Orchestral Suites by Johann Sebastian Bach

Summary

'''orchestral suites''' (called '''''ouvertures''''' by their author), BWV 1066-1069 are four suites by Johann Sebastian Bach. The name ''ouverture'' refers only in part to the opening movement in the style of the French overture, in which a majestic opening section in relatively slow dotted-note rhythm in duple meter is followed by a fast fugal section, then rounded off with a short recapitulation in triple meter of the opening music. More broadly, the term was used in Baroque Germany for a suite of dance-pieces in French Baroque style preceded by such an ouverture. This genre was extremely popular in Germany during Bach's day, and he showed far less interest in it than was usual: Robin Stowell writes that "Telemann's 135 surviving examples [represent] only a fraction of those he is known to have written";Robin Stowell, "Orchestral suites" in ''Oxford Composer Companions: J.S. Bach'', ed. Malcolm Boyd and John Butt, Oxford University Press, 1999, p. 336 Christoph Graupner left 85; and Johann Friedrich Fasch left almost 100. Bach did write several other ouverture (suites) for solo instruments, notably the Cello Suite no. 5, BWV 1011, which also exists in the autograph Lute Suite in G minor, BWV 995, the Keyboard Partita no. 4 in D, BWV 828, and the Overture in the French style, BWV 831 for keyboard. The two keyboard works are among the few Bach published, and he prepared the lute suite for a "Monsieur Schouster," presumably for a fee, so all three may attest to the form's popularity.

Scholars believe that Bach did not conceive of the four orchestral suites as a set (in the way he conceived of the Brandenburg Concertos), since the sources are various, as detailed below.

The Bach-Werke-Verzeichnis catalogue includes a fifth suite, BWV 1070 in G minor. However, this work is highly unlikely to have been composed by J. S. Bach.

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