We use cookies to enhance your experience on our website. By continuing to use our website, you are agreeing to our use of cookies. You can change your cookie settings at any time. Find out more


Music In The Seventeenth And Eighteenth Centuries


CHAPTER 6 Class of 1685 (I)
Richard Taruskin

The same attitude Bach displayed in intensifying and transforming the traditional techniques of his trade characterized his relationship to all the styles of his time. Despite the seemingly cloistered insularity of his career, he nevertheless mastered, and by his lights transcended, the full range of contemporary musical idioms. In part this was simply a matter of being German. At a time when French and Italian musicians were mutually suspicious and much concerned with resisting each other’s influence, German musicians tended to define themselves as universal synthesists, able (in the words of Johann Joachim Quantz, a colleague of C. P. E. Bach’s at the Prussian court) “to select with due discrimination from the musical tastes of various peoples what is best in each,” thereby producing “a mixed taste which, without overstepping the bounds of modesty, may very well be called the German taste.”2 Bach became its ultimate, most universal, exponent.

But he had many predecessors. We know how eagerly Heinrich Schütz, born a hundred years before Bach, had imported the Italian styles of his day to Germany. A younger contemporary of Schütz, the sometime Viennese court organist Johann Jacob Froberger (1616–67), a native of Stuttgart in southern Germany, traveled the length and breadth of Europe, soaking up influences everywhere. After a period (approximately 1637 to 1640) spent studying with Frescobaldi in Rome, Froberger visited Brussels (then in the Spanish Netherlands), Paris, England, and Saxony. He died in the service of a French-speaking German court in the Rhineland, the westernmost part of Germany.

The first whole book of pieces by Froberger to be (posthumously) published was eminently Frescobaldian: Diverse curiose partite, di toccate, canzone, ricercate etc. (“Assorted off-beat toccatas, canzonas, ricercars and so on”). Four years later, there followed a book containing Dix suittes de clavessin (“Ten suites for harpsichord”), in a style that comported perfectly with the language of the title page. This book of suites would be by far Froberger’s most influential publication. By century’s end, the French style had become a veritable German fetish, the object of intense envy and adaptation. Envy played an important role because it was envy of the opulent French court on the part of the many petty German princelings that led to the wholesale adoption of French manners by the German aristocracy. French actually became the court language of Germany, and French dancing became an obligatory social grace at the many mini-Versailleses that dotted the German landscape.

With dancing, of course, came music. Demand for French (or French-style) ballroom music, and for instruction in composing and playing it, became so great that by the end of the seventeenth century a number of German musicians, sensing a ready market, had set themselves up in business as professional Gallicizers. One of these was Georg Muffat (1653–1704), an organist at the episcopal court at Passau, who had played violin as a youth under Lully in Paris. In 1695 he published a set of dance suites in the Lullian mold, together with a treatise on how to play them in the correct Lullian “ballet style.” His rules, especially those concerning unwritten conventions of rhythm and bowing, have been a goldmine to today’s “historical” performers, who need to overcome a temporal distance from the music comparable to the geographical distance Muffat’s original readers confronted.

Another Gallicizer was J. C. F. Fischer, with whose Ariadne we are already acquainted. His Opus 1 was a book of dance suites for orchestra called Le journal de printems (“Spring’s Diary,” 1695), in which he prefaced the dances, originally composed for the ballroom of the Margrave Ludwig of Baden, with Lully-style overtures. Although the components were all French, this type of orchestral “overture suite” was in fact a German invention, pioneered by Johann Sigismund Kusser (or “Cousser,” à la française) a sort of Froberger of the violin who studied in Paris with Lully and then plied his trade all over Europe, ending up in Dublin, where he died in 1727. Orchestral suites of this kind, actually called ouvertures after their opening items, remained a German specialty. Telemann, cited by the Guinness Book of World Records as the most prolific composer of all time, composed around 150 of them.

Fischer’s op. 2, titled Musicalisches Blumen-Büschlein (“A little musical flower bush,” 1696), was a book of harpsichord suites on the Froberger model. Between the two of them, Froberger’s publication and Fischer’s managed to establish a standard suite format that provided the model for all their German or German-born successors. Froberger’s contribution was the truly fundamental one: it was he who adopted a specific sequence of four dances as essential nucleus in all his suites, setting a precedent that governed the composition of keyboard suites from then on. Fischer prefaced his suites with preludes, some patterned on the style brisé, others on the toccata. This, too, became an important precedent, albeit not quite as universally observed by later composers. (Bach, for example, composed suites both with and without preludes, but always included Froberger’s core dances.)

