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Robbie Chan

11 Dec 2014
Performing the Dances of J.S. Bachs Lute Suite no.3, BWV 995

What makes a piece of music a dance? The apparent response would be an incessant
recurring rhythmic motif. However, the meter, rhythmic structure, form, harmonic progression,
phrase structure, and texture, are also essential elements that lends a dance its particular
character. In addition, conventions of performance that may not be derived from notation, are
also vital to the identity of a dance. For the performer who wishes to perform dance music,
knowledge of the characteristic elements will help him convey the music in an idiomatic manner
and realize the works potential.
The works of Johann Sebastian Bach provide a good basis of study for dances. He
composed many dances in a great variety, while still maintaining each dances stylistic features,
as if to explore and push the limits of each individual dance form. He has also incorporated
dance rhythms into many of his non-dance pieces, such as his cantatas and chorales, as a way of
borrowing the affect of a dance.
Although Bach never travelled outside of Germanic lands during his lifetime, he
absorbed the musical styles and compositional practices of other geographical centers in his
music. It was natural for Bach to have crossed paths with the musical traditions of Italy and
France as the social traditions of those cultural centers were ubiquitous and deeply rooted in his
daily life. French court dances were regularly performed in German courts. The practices of
Italian violinists and vocalists, which inspired new expressive approaches to melodic writing,
were common place in the musical circles that Bach traveled in. And the French lute tradition
was firmly established in German musical centers by German lutenists who studied with the

French masters (Ledbetter 46).

As Bach adapted many of these styles in his music, distinguishing between the French
and Italian gestures poses a challenge. While some individual pieces by Bach may be identified
as predominantly Italian, French, or German in idiom, there are also many instances where the
distinction is unclear especially when the styles are mixed or used sporadically. It is in such
instances of ambiguous musical gestures that may not be easily categorized as Italian, French, or
German that this essay plans to suggest fitting explanation. It is crucial for the performer to be as
well informed about the context and practices of these styles in order to communicate the
composers intention. For example, performing the first section of a French overture with
metronomic precision to rhythmic values would produce result contradictory to the identity of
the work. Insights about the level of the beat, tempo, articulation, caesuras, and affect will help
the performer bring the dances to life.
As there are too many dance genres that Bach composed, his Lute Suite No.3 BWV 995
will be used as a framework for in-depth exploration of the dances. The objective is to classify
and identify musical elements that are crucial to the identity of each individual dance, and to
clarify the performance practices appropriate for the music of Bach and his contemporaries.

National Styles: Italian, French, and German

Before delving into specific dances, some general observations about the French, Italian,
and German national styles will allow for a better understanding of how individual dances
developed their character. These three national styles were the dominant styles of the Baroque
era. While there were other regional styles, they contributed more towards the popular and folk

traditions, and remained outside the centrality of music from the Baroque era and more
specifically, the music of Bach (Ratner 359).

The Italian style was the most prominent of the three national styles due to the spread of
its virtuosic school of violin playing and bel-canto singing. Italian music of the early 18th century
often possess frequent key changes and repeating passages. The most captivating quality of
Italian music is perhaps melody, which usually floats above and rarely distracts the simple and
regular harmonic progression that accompanies it. Features of Italian melody includes the
mechanical figuration in rapid notes, repetitive arpeggios patterns, and florid ornamentation,
such as appoggiaturas, trills, tiratas, and mordents (Ratner 338). Regular rhythmic pulsation
plays an important role in Italian instrumental music. This is achieved through the use of
uniformed rhythmic divisions, repeated patterns, and a punctuating bass line that accentuates
downbeats. Another quality that adds to the persistent rhythmic drive is the use of a more
transparent harmonic texture. (See Ratner, Italian Style, 335)

In late 17th century France, the absolutist reign of Louis XIV shaped the French style and
the role of music. Music was subservient to declamation and dancing, which were the focus of
artistic life in dramatic forms such as the comdie ballet and the tragdie en musique as
developed by Jean-Baptiste Lully. The purpose of music was to enhance the text or to
accompany choreography. This paradigm was in contrast with the Italians, who at this stage of

operatic history prioritized melody and vocal performativity. The French orchestra that
accompanied the dances played in an obligatory five-part texture, as cultivated by Lully in his
tragdies en musique. This rich texture generated a massive sound and a slower rhythmic drive,
which responds to the grandeur and attention required of French spectacle.
In the French style, elaborate ornaments such as appoggiaturas, trills, turns, and mordents
frequently decorate a single note. Short phrases are often echoed in various registers through the
use of coloristic embellishments. The style bris or broken style, originating from the French lute
tradition, where notes of a chord are played in sequence rather than simultaneously is also a
common textural quality of the French style. Wide variety of ornamental figuration that are
derived and elaborated from the style bris can be seen throughout French keyboard music.

