Johann Sebastian Bach left an undeniably extensive body of work. However, musicologists concentrate their effort on the compositions where Bach’s authorship seems somewhat questionable. This is also the case with Sonata in E flat major for flute and harpsichord, BWV 1031, for there is no surviving Bach’s autograph manuscript, only the testimony of Bach’s last student, Christian Friedrich Penzel, and a handwritten copy made by Bach’s son Carl Philipp Emanuel, to whom it is also sometimes attributed. Other opinions are based on the similarity to a sonata by the famous flautist Johann Joachim Quantz, but Sonata in E flat major is in fact perfectly in line with the series of six flute sonatas that Johann Sebastian Bach composed during his time in Leipzig. Their structure is based on the three-part form established by Vivaldi, but they also bear – perhaps surprisingly – all the hallmarks of the contemporary gallant style.
The famous and demanding cycle of the six sonatas and partitas for solo violin was composed by Johann Sebastian Bach between 1717 and 1720 – so their beginnings date back to his stay in Weimar, and their completion to his time in Köthen. Bach was probably inspired by the Dresden virtuoso Johann Georg Pisendel and entitled the pieces Sei solo á Violino senza Basso accompagnato (Six solos for violin unaccompanied by bass) – which was not common at the time. Undoubtedly the best known of these is Partita No. 2 in D minor, BWV 1004. This is mainly due to the final magnificent Ciaccona, longer than the four preceding movements in the style of a French dance suite put together. The Partita opens with the German-inspired dance Allemanda, followed by the French Corrente, the Spanish Sarabanda and the Scottish Giga. Ciaccona, the mighty 257-bar final movement, is one of the most beautiful, well-composed and difficult movements in the violin repertoire. Its very structure is admirable: it consists of 64 variations built on a refined melodic line on a bass model. It has been suggested that with Ciaccona Bach created a tombeau (musical tombstone) for his first wife, Maria Barbara, who died in 1720. The first performers – though not in public – were probably Johann Georg Pisendel or Jean Baptiste Volumier, perhaps also Franz Benda and, of course, Johann Sebastian Bach himself. The works were first published in 1802, and Romantic composers such as Mendelssohn and Schumann sought to adapt them to contemporary tastes and provide piano accompaniment. It was not until Joseph Joachim at the end of the 19th century that the sonatas and partitas were first played publicly in their original form.