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Johann Sebastian Bach

J.S. Bach's six French Suites for harpsichord, BWV 812-817 are, in truth, no more French in design than his six English Suites, BWV 806-811 are English. While the possibility remains that an extra-musical association led to the adoption the title, the name is more likely than not simply one of music history's peculiarities. The shapes of these suites are quite German as a whole, and they show no more international influence -- French, Italian, or otherwise -- than does the bulk of the very cosmopolitan Bach's harpsichord music. The first of them, the French Suite No.1 in D minor, BWV 812, found its first home, along with four of the other French Suites, in the composer's Clavierbüchlein for Anna Magdalena Bach.

BWV 812 is a work in six movements, each of which begins and ends in the frame key of D minor. The usual opening threesome of allemande/courante/sarabande is present. The Allemande is the usual serious, steady essay in two halves; the Courante is of the French rather than the quicker Italian type, as indicated by the choice of 3/2 rather than 3/4 meter (one might point out that Bach's use of the French courante species is by no means exclusive to the French Suites); and the Sarabande is a particularly dense and unadorned example of its breed, as compared especially with those of Suites Nos. 2, 3, and 5. A pair of minuets -- very possibly meant to be played as a single three-part da capo movement -- fill slots four and five, and a fugal gigue in three voices makes up for the plainness of the Sarabande by being the most ornate of all the French Suite gigues; here, one must certainly allow that Bach was emulating French gigue models.