SEON - Philips
3 LPs - 6776 001 - (p) 1974
1 LP - RL 30811 - (p) 1982
2 CDs - SB2K 62949 - (c) 1997


Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750) Suite No. 1 in A Major, BWV 806
24' 23"

- Prélude 2' 09"

- Allemande 5' 36"

- Courante I - II avec deux doubles
6' 47"

- Sarabande 3' 11"

- Bourrée I - II
3' 47"

- Gigue 2' 53"

Suite No. 2 in A minor, BWV 807

22' 25"

- Prélude 5' 27"

- Allemande 4' 32"

- Courante 2' 06"

- Sarabande 3' 53"

- Bourrée I - II 3' 51"

- Gigue 2' 36"

Suite No. 3 in G Minor, BWV 808

20' 56"

- Prélude 3' 37"

- Allemande 4' 34"

- Courante 2' 38"

- Sarabande 3' 42"

- Gavotte I - II (ou la Musette)
3' 14"

- Gigue 3' 11"

Suite No. 4 in F Major, BWV 809
22' 47"

- Prélude 5' 27"

- Allemande 4' 22"

- Courante 1' 59"

- Sarabande 3' 27"

- Menuet I- II
3' 52"

- Gigue 3' 40"

Suite No. 5 in E Minor, BWV 810
24' 24"

- Prélude 5' 56"

- Allemande 5' 07"

- Courante 2' 51"

- Sarabande 4' 00"

- Passepied I (en Rondeai) - II
3' 14"

- Gigue 3' 16"

Suite No. 6 in D Minor, BWV 811
28' 30"

- Prélude - Allegro
8' 35"

- Allemande 5' 08"

- Courante 2' 40"

- Sarabande - Double
3' 59"

- Gavotte I - Gavotte II
4' 01"

- Gigue 4' 07"

Gustav Leonhardt, Harpsichord by Martin Skowroneck, Bremen, after J. D. Duclken, Antwerpen 1745

Luogo e data di registrazione
Doopsgezinde Kerk, Amsterdam (Holland) - Settembre 1973

Registrazione: live / studio

Producer / Recording Supervisor
Wolf Erichson

Recording Engineer

Dieter Thomsen

Prima Edizione LP
Seon (Philips) | 6776 018 | 3 LPs - durata 45' 23" - 43' 43" - 52' 54" | (p) 1974 | ANA
Seon (RCA Red Seal) | RL 30811 | 1 LP - durata 46' 48" | (p) 1982 | ANA | (BWV 806 & 807)

Edizione CD
Sony | SB2K 62949 | 2 CDs - durata 68' 08" & 76' 02" | (c) 1997 | ADD

Original Cover



It is not entirely known hovv the six superb harpsichord pieces included on this recording came to be called "English Suites." Johann Sebastian Bach himself merely described them as "Suites with prelude." His first biographer, Johann Forkel, said, “they are known as the English Suites because the composer wrote them for an Englishman of rank" - but no such British nobleman has ever been identified. Authentic or not, however, the name "English" is quite useful, for it distinguishes this set from two other Bach keyboard collections: the smaller French Suites, and the still larger Partitas. Few if any listeners think that the absence of English musical characteristics in these splendid works is a defect.
Remaining unpublished during Bach's lifetime, the English Suites were probably written around 1722, when Bach was still Kapellmeister at Cöthen but already looking for another position. That year, Bach finished Volume I of his titanic Well-Tempered Clavier; his comprehensive Clavierübung collection - containing the Partitas, the Italian Concerto, etc. - still lay in the future.
In performance, the English Suites are heard less often than the six French Suites or the six Partitas. They suffer, in effect, the fate of a "middle child," being more difficult than the French group but less extended and, perhaps, less showy than the equally challenging Partitas. Nevertheless, their artistic conception places them absolutely on a par with the other two collections.
Bach's own designation for the English Suites may have been laconic, but it identified their most important distinction: the effect of their preludes. The Baroque suite, in its simplest form, was merely a string of dances, sometimes preceded by a brief introduction. A large complex prelude, however, lent a far more substantial character to a suite, making it comparable to the most ambitious orchestral pieces of the era. This is emphatically true of Bach's English Suites, for here the preludes are unprecedented in size and weight - considerably bigger than similar suite-introductions by Krieger, Kuhnau and Handel. Indeed, the opening movement of Bach's G-minor English Suite is so voluminous that it threatens to burst the bounds of the form. And although the Prelude in Suite No.1 is rather brief, three of the others (in Suites Nos. 2, 5 and 6) are elaborate aria-like pieces, while the Preludes in G minor (No. 3) and F major (No. 4) are huge concerto-style movements that virtually transform the harpsichord into a full orchestra with soloist.
Following the prelude, four specific dances almost always appear in Bach suites. First of these is the allemande, a 4/4 dance in "walking" tempo. In the ballroom, its steps and motions included handkerchief gestures, which Bach sometimes evokes with undulating or fluttering figurations. Next come two dances in triple time: the courante (fast, vigorous, and rhythmically intricate) and the sarabande (very slow, courtly and even majestic, with a subtle accent on the second beat). For a finale, Bach generally provides an animated gigue (jig). Between the sarabande and the gigue, smaller dances (called galanteries) may be inserted.
Perhaps nothing better proves Bach's supreme instinct for balance than the fact that these dance movements in the English Suites hold their own against the monumental preludes. The allemandes embody the style of free improvisation in their arpeggio-like figures and contrapuntal ingenuity, and the courantes follow the richly decorated French taste. In the sarabandes, the original character of the solemn dance is still recognizable, while the gigues mostly follow a strict fugal style, providing endings to the Suites that combine intellectual substance with the liveliest energy. The second Gigue (A minor) is something of an exception, forgoing fugal writing in favor of a smooth Italianate web of sound.
Variety abounds in Bach's treatment of these dances. The "package" of four Courantes in No.1 (i.e., there are two Courantes, each with a variation, or Double) follows the French model, agglomerating dance movements of similar character - a practice probably intended to allow the performer freedom of choice. Bach infuses the G-minor Suite with intense and abrupt contrasts, juxtaposing the graceful Gavotte-cum-Musette with a passionate Gigue. His rich and provocative chromatic harmony in the E-minor Gigue reveals a close affinity with many other Bach keyboard and organ works in the same key. The closing Suite, in D minor, is full of meditative seriousness, its somber atmosphere intensified into demonic passion by its last movement - probably the most technically difficult Gigue in the series.
Jay M. Balenkof
These notes are based on those by Lothar Hoffmann-Erbrecht, which accompanied the original 1974 release.