The German Mixed Style

The German courts that were the center of musical activities employed both French and
Italian musicians. As such, French and Italian music influenced not only Bach but also his
German contemporaries, including Georg Philipp Telemann and Johann Joachim Quantz. The
music of Arcangelo Corelli, Giuseppe Torelli, and Antonio Vivaldi stood as models for the
Italian style, and that of Jean-Baptiste Lully, Franois Couperin, and Andr Campra for the
French style. The music of these composers was widely disseminated and performed in German
speaking lands. Thus, German composers readily adopted the styles of the Italian and French, not
only because of their popularity, but also because of their perceived cultural superiority.
Although German music took much from the Italian and French styles, they maintain a
style that can be qualified as their own. One which exhibits a more complex and full harmony

and learned contrapuntal logic. The German devotion to the strict and learned style produced a
body of work that is characterized by a rich texture, filled with imitations, counter rhythms, and a
quick harmonic rhythm. Together with the practice of developing a single idea to diverse ends,
the effect of German style is often that of compression and greater substance (Ratner 356).

The Cultural Significance of Court Dance

[After] the severe economic and social disruptions of the Thirty Years War [between
the years 1618-1648], many German courts and cities imported culture from France
and Italy as part of a peacetime cultural competition, striving to build - brilliant, elegant
centers of civility which would outshine those of their neighbors (Little 3).
One of these cultural imports was French court dance. In France, these dances occurred at
ceremonial events held in courts and were attended by aristocrats. They were well rehearsed and
planned, and only the best recreational dancers performed while others watched and admired.
Almost all of the dances (minuets, courantes, gavottes, and other forms) consisted of special
written choreographies which were memorized beforehand; other members of the court had
learned the same choreographies and would know if they were performed correctly. Elegant
ceremonial balls were held to celebrate important events of the realm, such as a military victory,
the signing of a treaty, and the marriage or birthday of a socially prominent person (Little 5).
In German courts, much of the same tradition was preserved. By the early 18th century, the
custom of formal balls in the French style was beginning to be enjoyed by the middle classes as
well as the aristocrats. Although these balls were attended by a greater range of classes, it still
maintained the French standard of style, civility, and dignity. Apart from ceremonial balls held in

the courts, dance masters held weekly balls as an avenue for students to perform their
choreographies. In the interest of raising their social standing, the upper middle class strove to
imitate court life. They also adopted the practice of holding balls as much as it was possible. By
learning gracious behavior through dancing, the German citizens gained a sense of pride and
competence in society. The social gestures such as, bowing, taking ones hat off, and other
cultured behavior that were part of dance instructions were especially important to the middle
class person who aims for a better life. Such gestures were expected not only of the participants
of the dance events but also of anyone who were to be presented in court (see Little 9).
Apart from ceremonial balls, theatrical dance which was more elaborate and carried greater
social prestige were held at the more affluent courts. They were larger productions involving
French dancers and a bigger ensemble, and included works such as opera and ballet. French
ballets and operas required a large audience with refined taste in order to make its excessive
expenditure worthwhile. Yet many German courts invested in this recreation in pursuit of
assimilating the elegance of French culture (Little 12).
French dance masters were held in high regard and enjoyed a social standing equal to those
of doctors, lawyers, and businessmen, who made up the upper stratum of society (Little 9).
Taking this and previous details into account, it is clear that French court dance was esteemed in
the Germans social milieu. It represented the epitome of refinement, provided a way into a
cultured lifestyle, and reflected ones social hierarchy. As such, many German citizens were
eager to adopt the practice.

