Bach, Johann Sebastian Suite no. 3 in D major BWV1068 arranged for string quartet



Bach, Johann Sebastian Suite no. 3 in D major BWV1068

arranged for string quartet by Margaret Faultless

Johann Sebastian Bach’s ‘Overtures’, or Orchestral Suites as they are now known, have their origins in dance suites that were popular in the 1600s. The word ‘orchestral’ suggests a large ensemble of players but in Bach’s time they would have been performed by only a few (or even single) string players on each part. They were not conceived as a set, and were likely partially written while Bach was working in the court at Cöthen (1717–23) and then later when he assumed the role of director of the Collegium Musicum in Leipzig in 1729. The suites follow the pattern of a French Overture followed by dance movements, each with their own distinctive character.

FE1068 Suite no. 3 in D major BWV 1068

The familiar instrumentation for this suite in D major has three trumpets and timpani, with two oboes, strings plus continuo that often consisted of harpsichord, double bass (or 8’ violone) and bassoon. The Bach scholar, Joshua Rifkin, has suggested there might have been a version for strings alone (plus harpsichord) featuring a solo violin in the overture, an instrumentation also found in the score from c.1750 copied by Penzel in Leipzig. This new arrangement for string quartet arguably loses some of the brilliance provided by the brass and timpani along with the fuller tutti texture of winds and strings together. However, the rhythmic and melodic vitality of the middle parts is brought to the fore and the chattering counterpoint in the fugato section of the overture brims with excitement. It is also possible to create great variety in any performance by varying articulation, dynamics, colour and gesture. The suite’s most famous movement is the Air – not, however, to be played on the G string as in the well-known arrangement! Except for the overtures it is the only non-dance movement in all four suites. The term ‘Air’ was used for a lyrical melody or aria and was a popular form in Lutheran Germany, related to both sacred hymns and vernacular song. The inner parts of the Air are exquisite, they seem to converse, shaping their material in response to the harmony and to the other parts, allowing the effortless song-like upper line to unfold.

score & parts £15