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Giga from J S Bach's Partita no. 2 in D minor for solo violin, BWV 1004

'Partita' is usually regarded as the Italian term for 'Suite'. Like his Suites for unaccompanied cello, the Partitas for solo violin are a collection of movements based on the rhythm and style of eighteenth-century dances. Unlike the Cello Suites, the Partitas for violin follow a less conventional structure. The Giga (or 'Gigue') is commonly the last movement of a suite, but, in the case of the D-minor Partita, it is the penultimate movement, followed by the epic Chaconne.

Bach used the term 'Partita' in other contexts to refer to variations on a musical theme. The musicologist Joel Lester has suggested that Bach's Partitas could be so named because there is an underlying harmonic link between all the movements (see his book Bach's works for solo violin: style, structure, performance, Oxford University Press). This is particularly noticeable throughout the D-minor Partita. When considering your own interpretation of the Giga, therefore, it may be helpful to look at it within the context of the Partita's other movements.

The origins of the gigue can be traced back to dances from the British Isles known as 'jigs'. When the gigue was adopted into the suite in seventeenth-century Europe, two distinct types emerged: a French gigue and an Italian giga. Both are lively compound-time dances. The 17th-century Italian style giga, however, is often simpler in form than the gigue. It usually has four beats in a bar (where the French gigue normally has two), and requires a faster tempo than the rhythmically and harmonically more complex gigue. By the time Bach began writing suites, at the beginning of the 18th century, the distinction between the two styles had become blurred. The D-minor Giga certainly has some of the characteristics of the Italian style and a fast tempo seems to bring the music to life.

Here violinist Helen Kruger plays the entire movement:


Follow these links to explore the movement in more detail: