Pieter Dirksen: Bach’s partita ‘Ach, was soll ich Sünder machen

by Pieter Dirksen | Het ORGEL | Year 95 | (1999) | Issue 7


Pieter Dirksen ‘Bach’s partita ‘Ach, was soll ich Sünder machen’
het ORGEL 95 (1999), nr. 1, 14-24 [summary]

J.S. Bach’s authorship of the chorale partita BWV 770’Ach, was soll ich Sünder machen has often been doub-ted, though its outspoken stylisticfeatures and the trustworthiness of the sources leave hardly any room for doubt. It showsthe creative response of the young Bach to this supremely Thuringian genre, in particularto the harpsichord-styled chorale partitas of his alleged teacher Georg Böhm. Bach laid anew emphasis on dense counter-point, fullness of harmony, and motivic consistency as wellas careful (cyclical) planning of the partita as a whole, and BWV 770 forms in every way afine example of this individual, new concept. In the extension of the final twovaria-tions Bach follows the example of Böhm, adopting the latter’s fusion of middle andnorth German elements. However, Bach goes well beyond his model here, both in length andin for-mal and stylistic audacities, as is espe-cially striking in the Stylus phantasticusmanner of the final partita. It seems that BWV 770, following on Böhm’s partitas, wasprimarily intended for harpsichord, including the last two variations, where (most of) theindica-tions for the use of two manuals may be an afterthought of the composer to make thework (also) suited for the organ. All evidence points to a date of composition in the lateArnstadt period, i.e. ca. 1706, BWV 770 takes an honou-red place within a group of largekey-board works from this period which can be considered as Bach’s first master-pieces.