'French' Suite no. 4 in E-flat major

'French' Suite no. 4 in E-flat major

BWV 815 performed by Pierre Hantaï
at the Doopsgezinde Kerk, Haarlem

  • Menu
  • 1. Allemande
  • 2. Courante
  • 3. Sarabande
  • 4. Gavotte
  • 5. Air
  • 6. Menuett
  • 7. Gigue

Behind the music


Simple and magnificent

How Bach creates something special through simple means.

Bach frequently constructs melodies from small, simple elements, which he gradually expands. It often begins straightforwardly, with a little motif that could be devised by any composer, but soon becomes unmistakably Bach. French Suite no. 4 is a good example of this.

Bach deliberately starts the Allemande with a simple form: arpeggios that gradually shift in harmony. It is reminiscent of the first prelude in the Wohltemperirte Clavier. He does something similar in the Gavotte, where nearly the whole piece is constructed of groups of two pairs of notes that keep repeating the same movement.

Although this strategy is less evident in the other sections, on closer inspection you see that Bach does use it there as well. For instance, the Courante revolves around simple groups of three notes, but Bach occasionally adds a sudden big leap to them. And the end of the Gigue further emphasises the way he constructs a piece from simple elements: one leap, the same leap repeated, and then two lots of three stepped notes. It could hardly be simpler, yet the effect is magnificent.

Suite in E-flat major
'French' Suite no. 4
harpsichord works
French Suites (clavier)

Extra videos

Vocal texts




  • Release date
    16 June 2022
  • Recording date
    29 June 2021
  • Location
    Doopsgezinde Kerk, Haarlem
  • Harpsichordist
    Pierre Hantaï
  • Harpsichord
    Bruce Kennedy, 1989 after Michael Mietke
  • Director, camera and lights
    Gijs Besseling
  • Music recording
    Guido Tichelman, Bastiaan Kuijt, Pim van der Lee
  • Music edit and mix
    Guido Tichelman
  • Camera, lights
    Danny Noordanus, David Koster
  • Data handling
    Stefan Ebels
  • Assistant music recording
    Marloes Biermans
  • Producer
    Jessie Verbrugh
  • Supported by
    Howard Fee

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