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 nucleus of Bach’s fifth French Suite, in G major, consists of the Frobergerian core of allemande, courante, sarabande, and gigue, augmented by a trio of slighter dances (a gavotte, a bourée, and a loure) interpolated before the gigue. Bach himself used the term Galanterien (from the French galanteries) on the title page of the Clavier-Übung to classify these interpolated dances and distinguish them from the core, describing his suites (or partitas) as consisting of “Präludien, Allemanden, Couranten, Sarabanden, Giguen, Menuetten, und anderen Galanterien.” Note that the obligatory or core dances are listed (after the preludes) in order, while the variable category of “minuets and other galanteries” is mentioned casually, out of order, as if an afterthought. This contrast in manner is very telling.

Even though the word galanterie can be translated as a “trifle,” it denotes a very important esthetic category. It is derived from what the French called the style galant, which stemmed in turn from the old French verb galer, which meant “to amuse” in a tasteful, courtly sort of way, with refined wit, elegant manners, and easy grace. It was a quality of art—and life—far removed from the stern world of the traditional Lutheran church, and Bach never fully reconciled the difference between the sources that fed his creative stream.

A Close-upA Close-up

ex. 6-7a J. S. Bach, French Suite no. 5 in G major, Allemande

To put Bach’s allemande (Ex. 6-7a) alongside one written sixty or seventy years earlier by Froberger (Ex. 6-7b) is to marvel at the sheer persistence of the French courtly style in Germany. The old style brisé, in which the harpsichord aped the elegant strumming of a lute, informs both pieces equally, although Froberger learned it directly from the lutenists (one of his best known pieces being a tombeau, or “tombstone,” an especially grave allemande or pavane composed in memoriam, for the Parisian lutenist Blancrocher, a friend), while Bach would have learned it from Froberger, from Kuhnau, and from their followers.

A Close-up

ex. 6-7b Johann Jakob Froberger, Suite in E minor, Allemande

The difference between the pieces is the usual difference between Bach and his predecessors or contemporaries. Although not much longer than Froberger’s (twenty-four measures as against twenty), Bach’s makes a far more distinctive and developed impression thanks to two characteristic features, one melodic and the other harmonic. The opening motive of Bach’s allemande, a three-beat ascent of a third (with pickups and a distinguishing trill), is treated thematically—that is, as a form-definer—in a way that was unknown to Froberger.

While Froberger had at his disposal characteristic ways of articulating the melodic shape of his composition—for example, the three-note pickup that begins each half—Bach uses the opening motive to lend the two halves of his allemande a sense of thematic parallelism, echoing on the melodic plane the overall symmetry of design that is chiefly articulated by the harmony. Coordination of the harmonic and melodic spheres is additionally confirmed by the use of the opening motive, replete with defining trill, to point the cadences in m. 4 (which establishes the tonic) and in m. 5 (which launches the movement to the dominant). For an even more dramatic illustration of how conscious and deliberate Bach’s motivic writing could be, compare a passage from one of his concertos (for two harpsichords in C major, probably composed later in Leipzig), in which the same opening figure from the allemande is dramatically proclaimed as a “headmotive” that introduces the main ritornello and is also developed antiphonally as an episode (Ex. 6-7c and d).

As to harmony, both allemandes follow the same there-and-back pendular motion between tonic and dominant that defines the “binary” form of a dance, but Bach’s ranges wider and is at the same time more sharply focused. Each half of Froberger’s dance follows a single motion between harmonic centers with no major stops along the way. Each half of Bach’s, by contrast, is divided into two distinct phrases, keenly marked by cadences. The first phrase, mm. 1–4, begins and ends with the tonic, thus reinforcing it by closure. The balancing phrase, mm. 5–12, establishes the dominant as cadential goal. (Actually, the dominant is reached at m. 8, so that the phrase has two equal components, one that “moves” and the other that “re-arrives” after some interesting chromatic digressions.)

A Close-up

ex. 6-7c J. S. Bach, Concerto in C for Two Harpsichords, BWV 1061, I, mm. 1–4

A Close-up

ex. 6-7d J. S. Bach, Concerto in C for Two Harpsichords, BWV 1061, I, mm. 28–32

The second half of Bach’s allemande is divided more equally than the first. Its first phrase, mm. 13–18, moves from the dominant not straight back to the tonic but to a “secondary function” (that is, a chord with opposite quality from the tonic), in this case E minor, the submediant. The concluding phrase finally zeroes back on the tonic, harking back to the “interesting chromatic digressions” from the first half to signal its impending arrival.

That shape will henceforth serve as paradigm for a fully “tonal” binary form. The new elements include the care with which the tonic is established (almost the way a ritornello might establish it in a concerto movement), and the compensating feint in the direction of some “far out point” (henceforth FOP) in the second half of the piece to redirect the harmonic motion home with renewed force. Once again Bach is out in front of his contemporaries in harnessing the power of tonality to steer the course of a composition through a sort of journey, and to take the measure of its distance, at all points, from “home.”

