English Suites (Bach)

The English Suites, BWV 806–811, are a set of six suites written by the German composer Johann Sebastian Bach for harpsichord (or clavichord) and generally thought to be the earliest of his 19 suites for keyboard (discounting several less well-known earlier suites), the others being the six French Suites (BWV 812–817), the six Partitas (BWV 825-830) and the Overture in the French style (BWV 831). They probably date from around 1713 or 1714.[1]


These six suites for keyboard are thought to be the earliest set that Bach composed aside from several miscellaneous suites written when he was much younger. Bach's English Suites display less affinity with Baroque English keyboard style than do the French Suites to French Baroque keyboard style. It has also been suggested that the name is a tribute to Charles Dieupart, whose fame was greatest in England, and on whose Six Suittes de clavessin Bach's English Suites were in part based.[2]

Surface characteristics of the English Suites strongly resemble those of Bach's French Suites and Partitas, particularly in the sequential dance-movement structural organization and treatment of ornamentation. These suites also resemble the Baroque French keyboard suite typified by the generation of composers including Jean-Henri d'Anglebert, and the dance-suite tradition of French lutenists that preceded it.

In the English Suites especially, Bach's affinity with French lute music is demonstrated by his inclusion of a prelude for each suite, departing from an earlier tradition of German derivations of French suite (those of Johann Jakob Froberger and Georg Boehm are examples), which saw a relatively strict progression of the dance movements (Allemande, Courante, Sarabande and Gigue) and which did not typically feature a Prelude. Unlike the unmeasured preludes of French lute or keyboard style, however, Bach's preludes in the English Suites are composed in strict meter.

The suitesEdit

The six suites are:

This first suite is unusual in that it has two courantes and two doubles for the second courante. This suite also departs from the scheme of the other five, in that the prelude is short and based on a theme from a suite by Dieupart. The preludes of the other five suites in this series are based on the allegro of a concerto grosso form.

The key sequence follows the same series of notes as the chorale "Jesu, meine Freude"; it is unestablished whether or not this is accidental.

Notable recordingsEdit

On harpsichordEdit

On pianoEdit

On celloEdit


See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Nicholas Kenyon, "Bach: The Music": 'Bach 333' CD set, 2018
  2. ^ Grove's Dictionary of Music and Musicians, 5th ed., 1954, Eric Blom, ed.

External linksEdit