About this work
The fourth English Suite is a collection of six movements. With the exception of the Prelude, each movement is based on a dance step of the eighteenth century French courts and is in binary (two-section) form. Although the movements are grouped as a suite and all but the second Menuet are in F major, they are not thematically linked-each could, in theory, stand alone. Opening with a brief two-voice fugue, the 4/4 Prelude is developed extensively, occasionally adding rich chords and additional voices to accompany the exploring sixteenth-note melodic line. The contrapuntal fugue's contrast with the denser middle section is reminiscent of the small ensemble's exchanges with the full orchestra in a concerto grosso. The Allemande of the suite is particularly expressive. Bach intersperses moderately flowing sixteenth notes with a recurring motif of sixteenth-note triplets, creating a sense of motion throughout in spite of the slow tempo. The Courante's delayed melodic motion and its extensive ornamentation bring the movement a distinctly French character. The melody of the upper voice clearly dominates the movement, with the left hand serving more as an accompanist than a partner in counterpoint. The serene, andante Sarabande is harmonically deceptive in that Bach begins the movement with the dominant of B flat, offering few decisive cadences to the tonic of F major until the conclusion of the work. The two Menuets (the only ones found in the English Suites) both abound with scalar passages. The first Menuet is a study in two-part counterpoint, while the second incorporates an additional voice and is the only part of the suite in the parallel D minor. In a brisk 12/8 meter, the concluding Gigue is highly fugal in nature; the two voices frequently refer to the movement's triadic opening statement, which Bach inverts in the second half to bring the suite to an ingenious and satisfying conclusion.
Curated by Chanda VanderHart, Pianist and Musicologist