August 2018 Convention
Orlando, FL

Baroque Dance and the Bach Partita

Rachel Brown

In this lecture, Rachel Brown explored the characteristics of the four dances in the Bach Partita in A Minor: Bourée Angloise, Sarabande, Sorrente, and Allemande. Working from the end, Brown described each dance in turn, describing the dances and ending each one by playing and dancing an example of the dance. It very effectively illustrated her deep understanding of the dances and how that shapes her interpretations.

Brown started by noting that in the era in which this piece was composed, everybody danced. The dances in this suite would have been as familiar to listeners as the waltz is to us today. Music and dance were so important that Louis XIV, the Sun King, established an Academie de Danse and Academie de Musique. Most courts had a French dance teacher, and eminent musicians such as Lully and Leclair were also dance teachers.

This influence was felt in Germany. At Bach’s school in Lüneburg, the dance teacher had worked with Lully; Quantz, in his “On Playing the Flute,” wrote rules for playing dances.

The bourée was a brisk, light-hearted, duple-time dance with a quarter note upbeat. The step, or “pas de bourée,” was a composite step consisting of three small quick steps. Brown pointed out another example of a “bourée Angloise”: the bourée in Handel’s G Major flute sonata appears in his original F Major sonata for oboe as “Bourée Angloise.”

The sarabande was originally a Spanish dance, slow and sensual. Over time, it became slower and more refined; the steps of the sarabande are very difficult. Bach developed a very personalized style of the sarabande. The meter is always in 3.

The name corrente is based on the French verb courir, which means to run or flow. Brown touched on the differences between the Italian corrente, for which we have no existing choreography, and the French courante, which was very difficult. The courante was a slow dance in 3/2 or 6/4.  The Italian corrente had lots of running notes, as well illustrated in the Partita, and was a fast dance in 3/4 or 3/8. 

The allemande originated as a popular Renaissance dance. It evolved from a very simple dance to the longest and most complicated dance. The keyboard allemandes of Bach, Handel, and Rameau have perpetual motion, similar to our Allemande. The meter is C (in 4), and the tempo can range from adagio to allegro.

Brown also recommended Betty Bang Mather’s book, Partita in A Minor with Emphasis on the Allemande. Brown’s lecture was live streamed on Facebook and can be viewed here:

—Barbara Hopkins