Musical Form – Baroque Era: Suite

In music, a suite is an ordered set of instrumental or orchestral/concert band pieces normally performed in a concert setting rather than as accompaniment; they may be extracts from a ballet (Nutcracker Suite), incidental music to a play (L’Arlésienne Suites), opera, film (Lieutenant Kije Suite) or video game (Motoaki Takenouchi‘s 1994 suite to the Shining series♯cite_note-1">[1]), or they may be entirely original movements (Holberg Suite, The Planets).

In the Baroque era the suite was more precisely defined, with the pieces unified by key,♯cite_note-SuiteEB-2">[2] and consisting of dances usually preceded by a prelude or overture.♯cite_note-SuiteEB-2">[2] The suite was also known as Suite de danses, Ordre (the term favored by François Couperin) or Partita. In the eighteenth century, the term ouverture (or overture) may refer to the entire suite, as it does with the orchestral suites of J.S. Bach.

The Baroque suite



The Baroque suite often consists of the following movements:

  • Overture – The Baroque suite often began with a French overture (“Ouverture” in French), which was followed by a succession of dances of different types, principally the following four:
  • Allemande – Often the first dance of an instrumental suite, the allemande was a very popular dance that had its origins in the German Renaissance era, when it was more often called the almain. The allemande was played at a moderate tempo and could start on any beat of the bar.
  • Courante – The courante is a lively, French dance in triple meter. The Italian version is called the corrente.[23][24]
  • Sarabande – The sarabande, a Spanish dance, is one of the slowest of the baroque dances. It is also in triple meter and can start on any beat of the bar, although there is an emphasis on the second beat, creating the characteristic ‘halting’, or iambic rhythm of the sarabande.
  • Gigue – The gigue is an upbeat and lively baroque dance in compound meter, typically the concluding movement of an instrumental suite. The gigue can start on any beat of the bar and is easily recognized by its rhythmic feel. The gigue originated in the British Isles. Its counterpart in folk music is the jig.


These four dance types make up the majority of 17th-century suites; later suites interpolate one or more additional dances between the sarabande and gigue:

  • Gavotte – The gavotte can be identified by a variety of features; it is in 4/4 time and always starts on the third beat of the bar, although this may sound like the first beat in some cases, as the first and third beats are the strong beats in quadruple time. The gavotte is played at a moderate tempo, although in some cases it may be played faster.
  • Bourrée – The bourrée is similar to the gavotte as it is in 2/2 time although it starts on the second half of the last beat of the bar, creating a different feel to the dance. The bourrée is commonly played at a moderate tempo, although for some composers, such as Handel, it can be taken at a much faster tempo.
  • Minuet – The minuet is perhaps the best-known of the baroque dances in triple meter. It can start on any beat of the bar. In some suites there may be a Minuet I and II, played in succession, with the Minuet I repeated.
  • Passepied – The passepied is a fast dance in binary form and triple meter that originated as a court dance in Brittany. Examples can be found in later suites such as those of Bach and Handel.
  • Rigaudon – The rigaudon is a lively French dance in duple meter, similar to the bourrée, but rhythmically simpler. It originated as a family of closely related southern-French folk dances, traditionally associated with the provinces of Vavarais, Languedoc, Dauphiné, and Provence.


Bach Orchestral Suites BWV 1066-1069



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