Johann Sebastian Bach: Partita Number 3 in E Major, BWV 1001

This piece dates from 1720 and is found in a collection of three sonatas and partitas that Bach composed for solo violin. Supposedly these pieces contain some of the most difficult passages ever written.

I have only heard one recording of them, which I originally checked out of my college dorm’s library in 1975–one by Nathan Milstein. His recording has been labeled by some as patrician and elegant, but he makes them sound so gosh-darned easy. I find them so pure and full of a kind of rationalist light and clarity that I’ve never wanted to hear another recording of them.

The Partita Number 3 in E Major is actually my favorite, though I have already written about the “Chaconne” above and in another entry, which comes from the Partita Number 2 in D Minor. Partitas were solo works composed along the lines of a suite, which contains several movements based on dance forms. Partita Number 3 starts out with a wonderfully upbeat prelude, which Bach recycled from his own “Simphonia” to Cantata Number 29. The second movement is a very soulful and moving meditation, called “Loure.” A gavotte and rondo comprise the third movement, which lifts the spirit again. The last four movements, two menuets, a bourree, and a jig, for the most part continue in the same upbeat vein, though with a reserved dignity.

I discovered this piece through some patrician prigs who lived in my dorm. Here’s how it happened. At the end of the fall semester of 1975, I put in for a room transfer within the French House, the dorm where I lived. My end room, located next to the entrance and stairwell was just too noisy. My request was granted and in January, I moved into a much quieter room a few doors down from the lounge.

Another student moved in to the room next to me. On his door, he had posted a little hand-written name tag. It said: Tim W-S*. After getting settled, I went over to greet him. He was a tall, thin guy, with close cropped hair and a large forehead. He told me he was a composition major in the school of music. So, jokingly, I asked him if he was related to a famous composer with the same last name as his. “As a matter of fact, I am.” When I asked how he had gotten interested in composition, he told me that his father had written music for television. When I asked what pieces, he said “The theme from The Flintstones.” I used to religiously watch that program every Friday night as a kid, and can still sing the words to it.

Tim had a bit of an aristocratic air to him, and didn’t seem interested in mixing with the others at the French House. I used to see him almost every time the phone rang, however. Our rooms were connected by a very small phone box and we shared the phone. When the phone rang, one of us would get it. If it were for the other, we’d knock on the inside of the door on the opposite side and pass the phone through the hole to the other.

After a month or two, Tim started dating a girl, who eventually moved into his room. They had a few annoying habits, which the phone box played a part in, and which sometimes made me long for my old room. First, the girlfriend used to love a piece by Bach, which I have already written about, his Chaconne. She used to put on an album, which I think was a guitar transcription by Segovia, and play it incessantly. Sometimes she would leave her side of the phone box open and the little channel would amplify the music as is passed into my room.

Their second annoying habit was, well, downright gross. Almost every night, they ordered in pizza from Dominos. On the first night, the aroma that drifted through the phone box was pleasant. They might have even offered me a slice. Over the weeks, however, the aroma coming through the box started to change. It clearly communicated the fact that they rarely cleaned their room. It had the rank pong of old, moldering pizza cartons and unwashed laundry. I used to dread when the phone rang, for when the door popped open, the stench that blew through would almost make me retch.

My memory of how this was resolved is a bit vague. I think Tim and his girlfriend eventually moved out. On the other side of them lived our French resident assistant, Jean-Marc. One day he told me that his room had an infestation of cockroaches. When the couple had moved, maybe the vermin had migrated to JM’s room in search of food. Fortunately, the cement wall between their room and mine acted as a barrier. Ah, the fond memories of those college days.

Still, they had impeccable taste in music and another piece that I do remember welcoming when it wafted through the phone box, was today’s piece, Bach’s Partita Number 3 in E Major for Unaccompanied Violin.

Once I had been bitten by Milstein’s recording, I had a bit of a dilemma. You could only find them on a three-disk set issued by Deutsche Grammophon. At 10 bucks a disk in 1975 for a DG recording, that put the set right out of my price range. About nine years later, however, I stumbled across a little record store in Lafayette, Louisiana that had given up on trying to sell classical records. To clean out their stock, they were selling off all classical LPs at over 50% off. And there, in the Bach bin, was the set of Milstein, which I snapped up. I pulled it out in the 1990s to listen to it and noticed a number of pops. Shortly thereafter, I found a set on cassettes at a garage sales for about 10 cents a tape. For a while, I had a clean set, and could enjoy them again. But since then, cassette tapes gave rise to CDs, which in turn gave way to online mp3s, and I keep getting tired of having to pay again and again to listen to something I paid for once already.

I tried looking Up Tim on the Internet today with Google. There’s no trace of anyone by that name. Worse, when I looked up who actually wrote the theme song for “The Flinstones” it was the music director for Hanna-Barbera, a one Hoyt Curtin. Wikipedia says he only had one son, whose name was not Tim. So not only was Tim a pig, he was a liar as well.

Hoyt Curtin Biography

Bud the CDs or download MP3s of Bach: Sonatas and Partitas for Solo Violin


About kurtnemes
Writer and Education Professional. Specialties include Ethics, Personal Memoir, Classical music, Tai Chi, Stress Reduction, Meditation, Coping, Classical Music, Aging, Love, Joy, Compassion and Equanimity (& what interests me.)

3 Responses to Johann Sebastian Bach: Partita Number 3 in E Major, BWV 1001

  1. leelotchka44 says:

    Kurt, I’d love to read these in a book with ref. to music/You Tube


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