It is worth emphasizing that Froberger’s core dances had, by the time he adapted them, pretty much gone out of actual ballroom use. They had been sublimated into elevated courtly listening-music by the master instrumentalists of France, which meant slowing them down and cramming them full of interesting musical detail that would have been lost on dancers. The typical French instrumental manuscript or publication of the day, whether for lute, for harpsichord, or for viol, generally consisted of several vast compendia of idealized dance pieces in a given key, each basic type being multiply represented. The French composers, in other words, did not write actual ready-made suites, but provided the materials from which players could select a sequence (that is, a suite) for performance. It was Froberger and his German progeny who began, as it were, “preselecting” the components, thus casting their suites as actual multimovement compositions like sonatas.

The four favored dances, chosen for their contrasting tempos and meters (and, consequently, their contrasting moods), were these:

  1. 1. Allemande. This dance had a checkered history. As its name suggests, it originated in Germany, but by the time German composers borrowed it back from the French it had changed utterly. In its original form it was a quick dance in duple meter. The first keyboard examples are by the English virginalists, who called it the alman, and Frescobaldi, who called it the bal tedesco or balletto. It was Gaultier and his claveciniste contemporary Jacques Champion de Chambonnières (1602–72) who slowed it down into a stately instrumental solo in a broad four beats per bar and a richly detailed texture. It was this elegantly dignified allemande, never before heard in Germany, that Froberger borrowed back and ensconced permanently in the opening slot of his standard suite.

  2. 2. Courante. In its older form, more often called (in Italian) corrente, this was a lively mock-courtship dance, notated in or even meter. (Examples can be found in any Corelli sonata da camera; see Ex. 5-1.) The idealized French type borrowed by Froberger was just the opposite: the gravest of all triple-time suite pieces, notated in with many lilting hemiola effects in which patterns cut across the pulse.

  3. 3. Sarabande. Of all the suite dances, this one underwent the most radical change in the process of sublimation. It originated in the New World and was brought back to Europe, as the zarabanda, from Mexico. In its original form it was a breakneck, sexy affair, accompanied by castanets. Like the passacaglia or chaconne, it consisted originally of a chordal ostinato and is first found notated in Spanish guitar tablatures. Banned from the Spanish ballroom by decree for its alleged obscenity, it was idealized in a deliberately denatured form, becoming (like the chaconne) a majestic triple-metered dance for the ballet stage, often compared to a slow minuet. As borrowed by Froberger, it usually had an accented second beat, rhythmically expressed by a lengthened (doubled or dotted) note value.

  4. 4. Gigue. Imported to Europe from England and Ireland, the jig was (typically) danced faster in Italy (as the giga), in more leisurely fashion by the more self-conscious bluebloods of the French court and their German mimics. In its idealized form, the gigue usually began with a point of imitation, which (as we have already observed in Reincken and Bach) was often inverted in the second strain.

A “binary” or double-strain structure (AABB), supported by a there-and-back harmonic plan, was a universal feature of suite dances, particularly as adopted by Germans. (In France there was an alternative: the so-called pièce en rondeau, in which multiple strains alternated with a refrain.) In the hands of Bach and his contemporaries, the binary dance became another important site for developing the kind of tonally articulated form that conditioned new habits of listening and formed the bedrock of the standard performing repertory.


(2) Johann Joachim Quantz, On Playing the Flute, trans. Edward R. Reilly (New York: Schirmer, 1975), p. 341.

Citation (MLA):
Richard Taruskin. "Chapter 6 Class of 1685 (I)." The Oxford History of Western Music. Oxford University Press. New York, USA. n.d. Web. 21 Nov. 2018. <http://www.oxfordwesternmusic.com/view/Volume2/actrade-9780195384826-div1-06004.xml>.
Citation (APA):
Taruskin, R. (n.d.). Chapter 6 Class of 1685 (I). In Oxford University Press, Music In The Seventeenth And Eighteenth Centuries. New York, USA. Retrieved 21 Nov. 2018, from http://www.oxfordwesternmusic.com/view/Volume2/actrade-9780195384826-div1-06004.xml
Citation (Chicago):
Richard Taruskin. "Chapter 6 Class of 1685 (I)." In Music In The Seventeenth And Eighteenth Centuries, Oxford University Press. (New York, USA, n.d.). Retrieved 21 Nov. 2018, from http://www.oxfordwesternmusic.com/view/Volume2/actrade-9780195384826-div1-06004.xml