plays Bach' (CDS44421/35)
Bach: Angela Hewitt plays Bach
MP3 £45.00FLAC £45.00ALAC £45.00Buy by post £50.00 CDS44421/35  15CDs Boxed set (at a special price)  
'Bach: Italian Concerto & French Overture' (CDA67306)
Bach: Italian Concerto & French Overture
Details
Movement 01: Ouverture
Track 15 on CDA67306 [12'09]
Track 15 on CDS44421/35 CD12 [12'09] 15CDs Boxed set (at a special price)
Movement 02: Courante
Track 16 on CDA67306 [2'27]
Track 16 on CDS44421/35 CD12 [2'27] 15CDs Boxed set (at a special price)
Movement 03: Gavotte I
Track 17 on CDA67306 [1'23]
Track 17 on CDS44421/35 CD12 [1'23] 15CDs Boxed set (at a special price)
Movement 04: Gavotte II
Track 18 on CDA67306 [1'25]
Track 18 on CDS44421/35 CD12 [1'25] 15CDs Boxed set (at a special price)
Movement 05: Gavotte I da capo
Track 19 on CDA67306 [0'46]
Track 19 on CDS44421/35 CD12 [0'46] 15CDs Boxed set (at a special price)
Movement 06: Passepied I
Track 20 on CDA67306 [1'09]
Track 20 on CDS44421/35 CD12 [1'09] 15CDs Boxed set (at a special price)
Movement 07: Passepied II
Track 21 on CDA67306 [0'56]
Track 21 on CDS44421/35 CD12 [0'56] 15CDs Boxed set (at a special price)
Movement 08: Passpied I da capo
Track 22 on CDA67306 [0'43]
Track 22 on CDS44421/35 CD12 [0'43] 15CDs Boxed set (at a special price)
Movement 09: Sarabande
Track 23 on CDA67306 [4'00]
Track 23 on CDS44421/35 CD12 [4'00] 15CDs Boxed set (at a special price)
Movement 10: Bourrée I
Track 24 on CDA67306 [0'52]
Track 24 on CDS44421/35 CD12 [0'52] 15CDs Boxed set (at a special price)
Movement 11: Bourrée II
Track 25 on CDA67306 [1'03]
Track 25 on CDS44421/35 CD12 [1'03] 15CDs Boxed set (at a special price)
Movement 12: Bourrée I da capo
Track 26 on CDA67306 [0'29]
Track 26 on CDS44421/35 CD12 [0'29] 15CDs Boxed set (at a special price)
Movement 13: Gigue
Track 27 on CDA67306 [2'32]
Track 27 on CDS44421/35 CD12 [2'32] 15CDs Boxed set (at a special price)
Movement 14: Echo
Track 28 on CDA67306 [2'25]
Track 28 on CDS44421/35 CD12 [2'25] 15CDs Boxed set (at a special price)

French Overture in B minor, BWV831
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The French Overture, BWV831 (or Partita in B minor as it is often called), exists in an earlier version in the key of C minor, written in the hand of Bach’s second wife, Anna Magdalena. The transposition down a semitone was no doubt to provide more contrast with the Italian Concerto in F major. The only other real difference between the two versions is in the opening movement, also marked Ouverture. In the later version, Bach is much more precise in his notation of the dotted rhythms and ‘tirades’ (upbeat flourishes) that open the piece, shortening them in accordance with the performance practices of the time. These jerky rhythms (‘saccadé’ was the word used in French) give the French Overture its essential character of grandeur and pomposity. As was customary, there is a second section in a faster tempo which is fugal in nature but including more homophonic episodes. Here Bach again uses the words forte and piano for dynamic contrast. More unusual is the return to the slow tempo for an extended passage at the end, and the repeat taking us back to the Allegro. This makes the first movement of this suite very imposing, in contrast with the other, more delicate dance movements.

