Movement 1: Prelude
Movement 2: Allemande
Movement 3: Courante
Movement 4: Sarabande et les agréments de la même Sarabande
Movement 5: Gavotte I and II
Movement 6: Gigue
The theme of the Allemande appears for the first time, rather unusually, in the bass. Taken up by the right hand, it is then swapped back and forth between the hands. After the double bar it is inverted, but then returns to its original form before the end. Bach flaunted his disregard for the rules and wrote a pair of consecutive octaves going into bar 11 that must have shocked his students! The Courante is rhythmically complex, with one passage in the first section sounding as though we are suddenly in 4/4 time rather than 3/2. The Sarabande is truly magical and must be one of his most inspired examples of this dance. The pedal point at the beginning lasts a full seven bars, and requires some repetition of the low G if it is to continue sounding. There are swift changes of key, and enharmonic progressions over a second pedal point that add to its beauty. As in the second suite, Bach gives us fully written-out ‘agréments’ which this time I like to play after a full, repeated version of the original dance. That way it somehow seems like a distant ‘echo’ of what has come before, yet even more wondrous and expressive.
The two Gavottes are well known—probably the best known movements in all the English suites. The first makes you think of Rameau’s famous Tambourin with the insistent, drum-like repeated Gs in the bass. The second is a musette in the major key which has a tender, almost lullaby-ish character. It is always preferable, I think, to play the pair of galanteries at the same speed, so this second gavotte prevents you from taking the first one too fast. The Gigue is in fact a three-part fugue of great difficulty which needs clarity, precision, and a sense of line to be effective. This is definitely one movement in which the constant ‘hammering and rattling’ that Forkel talks about can be most distressing!
from notes by Angela Hewitt © 2003