The terms "Partita diverse," "partite diverse,"
"chorale partite," and "chorale variations" are fairly
interchangeable and refer to a set of variations on a
church chorale prelude or organ chorale. These, in
turn, are terms that refer to a solo organ presentation
of a Lutheran chorale melody (in whole or in part),
rooted in the idea of playing the melody of a hymn
before the congregation was to sing it, in order to
familiarize them with the tune. Church organists of
Bach's caliber often improvised on these familiar
chorale themes and sometimes preserved their
improvisations as sets of variations.
Bach left four sets of chorale variations that are
fully accepted as his, of which this one is the
largest, best integrated, and most comprehensive in the
variety of variation techniques and textures that it
employs. The first three sets are all relatively early
works. The final set of chorale variations, the Canonic
Variations on "Vom Himmel hoch," was written quite late
in Bach's life.
The exact timing of composition of this and the other
early chorale partitas causes lively discussion among
Bach scholars. The first two might have been written
when he worked in Lüneberg when he was between 15 and
17 years old and had a chance to work with Georg Böhm,
a composer prolific in the chorale variation genre.
Others point to the fine part-writing and motivic
development that developed later in Bach's career. The
style is consistent with compositions written in
Arnstadt and Mühlhausen, where Bach worked until 1708,
when he entered the service of Duke Wilhelm Ernst of
Saxe-Weimar. Some scholars point out that Bach was
known to write music in the style of this partita
during his Weimar years.
For the purpose of this arrangement, I chose 6 of the
11 variations that lent themselves to adaptation for
woodwind quartet. I took some creative license with the
parts as necessary to remain playable within the ranges
of the respective instruments.
Although written for organ, I arranged this piece for a
non-standard Woodwind Quartet (Flute, Oboe, English
Horn and Bassoon).