Sat, Nov 17, 2018 - Page 14 News List

Bilingual Music: Baroque dance suites

Flemish painter Jan van den Hoecke’s painting of the Holy Roman Emperor Ferdinand III, Johann Jakob Froberger’s patron, whose death was so heartbreaking to the composer that he composed a lamentation in allemande for harpsichord.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

As the name implies, a suite is a collection of short, stylistically different dances. They were a very popular form of composition during the Baroque period. The French ordre and suite and the Italian partite are just different words meaning the same thing.

In previous Bilingual Music articles we have seen how certain French Baroque composers would append unique — and often inscrutable — titles to individual dances within the suite. Yet, the music behind these mysterious titles actually has a set logic and sequence. That is, they would start with an allemande, followed by a courante, then a sarabande and perhaps a gavotte, and conclude with a gigue.

The German Baroque composer Johann Jakob Froberger (1616-1667) is generally regarded as the person who established the accepted sequence of the suite. The manuscripts he presented to the Holy Roman Emperor Ferdinand III have been preserved, and they became the model for later composers to follow.

Suites generally commence with a moderate tempo allemande (originally from “Allemagne,” the French word for Germany), providing a solemn opening to the music. This is followed by a faster tempo triple-meter courante, the name coming from the Italian word for “running,” as in flowing currents. The music then slows down to the moderate pace of the sarabande, a dance originating in the Spanish colonies in South America, a lively and energetic musical style that was tamed when brought across to Europe and transformed into the adagio dances popular in European court music. The gigue, a lively folk dance often used to end the suite with a final flourish, originated from the Irish jig imported to Europe in the mid-17th century before court composers gradually wove a contrapuntal texture into it.

While Baroque composers inherited Froberger’s order, they also introduced other dance styles, known as galanteries, which included elegant, lighter minuets and agile double-time French bourree and gavotte, as well as the chaconne and passacaglia, which were used for variations and later used by Johann Sebastian Bach, among others, to create their masterpieces.

(Translated by Paul Cooper)







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