'English' Suite no. 4 in F major
BWV 809 performed by Siebe Henstra
at the Bartolotti House, Amsterdam
Behind the music
English or French?
This English suite with French dances has an unexpected touch of the Netherlands.
It has never been really clear why the set of six suites (of which this Suite in F major is the fourth) was “for the English”, according to one of Bach’s sons. In any case, the name did not originate with Bach himself. And neither is the music in itself English, but belongs rather to the older French tradition – if we really have to stick a national label on it.
As is nearly always the case, the names of the dances that make up the work are explicitly stated in this ‘suite avec prélude’. But even in Bach’s day, the precise qualities of these dance forms were rather ambiguous. Music theorists describe various sorts and styles of allemandes, courantes, minuets and gigues, etc. Almost as though to create clarity, Bach here tries to present each part in its most characteristic form: from the Prelude (where it says ‘vitement’), guaranteeing a lively introduction, to the jumpy broken chords of the final Gigue – and everything in between. It is only in the Allemande that Bach appears indecisive. There, he deliberately presents two different rhythmic patterns for this dance form: wandering semiquavers and skipping triplets.
For Dutch readers: The last section always reminds Siebe Henstra of a well-known birthday song. And once you’ve heard it, it’s difficult to get the link out of your head. We’re curious to know whether you can guess which song he means.
‘English’ suites, BWV 806-811
The six ‘English’ suites were probably composed between 1710 and 1720, and in any case before the ‘French’ suites and the partitas. It remains rather unclear as to why they are called ‘English’. According to the first Bach biographer, Forkel, they were dedicated to an English aristocrat whose name is not given. They are also stylistically linked to the six harpsichord suites by the French composer Charles Dieupart, who lived in London. And the title page of the copy belonging to Bach’s youngest son, Johann Christian, who also lived in London, states ‘fait pour les anglois’.
But just like Bach’s other surviving suites for keyboard, the English suites are predominantly a synthesis of German, Italian and French style elements. To a certain extent, they are more French than the so-called ‘French’ suites. All six begin with an extensive prelude, following the example of French lute suites. The prelude is followed by the classic series of stylised dances: allemande, courante, sarabande and gigue, with a free choice of gavotte, bourrée, passepied or minuet in between the latter two set dances.
The Bartolotti House
We made this recording at The Bartolotti House, at Herengracht 170 and 172. The house at the back of no. 170 was occupied by harpsichordist, organist and conductor Gustav Leonhardt from 1974 to his death in 2012. Leonhardt was one of the pioneers of early music in the Netherlands. As a teacher and performer, he was a source of inspiration to many harpsichord players around the world.
It is one of the most impressive buildings in the old centre of Amsterdam. It was built around 1620 as a residence, on commission from the wealthy businessman Willem van den Heuvel, who had inherited a lot of money from a childless uncle by marriage, called Giovanni Battista Bartolotti, who came from Bologna. The Dutch Renaissance-style design was probably done by the Amsterdam city architect Hendrick de Keyser.
Over the centuries, the house has been split up and has undergone several modernisations. You can still see many wonderful historical decorative features from the various renovations. The two parts of the Bartolotti House came into the possession of Vereniging Hendrick de Keyser, which now has its office there.
- Suite in F major
- ‘English’ Suite no. 4
- harpsichord works
- English Suites (clavier)
- Release date
- 24 June 2021
- Recording date
- 26 October 2018
- Bartolotti House, Amsterdam
- Siebe Henstra
- Martin Skowroneck, 1968 after Johannes Daniel Dulcken (mid 18th Century)
- Director, camera and lights
- Gijs Besseling
- Music recording
- Guido Tichelman, Bastiaan Kuijt
- Music edit and mix
- Guido Tichelman
- Camera, lights
- Nina Badoux
- Data handling, camera and lighting assistant
- Eline Eestermans
- Assistant music direction
- Marloes Biermans
- Jessie Verbrugh
- Vereniging Hendrick de Keyser
- In loving memory of
- Mr. José Cruz-Covarrubias
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