English Suite No.4

Johann Sebastian Bach

English Suite No.4 in F major


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.