These dance movements follow, beginning with a Courante (the usual allemande is omitted). The first thing to remember here is that the French dance of this name is very different from the Italian corrente. The latter is almost a virtuoso showpiece; the former is ranked with the sarabande as one of the slowest triple-metre dances in the suite. Its qualities are described as serious, solemn, noble and earnest by the theoreticians of the time. It is also marked by rhythmic ambiguities in its 3/2 metre. Bach brings this out beautifully in the left hand of this Courante, which lands on every other beat in the opening two bars. Then we have two graceful Gavottes, the first using semiquaver ‘tirades’, the second restricting itself to the lower register and demanding a change of colour. One of the most attractive dances of the suite comes next – the Passepied. Again in a pair, the first of these opens with an energetic trill that propels us to the end of the phrase. The usual definition of a passepied as a ‘fast minuet’ ignores its more vigorous accentuation and off-beat accents (such as in the alto voice of bars 5 to 6 and 29 to 30). The second Passepied is much calmer, resembling a musette with its drone bass. Mattheson described the passepied as frivolous, but pleasant – ‘just as many a female who, though she is a little inconstant, nevertheless does not therewith lose her charm’.

The core of the suite is occupied by a beautiful Sarabande. This dance, besides being noted for its noble character, is also intense, passionate, and meant to disturb the tranquillity of the mind. A certain ‘nonchalance’ was required to dance it: impeccable carriage of the head and body, but at the same time being alert and ready to execute any movement. A description dating from 1671 gives us some idea of the effect it made: ‘Now and then he [the dancer] would express anger and spite with an impetuous and turbulent rhythmic unit; and then, evoking a sweeter passion by more moderate motions, he would sigh, swoon, let his eyes wander languidly; and certain sinuous movements of the arms and body, nonchalant, disjointed and passionate, made him appear so admirable and so charming that throughout this enchanting dance he won as many hearts as he attracted spectators.’

In this particular Sarabande, Bach clearly adopts the French tradition of accenting the second beat of the bar, making it the high point of the phrase. It is also very contrapuntal, with unusual dissonances and swift modulations. A perfect legato without the use of the pedal is needed to do it justice.

Bourrées are often played far too quickly. Although energetic and joyful (lustig), they still need to be danceable. While the first of another pair in this suite uses the characteristic two-note upbeat and syncopation in bar 4, the second is unorthodox in using three notes as an upbeat. Again the range is considerably lower than its partner. The French Gigue that follows is a perfect example of what it should be: lightly skipping, sprightly, with the constant use of the ‘sautillant’ figure. It should not be anxious or frenzied. The phrases can be clearly marked to make it more intelligible to the listener. Only towards the end does the left hand become more involved, rather than just accompanying, with extra ‘tirades’ adding to the excitement.

The work could end here, but it doesn’t. Instead Bach gives us his pièce de résistance, the Echo, to top it all off. Though obviously orchestral (we think of the famous Badinerie concluding the B minor Orchestral Suite), Bach makes dramatic use of the two keyboards by writing in echoes that require a rapid change of manual. On the piano, of course, this is a bit less dramatic, but the effect must still be there. The actual echoes do not always simply repeat what has gone before but often ornament it, adding that extra stroke of genius. Scheibe declared that Bach’s music ‘is exceedingly difficult to play because the efficiency of his own limbs sets his standards’. Fortunately Bach made no compromises!

from notes by Angela Hewitt © 2001

Track-specific metadata
Click track numbers opposite to select

Details for CDA67306 track 20
Passepied I
Artists
ISRC
GB-AJY-00-30620
Duration
1'09
Recording date
7 October 2000
Recording venue
Henry Wood Hall, London, United Kingdom
Recording producer
Ludger Böckenhoff
Recording engineer
Ludger Böckenhoff
Hyperion usage
  1. Bach: Italian Concerto & French Overture (CDA67306)
    Disc 1 Track 20
    Release date: January 2001
  2. Bach: Angela Hewitt plays Bach (CDS44421/35)
    Disc 12 Track 20
    Release date: September 2010
    15CDs Boxed set (at a special price)
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