Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Four Bach Keyboard Suites

This is my post from this week's Tuesday Blog.

Today I dig through some old MP3.COM downloads for a Once Upon the Internet playlist o four keyboard suites by Johann Sebastian Bach. Bach composed suites, partitas and overtures in the baroque dance suite format for solo instruments such as harpsichord, lute, violin, cello and flute, and for orchestra.

In Bach’s solo keyboard catalog, we typiocally focus on the following sets of 19 suites for keyboard, six English Suites, BWV 806–811, six French Suites, BWV 812–817, the six Partitas, BWV 825-830 and the Overture in the French style, BWV 831.

The nomenclature “English” and “French” isn’t necessarily attributed to Bach and his contemporary publisher - Suites were later given the name 'French' (first recorded usage by Friedrich Wilhelm Marpurg in 1762). Likewise, the English Suites received a later appellation.

Bach's biographer Johann Nikolaus Forkel wrote in his 1802 biography of Bach, "One usually calls them French Suites because they are written in the French manner." This claim, however, is inaccurate: like Bach's other suites, they follow a largely Italian convention. The Courantes of the first (in D minor) and third (in B minor) suites are in the French style, the Courantes of the other four suites are all in the Italian style. Some of the manuscripts that have come down to us are titled "Suites Pour Le Clavecin", which is what probably led to the tradition of calling them "French" Suites.

Bach's English Suites display less affinity with Baroque English keyboard style than do the French Suites to French Baroque keyboard style; the name "English" is thought to date back to a claim that these works might have been composed for an English nobleman. It has also been suggested that the name is a tribute to Charles Dieupart, whose fame was greatest in England, and on whose Six Suittes de clavessin Bach's English Suites were in part based.

The six partitas for keyboard are the last set of suites that Bach composed and the most technically demanding of the three. Although each of the Partitas was published separately under the name Clavier-Übung (Keyboard Practice), they were subsequently collected into a single volume in 1731, with the same name, which Bach himself chose to label his Opus 1.

Happy listening!

Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)

English Suite No. 2 in A minor, BWV 807
Justine McIntyre, piano

English Suite No. 3 in G minor, BWV 808
French Suite No. 6 in E Major, BWV 817
Sonia Rubinsky, piano

Partita No.1 in B Flat Major, BWV 825
Elaine Lau, piano

Downloaded from MP3.COM (December 2002)