The other movements in the French Suite all confirm this basic pattern of harmonic motion, in which the simple “binary” there-and-back is amplified and extended by means of an initial closure on the tonic to emphasize departure, and an excursion to a FOP on the way back, thus: Here-there-FOP-back. In the Italian-style courante or corrente (Ex. 6-8a), the cadential points are distributed with perfect regularity, as follows: m. 8 (I), m. 16 (V), m. 24 (vi), m. 32 (I). Compare the tonally much more elusive French-style courante from the third French Suite in B minor (Ex. 6-8b), in which the cadence points are quite unpredictably and asymmetrically distributed among its 28 spacious measures: m. 5 (i), m. 12 (V), m. 19 (iv), m. 28 (i).

A Close-up

ex. 6-8a J. S. Bach, French Suite no. 5 in G major, Courante

A Close-upA Close-up

ex. 6-8b J. S. Bach, French Suite no. 3 in B minor, Courante

Note, too, how every pre-cadential measure in Ex. 6-8b (i.e., mm. 4, 11, 18, and 27) foreshadows the cadence by speeding up the harmonic rhythm (that is, the rate of harmony-change) and by regrouping the measure’s six quarter notes by pairs rather than by threes, producing a so-called “hemiola” pattern of three beats in the normal time of two. (The pre-cadential bars are not the only ones that are felt in “” rather than “”: the surest signal for hemiola grouping is the presence of a dotted quarter note, usually trilled, on the fifth beat.) By comparison with the stately old-style French courante (the only kind Froberger knew), the Italianate type—by virtue of its rhythmic evenness, its regular cadences, and its uncomplicated, predominantly two-voiced texture—is practically a galanterie.

A Close-upA Close-up

ex. 6-9 J. S. Bach, French Suite no. 5 in G major, Sarabande

In the sarabande (Ex. 6-9), the cadence points again evenly divide the first half. In contrast, the second half is elaborately subdivided into sections cadencing on two FOPs (ii in m. 20 and vi in m. 24), and the trip back to the tonic is subarticulated with stops on the subdominant (m. 28) and the dominant (m. 36) before finally touching down at the end (m. 40). The result is a colorfully lengthened, but also strengthened, harmonic structure.

While of course slighter, the galanteries (Ex. 6-10a-c) observe similar tonal pro-portions. The gavotte (Ex. 6-10a), a buoyant dance with beats on the half note and a characteristic two-quarter pickup, has cadences on mm. 4 (I), 8 (V), 16 (vi), and 24 (I). Notice that the tendency to expand the second half, already apparent in the sarabande, is maintained here as well by doubling the phrase lengths, though without the addition of any supplementary cadence points. The bourrée (Ex. 6-10b), a rambunctious stylized peasant dance in two quick beats per bar, has its cadences more irregularly placed: mm. 4 (I), 10 (V), 18 (vi), 30 (I). That irregularity is part of its galant or witty charm: each phrase is longer than the last, and the listener is kept guessing how much longer.

A Close-up

ex. 6-10a J. S. Bach, French Suite no. 5 in G major, Gavotte

A Close-upA Close-up

ex. 6-10b J. S. Bach, French Suite no. 5 in G major, Bourée

A Close-upA Close-up

ex. 6-10c J. S. Bach, French Suite no. 5 in G major, Loure

The loure (Ex. 6-10c), one of the rarer dances, might be described as a heavy (lourd) or rustic gigue in doubled note values. (In the sixteenth century the word loure was used for a certain kind of bagpipe, but whether that is the source of the dance’s name is unclear.) Its meter and note values resemble those of the “true” French courante (as in Ex. 6-8b), but its rhythms—particularly the pattern (♩. ♪ ♩,) already familiar from the Scarlattian siciliano—are gigue-like. Altogether unlike those of the courante in Ex. 6-8b, the cadences of Bach’s loure are distributed with perfect regularity (mm. 4, 8, 12, 16). The supertonic (ii), somewhat unusually, is used in place of the submediant (vi) as FOP.

Finally, the gigue (Ex. 6-11): with its 56-bar length (distributed 24 + 32) and its fugal expositions in three real parts, it is the most elaborate dance of all. Tracking cadences here is complicated by the behavior of the fugal writing, which has its own pendular rhythm. The first fugal exposition makes its final tonic cadence on the third beat of m. 9, and the dominant is reached by the third beat of m. 14, when the bass enters with the subject. Final confirmation of arrival on V comes, after a lengthy episode, in m. 24. The second half begins, just as Bach’s gigue after Reincken (Ex. 6-1b) had begun, with an inversion. As befits a dance (if not a fugue), this inverted exposition ends, somewhat indefinitely, on a FOP (either vi in m. 37 or ii in m. 38). The bass then enters with the subject on the dominant of vi, to start steering the course through a slow circle of fifths toward home.

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. 20 Apr. 2019. <http://www.oxfordwesternmusic.com/view/Volume2/actrade-9780195384826-div1-06006.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 20 Apr. 2019, from http://www.oxfordwesternmusic.com/view/Volume2/actrade-9780195384826-div1-06006.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 20 Apr. 2019, from http://www.oxfordwesternmusic.com/view/Volume2/actrade-9780195384826-div1-06006.xml