English Suite No.5

Johann Sebastian Bach

English Suite No.5 in E minor


About this work

The fifth of Bach's keyboard suites "for the English" follows the usual pattern, a series of French dance movements given a Germanic contrapuntal twist. This is evident right from the Prélude, a three-voice fugue that gets straight down to business with grim determination (one of the few examples in these suites of minor-mode music that actually sounds troubled). The dance movements themselves get underway with the customary Allemande, here a slow piece in binary form, the left hand often playing in imitation of the right, yet maintaining an independent contrapuntal line. The second of the movement's two sections bears a very strong thematic resemblance to the first. The Courante shifts the suite to triple meter and only barely increases the tempo; the piece somewhat plays down the counterpoint and maintains a fairly solemn mood, but not as solemn as the ensuing Sarabande. This is another slow piece, but it differs from most of the other sarabandes in the English Suites by being more pensive than grand. The next slot in the English suites was up for grabs -- usually filled by either pairs of bourrées or gavottes. Here it's a real novelty: a pair of passepieds, more upbeat and contrapuntally thinner than the pieces that have come before. The first Passepied returns in full after Bach presents a charming, much simpler partner for it, earning the title Passepied en rondeau, or in rondo form. As always with the English Suites, this one ends with a Gigue. Counterpoint again reigns supreme, generated by a stern, downward-tumbling theme. The second half of this Gigue employs the same dotted rhythmic figure as the first, but now the theme tends to strive upward.