Movement 1: Prelude
Movement 2: Allemande
Movement 3: Courante I
Movement 4: Courante II
Movement 5: Sarabande
Movement 6: Bourrée I and II
Movement 7: Gigue
Then comes a rather big dose of Courantes—two, in fact, and the second with two variations or doubles. Couperin often wrote series of Courantes in the same key, but it is unusual in Bach. It is not an easy dance to get a hold of, either as a player or as a listener—nor for a dancer, I imagine, as its rhythmic subtleties can be quite complicated. All of the courantes in Bach’s English Suites are of the French variety (the Italian corrente being another kettle of fish, and a much livelier dance), and this is often ignored by pianists who seem to find in them a bit of a romp. Nothing could be further from the true character of the dance. The four we have here are a lesson in ornamentation, especially the second Courante with its Italian-style flourishes in the first double, and the walking bass in the second.
The Sarabande of the A major suite provides the great moment of the entire work. Seventeen of the thirty-two bars contain the swirling motive of the first bar which then soars upwards, resting on the second beat (a rhythmic characteristic of the dance). The melody is more Italian than French with its long phrases and curves. Unlike the other sarabandes of the English Suites, this one is already highly embellished to start with, leaving little room for ‘improvement’ on the repeats.
To conclude we have two high-spirited Bourrées (the first in the major key making a feature of two-note slurs; the second in the minor which stays in the lower half of the keyboard—another thing which Couperin often did), and a Gigue which will be remembered by all those who have played it for the annoying trills in both hands. The piano marking at the end of each section is Bach’s own, showing that he preferred to end this piece with charm rather than bravura.
from notes by Angela Hewitt © 2003