Lute Suite No. 3, BWV 995

Bach likely composed the cello suites between the years 1717 and 1723, when he served
as a Kapellmeister in Kthen. The 5th cello suite, in which the BWV 995 is based on, is unique
among the cello suites for it is the only one predominantly in the French style. Bach made the
lute arrangement somewhere between 1727 and 1731 while in Leipzig. Solo lute music of the
period were usually written in lute tablature. However, Bach made this arrangement in staff
notation. Therefore, it is likely that he intended it as a basis for an experienced lutenist to draw
out an idiomatic intabulation, for he did not play the lute (Ledbetter 239).
The Prelude of Lute Suite No. 3, though not explicitly titled, is in the style of the French
overture. There are two main sections made distinct by tempo and textural changes. The French
overtures saccad (dotted rhythm) and slow tempo characterize the first section of the Prelude.
Though the tempo marking for the opening section is not written in by Bach, it could be inferred
from Bachs strict adherence to the French overture form. French overtures arose in the late 16th
century as an opening movement for earlier ballets de cour. The opening sections of French
overtures were usually marked grave or lent. Full chordal harmonies on the downbeat followed
by decorative consecutive motion, and written down ornaments, are not only characteristic of the
French overture, but also of the French style in general. Of these characteristics, the dotted
rhythm is the principal means of providing the familiar majestic, heroic, festive, and pompous
feel of the French overture, more than any other stylistic element (Grove music online - French
In works composed around 1730, it has been noted that Bach developed a greater

sensitivity in his notation of dotted rhythms. In comparing the 5th cello suite copies made by
Anna Magdalena, Bach has changed the notation in the lute arrangement to reflect a more precise
rhythmic notation (Ledbetter 215). Because of Bachs greater specificity to the rhythm, groups of
three sixteenth notes such as those found in measures 3, 4, 6, and so on, should not be treated as
an embellishment of the ensuing downbeat. On the other hand, the group of three sixteenth notes
in measure 16 serves as a preparation for a trill, and can hardly be meant to have more than a
decorative function (Ledbetter 216).
In the interest of further accentuating the downbeats, notes ingales a rhythmic
convention according to which certain divisions of the beat move in alternately long and short
values was commonly practiced by musicians of the French and German courts. Distinction
should be made between notes ingales and the tirata, which is the embellishment of quick
successive notes, typically (but not always) in consecutive motion. The difference is between the
alternation of long and short values for notes ingales and a burst of equal note values for the
tirata. Tiratas can be found in measures 7, 9, and 26 of the opening section, and are likely meant
to form a single upbeat group (Ledbetter 215).
The second section marked tres viste corresponds with the tradition of the French
overture of employing a compound time signature and fugal texture for the second section of the
form. In this section, Bach also adopted the rhythmic pattern of the Passepied, a dance popular in
the French courts in the early 18th century that could be said to be gay, fickle, delicate, and
rhythmically exciting. The Passepied is frequently compared with the Minuet because they share
the same character and many stylistic elements apart from the 3/8 time signature, upbeat, and
off-beat accent. The dance choreographies of the Passepied are similar to that of the Minuet, and
as with other dance forms, the Passepied is often given comparative tempo suggestions of a

slightly faster tempo than that of the Minuet (Little 84). Kirnberger, a pupil of Bach, advocated
that the Passepieds 3/8 meter be performed in a light but not entirely playful manner
(Ledbetter 216).
Although Bach has employed the Passepieds rhythm in his other French overtures, there
is however, no set convention for the use of the Passepieds or any dance rhythm in the fugal
section. Bach has in instances employed dance rhythms in his cantata arias to reinforce the
meaning of the text, but apart from its meter, the fugal section does little to invoke the character
of the Passepied in its gay, fickle, and delicate nature. The overall affect is of the majestic French
overture instead.
The fugue maintains a single line throughout, and though a few double stops emphasize
the structural cadences, they play no part in the contrapuntal argument. In spite of the single line
texture, Bach creates an illusion of two voices in the subject with the first two notes, followed by
the next three in a different tessitura, and so on.

