It is interesting that the suites by Johann Paul von Westhoff do not use scordatura, despite the fact that they are some of the most demanding violin pieces of their time. This is perhaps because Westhoff was brought up and educated at the Dresden court, where his father was a member of the Hofkapelle; he served in the Dresden Hofkapelle himself until 1697, but moved to Weimar in 1699 to become secretary, musician and tutor in French and Italian at the court. Dresden was traditionally the German court with the closest musical links to Venice and other Italian cities. Heinrich Schütz had continually promoted the Venetian style during his long career as the Kapellmeister of the Dresden court, and Westhoff worked under his successors, the Italians Marco Giuseppe Peranda, Sebastiano Cherici and Vincenzo Albrici. Westhoff was making some sort of statement about the modernity and Italianate nature of his suites when he refrained from using scordatura for such demanding music. His sometime Dresden colleague Johann Jakob Walther strongly criticised scordatura in a preface of 1688, and it declined rapidly around 1700 as composers became more interested in modulating to a range of keys than exploiting the sonority of a particular key.
However, in other respects the collection of six suites which Westhoff published in Dresden in 1697 (we do not know its formal title because the title-page of the only known copy is lost) belongs squarely to the German tradition. It seems to have been the first collection devoted entirely to music for unaccompanied violin, and it has often been thought of as the model for Bach’s solo violin music. However, the resemblance is not that close. Bach tends to suggest polyphony through the use of arpeggios while Westhoff writes mostly in continuous chords. Also, all of Westhoff’s suites use the same sequence of movements – allemande, courante, sarabande and gigue – while each of Bach’s three partitas uses a different sequence of dances. Most important, Westhoff’s dance movements are relatively short and use straightforward harmonic patterns. The more complex Italian harmonic patterns that enabled composers to extend the length of their movements were only taken up by German composers in the second decade of the eighteenth century.
from notes by Peter Holman © 2002