The Sonatas and Partitas for Solo Violin by J. S. Bach, BWV 1001-1006, arranged for Solo Saxophone by Paul Wehage

These six works form an initial series of works for solo instrument which were followed by the Six Cello Suites, BWV 1007-1012 and the Solo Flute Partita, BWV 1013. All of these works were composed during Bach’s position as Concert Master to the Court Orchestra of Prince Leopold of Anhalt-Cöthen, a city which was predominantly Calvinist where Church music was limited to singing unaccompanied psalms. Bach’s music from this period is predominantly instrument, with a surprizing amount of music based on dance forms.

Bach’s appointment to the court of Prince Leopold dates from 1717, but the manuscript source for these works (in Bach’s own hand) dates from 1720. It is probable though that these pieces were composed for one of Bach’s friends, the Violinist Johan Georg Pisendel (who was himself a former student of Vivaldi) who visited Cöthen in 1719 and probably performed a number of these works. In any case, Bach was himself an accomplished violinist and certainly capable of playing these works himself.

Although the title page of the manuscript calls these six works « Partitas », it is usual to refer to the odd numbered works as Sonatas, since they follow the form of the four-movement « da chiesa » form.(slow-fast-slow-fast), with the second movement of each sonata being a fugue. T

hese fugues require a great deal of care in allowing the counterpoint to sound. Hearing the implied movement of the voices through the artiface of the rolled chords which is necessary in the monophonic saxophone is something which a bit of getting used to, but which is absolutely necessary for these fugues to be understandable. Although for the implied counterpoint to sound, relatively fast tempi should be selected but certainly the tempi should not be too fast to blur the structure of the works, especially in the mysterious c minor fugue.

The even-numbered works are Partitas which use dance forms as their inspiration. In the first partita, each movement is also followed by a « double » or variation of the initial movement. The doubles are generally more brilliant forms and should be slightly faster than the initial movements on which they are based.

The third Partita ends with the great d minor Chaconne or Ciaccona (the term in Bach’s autograph). While a slight variation in tempo is possible in the various sections, a regular, steady tempo can help underline the repeated harmonic progression which structure the entire work. The arpeggiated chords during the initial minor section have been written out using my own performance as a base, but variations in speed of the notes are possible according to the taste of the player.

All of these works remain in the original keys. No notes have been modified and performance of these works requires a strong mastery of the upper range of the Saxophone (up to altimissimo high E). Articulations, dynamics etc have been keep to a mininum to allow the greatest flexiblity possible for the performer. It is my sincere hope that these arrangements will allow saxophonists everywhere to approach these monuments of Western Musical.

Paul Wehage


December 12, 2005


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The Six Solo Sonatas and Partitas (Violin), BWV 1001-1006 by J. S. Bach, arranged for Solo Saxophone by Paul Wehage/ Les Six Sonates et Partitas (Violon) BWV 1001-1006 adapté pour Saxophone Seul par Paul Wehage 22€95