Thursday, December 27, 2012

Townsend: Suite in A major, Allemande by J. S. Bach

I managed to put up the first movement of this suite yesterday without actually mentioning anything about the music! Let me fix that. The instrumental suites of Bach, whether for keyboard, lute, violin or cello, are multi-movement works inspired largely by the French style. German musicians of the 17th and 18th centuries were synthesizers, taking what they liked and admired from both French and Italian models. Bach learned a great deal about harmonic clarity and drive from the model of Vivaldi, but for the suite, the model was J. J. Froberger (1616 - 1667), a 17th century keyboard composer whose Dix suittes de clavessin, published after his death, were the model for the instrumental suite for every German composer afterwards.

The core of the suite was four courtly dances in the French style: the allemande (a sober dance in duple time, as the name tells us, originating in Germany), the courante (a quicker courting dance in triple time that comes in both Italian and French forms, the French being a bit slower and with hemiola effects), the sarabande (originating in Mexico as a sexy sensual dance and first found in Europe in guitar tablature, it was slowed down considerably and made more dignified with the accent on the second beat) and the gigue (imported from England and Ireland, a quick dance in compound time, usually 6/8). This international set of dances became the core of the baroque suite. Added to these four dances was the prelude, often in the style brisé or 'broken' style of the lute, meaning that it was largely chordal with the chords broken up into interesting arpeggios as we heard in the prelude yesterday. Another addition, usually between the sarabande and the gigue, were dances known as galanteries, that could be a pair of minuets, or a single air, bourrée, gavotte or chaconne. Oddly, this feature of the Baroque suite was the only one that survived into the classical period where the standard arrangement of the multi-movement instrumental piece was the sonata with four movements consisting of a quick sonata-form movement, a slow movement, a pair of minuets and a rondo.

Here is the allemande to the Suite in A major. I have included a portrait of Bach that he had done in Leipzig when he was applying for admission to a learnéd society, a photo of the "Bachhaus" in Köthen where he lived from 1717 to 1723 and composed the suites for solo cello, then there is the opening of my edition of the suite and some photos of me.

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