The rhythmic patterns of Allemandes from the late 16th century resembles that of early
17th century Bourrees and Gavottes. Repetition of phrases, reprises, and whole pieces are often
ornamented with divisions into quick notes and sometimes very quick ones. Allemandes of the
early 18th century evolved to be more contrapuntal and elaborate by having rhythms that are
stylized divisions of earlier Allemandes (see Mather 207).
The Allemande is unique among the other dances discussed, because as early as 1636, it
was performed as a purely instrumental piece and no longer danced to. It has however, became

one of the standard dances in instrumental suites. By the 18th century, Allemandes appeared as
highly stylized keyboard works that have lost the most distinguishable characteristic of dance
music, a recurring rhythmic pattern of a prescribed length. Unlike the other dances that have
clear distinguishable rhythmic patterns, the Allemande lack this feature as a genre. This means
that Allemandes are often distinct from one another in regards to rhythmic treatment.
Although Allemandes may not share a common rhythmic pattern, Natalie Jenne pointed
out, as mentioned by F. W. Marpurg in his Clavierstcke mit einem practischen Unterricht fr
Anfnger und Gebtere Volume II, that Allemandes share a common objective of being a
succession of changing harmonies in an improvisatory style (Jenne 16). This feature together
with evaded cadences and an irregular grouping of beats are common to the improvisatory nature
of Preludes. In several of Bachs dance suites, the Allemande is the opening movement. Unlike
the free Prelude, however, dissonances are carefully prepared and resolved in the strict style.
The affect of the Allemande has been described in the mid-18th century as serious, and
a sort of grave, solemn music (Mather 211). Allemandes of the early 18th century could be
slow or quick, however, Marpurg advises that because the melody is serious, the tempo should
not be exaggerated but moderate. In order to determine an appropriate tempo, the rhythmic and
harmonic structure should be examine (Jenne 15).
The Allemande of BWV 995 resembles the opening Prelude in that it contains dotted
rhythms and tiratas that are characteristic of the French overture. Usually in French overtures, the
first section in duple-time is repeated after the fugal section. In a similarly French styled suite,
BWV 831, the first section of the French overture is repeated after the second section. The
following movement is not an Allemande but a Courante. However, as Ledbetter pointed out, in
this particular suite, the Allemande fulfills the expectation of the repeated first section instead

(Ledbetter 219).
Another feature common with the Prelude is the implication of different voices. The
opening figure of the Allemande is imitated in the bass register of measure 2. There are similar
imitations between voices later on in measure 23 where the top voice is answered in the bass in
measure 24 and in the tenor of measure 25 (Ledbetter 219). In light of the multiple voices, as
quoted by Jenne, Marpurg suggests that no voice [...] should stand out above another, it is good
when all of the various voices [...] work against each other with approximately the same
strength (Jenne 14).
As the Allemandes character is strongly built upon a succession of changing
harmonies, an analysis of the harmonic structure, and subsequently determining the weight of
each harmony and cadence, will help provide an effective performance. Performers might
determine the relative weight of the harmonies by applying 18th century theorist, J. P.
Kirnberger, discussions on harmony (See Jenne 18). A key point that Kirnberger makes is that
harmonies contain degrees of rhythmic activity. A triad in root position represents repose while a
seventh chord presents activity.

The Courante began its popularity in the early 17th century much to the aid of the French
court of Louis XIII (Little 114). It was an especially popular dance with the aristocrats, a
possible reason being Louis XIVs further championing of the dance. With that in mind, it is no
surprise that the Courante has been called the grandest in style and noblest in character among
the court dances (Little 114). Apart from its high reputation as a dance, it also enjoyed a greater

popularity than any other dance used in instrumental music, especially in lute and keyboard in
17th century France. The Courante was very much established as a tradition in German lands as
well. Just as the Courante was danced in German courts, leading composers such as Froberger,
Buxtehude, and Pachelbel all wrote Courantes for the keyboard (Little 114, 115).
The French Courante has been described as serious and solemn, noble and grand,
hopeful, majestic, and earnest (Little 115). All these characterizations suggest a slower
tempo. The Courante is indeed the slowest of all court dances with a meter of three, followed in
order of increasing speed by the Sarabande, Passacaille, Chaconne, Minuet, and Passepied
(Little 115). Common elements that are unique among French Courantes are the 3/2 time
signature that often switches between 6/4 entirely, or simultaneously possessing a 3/2 and 6/4
meter between voices. For example, a top voice could be clearly written in a rhythmic structure
that accentuates the duple division of 3/2 while the bottom voice would accentuate the compound
division of 6/4. These mixed meters or hemiolas are, however, especially common at cadences
ending a strain (Little 118). The Courantes of Franois Couperin provide a good example of
switching between meters (for examples, see Little 120 and Ledbetter 76).
The rhythmic patterns of a dotted quarter followed by an eighth and separate quarter
notes are common rhythmic divisions in the Courante. In such instances, the performance
tradition was to shorten the eighth note so as to intensify the following beat (Little 121), and to
detach each quarter, each quarter being a separate pulse in the latter case (Ledbetter 222).
An interesting feature of the Courante that cannot be said of other dances is that it
frequently contains variable phrase length as oppose to a more balance phrase structure. In the
Courante of BWV 995, for instance, the phrases are divided as such: 5 + 3 & 1 + 3, 3 + 2 & 2 + 2

