Musical Form – Baroque Era: Sarabande

The sarabande (from French sarabande, itself derived from Spanish zarabanda) is a dance in triple metre.


The sarabande is first mentioned in Central America: in 1539, a dance called zarabanda is mentioned in the poem Vida y tiempo de Maricastaña written in Panama by Fernando de Guzmán Mejía.[1][2] The dance seems to have been especially popular in the 16th and 17th centuries, initially in the Spanish colonies, before moving back across the Atlantic to Spain. In its time, it was controversial since it was thought too indecent—Miguel de Cervantes once said it was “invented in Hell”.[this quote needs a citation] It was banned several times, but it was still performed by many people and even by clerics during the mass. While it was banned in Spain in 1583 for its obscenity, it was frequently cited in literature of the period (for instance, in works by Cervantes and Lope de Vega).[3] It spread to Italy in the 17th century, and to France, where it became a slow court dance.[4]

In the Baroque era, the standard 18th-century suite typically included a sarabande as the third of four movements. Johann Sebastian Bach sometimes gave the sarabande a privileged place in his music, even outside the context of dance suites; in particular, the theme and climactic 25th variation from his Goldberg Variations are both sarabandes.

The sarabande form was revived in the late-19th and early 20th centuries by the Norwegian composer Edvard Grieg (in his Holberg Suite of 1884), French composers such as Debussy and Satie, and in England, in different styles, Vaughan Williams (in Job: A Masque for Dancing), Benjamin Britten (in the Simple Symphony) and Herbert Howells (in Six Pieces for Organ: Saraband for the Morning of Easter).

One of the best known constant harmony variation types is the anonymous La Folia whose harmonic sequence appears in pieces of various types (mainly dances) by dozens of composers from the time of Mudarra (1546) and Corelli through the present day.[5] The theme of the fourth-movement Sarabande of Handel‘s Keyboard suite in D minor (HWV 437) for harpsichord is a variation of this piece, and is featured prominently in the film Barry Lyndon [6] as well as the BBC documentary, Auschwitz: The Nazis and the Final Solution.

Handel: Grande Sarabande, HWV 437

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