English Suite No.2

Johann Sebastian Bach

English Suite No.2 in A minor


About this work

The one element that sets this work apart from the five other suites Bach wrote "for the English" is the concluding Gigue, a dance in 6/8 time that for once completely surrenders to melody and rhythm, forsaking the counterpoint that ends every other work in the set. Despite a certain gruffness in the left-hand line, this is a bright conclusion to a suite that is surprisingly upbeat considering its minor key. The Prélude (each movement has a French title) starts things off energetically with a pair of little two-part fugues book-ending a central section that sends a fragment of the fugal theme burbling through several keys. The second movement is a typically stately Allemande, a supposedly German dance in 4/4 time. The movement falls into two parts, which are thematically almost identical and have the treble melody climbing up and down the staff in sixteenth notes, either answered by or more usually followed at a slight distance by the left hand. The Courante, though lively, is the first movement in this suite that capitalizes on the darker aspects of A minor. It progresses much as the Allemande did, again in two related parts. The Sarabande, as usual in this set of suites, is the emotional heart of the work: measured, solemn, and tinged with A minor regret. Then, just before the concluding Gigue, comes a pair of Bourrées, very fast dances with a 4/4 rhythm that, in the first example, calls to mind a sewing machine. The second Bourrée pulls back in tempo and offers a more varied bass line and a more ceremonial air, even while breaking into the major mode (its first occurrence in this suite). A repeat of the first Bourrée rounds out this section and paves the way for the Gigue.