SEON - Philips
2 LPs - 6775 021 - (p) 1976
1 LP - RL 30812 - (p) 1982
1 CD - SBK 60717 - (c) 1999


Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750) Suite No. 1 in D Minor, BWV 812
12' 27"

- Allemande 2' 07"

- Courante 2' 11"

- Sarabande
3' 04"

- Menuett I & II
2' 41"

- Gigue 2' 19"

Suite No. 2 in C Minor, BWV 813

11' 42"

- Allemande 3' 20"

- Courante 2' 03"

- Sarabande 2' 16"

- Air 1' 00"

- Menuett 1' 07"

- Gigue 1' 55"

Suite No. 3 in H Minor, BWV 814

14' 34"

- Allemande 1' 55"

- Courante 2' 17"

- Sarabande 3' 12"

- Anglaise
0' 50"

- Menuett 4' 07"

- Gigue 2' 07"

Suite No. 4 in E-flat Major, BWV 815
12' 34"

- Allemande 3' 28"

- Courante 1' 52"

- Sarabande 2' 15"

- Gavotte
1' 01"

- Air 1' 26"

- Gigue 2' 30"

Suite No. 5 in G Major, BWV 816
14' 33"

- Allemande 1' 56"

- Courante 1' 59"

- Sarabande 3' 50"

- Gavotte
1' 11"

- Bourrée 0' 55"

- Loure 2' 45"

- Gigue 1' 56"

Suite No. 6 in E Major, BWV 817
11' 57"

- Allemande 1' 25"

- Courante 1' 50"

- Sarabande - Double
2' 22"

- Gavotte
1' 00"

- Polonaise 1' 16"

- Menuet 1' 35"

- Bourrée 1' 02"

- Gigue 1' 14"

Gustav Leonhardt, Harpsichords
- David Rubio, Oxford, 1975, after Pascal Taskin (BWV 812, 814, 815 & 817)
- David Rubio, Oxford 1973, after Pascal Taskin (BWV 813 & 816)


Luogo e data di registrazione
Doopsgezinde Kerk, Amsterdam (Holland)
- Febbraio 1975 (BWV 813 & 816)
- Dicembre 1975 (BWV 812, 814, 815 & 817)

Registrazione: live / studio

Producer / Recording Supervisor
Wolf Erichson

Recording Engineer

Dieter Thomsen

Prima Edizione LP
Seon (Philips) | 6775 021 | 2 LP - durata 38' 43" - 39' 03" | (p) 1976 | ANA
Seon (RCA Red Seal) | RL 30812 | 1 LP - durata 38' 43" | (p) 1982 | ANA | (BWV 812, 813 & 814)

Edizione CD
Sony | SBK 60717 | 1 CD - durata 78' 26" | (c) 1999 | ADD

Original Cover



Like the "Inventions" and "Sinfonias", the "Welltempered Clavier I" and the "English Suites", the "French Suites" were also created in the Köthen period. These were the artistically inspired musical.director years, during which Bach composed his most significant orchestral and chamber music works. With the suites 1 to 5, which are still incomplete in some respects, Bach already began in 1722 to write in his own hand the first little notebook for his second wife Anna Magdalena. The second, produced in 1725, again contains the first two suites. Of the other copies, one of the most carefully written was that penned by the Bach pupil H. N. Gerber (around 1725). In addition to the subsequently composed sixth suite it notates all cycles in their currently accepted movement structure. From the writings and copies it becomes apparent that this collection of suites, too, had to go through an artistic maturing process of about three years before taking on its final shape.
The tile "French Suites" did not emanate from Bach himself, who used the more neutral phrase "Suites pour le clavecin" for his pieces. The naming of the collection most probably goes back to a contemporary of the St. Thomas's church music director. It has become just as firmly accepted as the non-autographic description as "English Suites", without any intention of expressing any specifically national style elements. The smaller "French" are of less technical performance difficulty and are more colourful and freer in the movement sequence than the large "English", which are always introduced by a wideranging prelude. These differences shoul by no means be construed as any evaluation as to merits, but the "French" in particular still enjoy a great deal of popularity. The six number of the suites - the first three in minor, the rest in major keys - accords with the opus arrangement in the six compositions usual in the baroque era. With regard to the sequence, however, Bach appears to heve been influenced by the number of the individual sections, the first three consisting of six, the fourth and fifth of seven, and the last of eight pieces. However, in no cycle has Bach meddled with the fundamentals of the German suite, - the sequence of allemande, courante, sarabande, gigue, but merely varied the number of free dance movements between sarabande and gigue.
The opening D minor suite has a serious tenor, corresponding with Bach's respect for baroque key characteristics. It is the most markedly affected by tradition of all six cycles: in the motif linking of the allemande, courante and gigue in the manner of a variations suite of the early 17th century, and in the strictly fugued pattern of the gigue, whose dotted 4/4 beat is akin to the Gautier type. An unusual element is the sequence of two minuets, the second of which - on account of its double lenght - cannot be regarded as a trio to the first. Suite No. 2 in C minor is singular for its major cantabile elenet.
The melodically sensitive, extrovert allemande, in a rhythmically difficult setting, has a fully convincing artistic effect in its taut compactness. Several versions widely differing from each other prove that over a long period Bach must have critically filed and polished the flowing courante in the Italian style. Likewise a showcase piece of individual character is the air, whose theme in the original from and reversion is present in almost every bar, and in the second part experiences a strongly contrapuntal concentration. The fast gigue with its hopping-like rhythm is in the canarie manner.
As with all Bach compositions in this key, the B minor Suite No. 3 serves to display a specific esoteric emotion, which is occasionally achieved by unusual technical details of movements. For instance, in the allemande by the constant recurrence of the introductory four-note motif in the nature of an invention, in the courante by the frequent rhythm change between 6/4 and 3/2 time which gives the piece something of a weightless atmosphere, and in the gigue by the uninterruptedly flowing sixteenths motion. More down to earth, but still full of gracefulness, is the E-flat major Suite No. 4. It is remarkable how, despite its simple construction, the allemande melody emphatically soars up from the deepest range by almost two and a half octaves to g" in the first part, and even farther upward to c''' in the second, then sinking down again to the sonorous middle range. The mischievous gavotte is countered by a reflective air, which in turn contrasts with the lively gigue, marked by thematic fourth voices in the Italian style.
The G major Suite no. 5 is in an elated dance-like mood. Although quasi-harmoniously improvising, the allemande is kept in firm control by taut partleading, and leads on to the very agile courante in the flow of sixteenths. The pieces which follow all display a genuine dance character: the solemn sarabande, the graceful gavotte - one of the most charming dances Bach ever composed - the fleeting bourrée, and the ceremonious, Old French-inspired loure. The fugued gigue, making its appearance in the bright soprano range, is the most virtuoso of all the "French Suites". The radiant E major Suite with its eight typical dances forms the conclusion. Which part of it can one praise more? The beautifully sonorous allemande, from the figured two-voice framework of which a third melody in the highest motes emerges, the pathos-laden srabande, the gentle three-voice gavotte, or the miniature minuet, which with a paucity of notes is capable of providing such an enchanting effect? Or should preference be accorded to the brilliant finale, the swelling gigue which is so impressively effective in its contrast with the most delicate of all delicate minuets? In this suite any evaluation of detail is doomed to failure - one can only admire it as a consummate whole, as the undisputed climax of this collection.
Lothar Hoffmann-Erbrecht
English translation by Frederick A. Bishop