+ 1 + 2. Non-functional harmonies that provides coloristic effect are also a characteristic feature
of the Courante.
Composers took a flexible approach in titling the Courantes. Even among the works of a
single composer, the movement could be titled a Courante, but instead be an Italian Corrente
which possessed an opposing character. This loose approach to titling happens both ways (Little
134). It is not difficult however, to distinguish between the two styles. A cursory analysis of the
rhythmic structure will reveal the actual nationalistic style.
In contrast, the Italian Corrente permeates the affect of virtuosity. The Italian Corrente
expresses the mood of Sprightfulness, and Vigour, Lively, Brisk and Cheerful, through its
moderate to fast tempo (Little 129). It usually consists of continuous elaboration of eighth or
sixteenth notes over a bass line in fast triple meter, with simple texture, slow harmonic rhythm,
and phrases of varying lengths (Little 129). Frequently in the time signature of 3/4 with an
upbeat. The tempo among Corrente should be determined by the level of the beat, whether one or
three per measure, and the amount of rhythmic activity (Little 129).

Unlike the other dances discussed in this essay, the Sarabande originated in Latin
America and Spain as a folk dance accompanied by singing and instruments castanets and
guitar (See Little 92 & Grove Music Online, article, Sarabande). The Spanish Zarabanda is a
tempestuous, exotic, lascivious, sensuous, and passionate dance (Little 92 & Mather
26). Critics have even called it bawdy, obscene, and barbarous (Mather 26).

The French, however, refined the Sarabande to better suit the aristocracy of their courts,
replacing the evocation of carnal passion with a more controlled tone (Little 92). Earlier
Sarabandes were usually gay and lively and were considered brisk dances. However, by the
end of the 17th century, the French Sarabande became the slow, deliberate, serious, and high
cultured dance that is better known to later generations (Mather 296 & Ratner 12).
Paraphrasing Father Francois Pompeys account of a French Sarabande in his Le
Dictionnaire Royal Augment published in Lyons in 1671, a lone dancer is described as having a
charming grace, with a serious and circumspect air with nonchalance, noble, and fluid
delivery (cited in Little 93). Pompey mentions the use of several contrasting moods within a
single piece: anger and spite with an impetuous and turbulent rhythmic unit; and [later],
evoking a sweeter passion through more moderate motions (cited in Little 94). An interesting
observation in the account that adds to the Sarabandes mystique and sensuality is the use of
pantomime by the dancer through facial expression, eye glances, and gestures. The description of
the dancer who remains suspended and later, quickens his steps to compensate for the lost time
seem to suggest the practice of tempo rubato, as Little has noted (Little 94).
In the Sarabande of BWV 995, Bach uses a balanced four bar phrase structure of
statement and counter statement, typical of the French style (Ledbetter 223 & Little 96). Since
Bach maintained a single line texture throughout, melodic dissonance frequently on the high
point of beat 2 and careful use of the tessitura are his prime expressive tools (Ledbetter 223).
Another device that he uses to meet his expressive ends is the appoggiatura. The half-step motion
in a way resembles the act of sighing which adds to the gravitas of the piece. The single line
texture creates a fleeting glimpse of implied harmony as it occasionally changes within the
measure. After arriving on the relative major at the end of the first strain, the first two beats of

measure 9 is a Bb major triad but turns to a dominant seventh on the third beat. In measure 11,
we hear an F minor triad followed by the lone G, implying the dominant of C minor. This is only
apparent after hearing the cadential pattern as in measure 4, but on C minor this time.

The Gavotte was enjoyed as court dance and music for over two centuries. It reached its
peak of popularity during the 1720s and 1730s when those who lived in urban cities looked to
the pastoral references of the gavotte as a reflection of a simpler rural life (Little 47). The
predictable rhyme and balance derived from clear question and answer phrases could be possible
elements for the sentiment (Little 50).
There were at least two distinct national styles of Gavottes in instrumental music of the
18th century corresponding to the French and Italian traditions. The Gavottes of BWV 995, in
fact, possess characteristics of both traditions. Gavotte I has a clear four and eight beat measure
phrase particular of French Gavottes Italian gavottes usually have 4 + 4 phrases while also
possessing an Italianate figuration of chordal outlining (Little 58). Little suggests the use of notes
ingales in conjunct melodic passages to further reinforce the pastoral ideas so well expressed in
these Gavottes.
As the Gavotte II en Rondeau is in the same mode as the Gavotte I, Bach creates the
expected contrast by maintaining a single melodic line, which harks back to the Sarabande, and
raising the division to triplet eighth notes (Ledbetter 225). The constant triplet eighth notes seem
to suggest that it is a double of which the original piece is missing (Little 58). The use of triplets
with the time signature of 2/2 instead of 12/8 suggests a lighter feel without the least accent on

the last beat as opposed to 12/8 which often has a change of harmony on the last beat (Ledbetter

There are several variants of the Gigue which are sometimes spelled as Jig, Jigg,
Gigue, Gique, and Giga. Its origins has been traced back to the 15th century, where
popular dances and tunes from the British Isles were titled as Jig (Grove music online Gigue). The old French word Giquer, which means to frolic, leap, or gambol provides
an accurate description of the Gigue. The general affect of Gigues are that they are lively and
joyful (Little 145). As there are several styles of Gigues, it is prudent for the performer to be able
to make distinction between them. Little provides three distinct categories of Gigues; the French
Gigue, Giga I, and Giga II.
The literal translation of Giquer applies best to the French variant of the Gigue as one
of its stylistic elements, the rhythmic figure of a dotted eighth, sixteenth, and eighth note, which
resembles sautillant, hopping, or skipping is used almost constantly (Little 145). French
Gigues are often found in time signatures of 6/8 or 6/4, but it is not uncommon for them to be in
3. Regardless of the time signature or title, to properly identify a piece as a French gigue, one
should analyze the metrical structure. The metrical structure of a French Gigue in 6/8 is two
beats of dotted quarter, the first being thought of as the downbeat, and the second as the upbeat,
with a triple beat division (Little 146). The tempo is often described as fast. However, Little
cautions that the description, as with all literal description of tempo in the period, is a
comparison with other dances, and by modern standards, the fastest of them is still within in a

moderate tempo (Little 146). Mather makes a good point that reinforces the adoption of a
moderate tempo; stating that because beats composed of ternary dotted figures can only be
moderately fast even when the very quick notes of the dotted figures are performed as rapidly as
possible (Mather 258).

In closing, I wish to have convinced the performer to pay careful attention to the elements
which provides a dance its character. These elements such as meter, rhythmic design, form,
harmonic progression and rhythm, phrase structure, and texture, should be prioritize according to
each specific dance. I hope to have established that, though a dance is often thought as being
born out of a recurring rhythmic motif, the aforementioned elements may at times carry a greater
weight at characterizing a dance. And as such, should be highlighted by the performer in order to
realize the dances full potential.

Hudson, Richard. Sarabande. Grove Music Online. Web. 10 Dec. 2014.
Jenne, Natalie. On the Performance of Keyboard Allemandes. Notes: Bach 10, no. 2 (April
1979): 13-30.
Little, Meredith, and Natalie Jenne. Dance and the Music of J.S. Bach. Bloomington: Indiana
University Press, 2001.
Little, Meredith. Gigue. Grove Music Online. Web. 10 Dec. 2014.
Ledbetter, David. Unaccompanied Bach: Performing the Solo Works. New Haven: Yale
University Press, 2009.
Mather, Betty. Dance Rhythms of the French Baroque. Bloomington: Indiana University Press,
Ratner, Leonard. Classic Music: Expression, Form, and Style. New York: Schirmer Books,
Waterman, George, and James Anthony. French overture. Grove Music Online. Web. 10 Dec.