Gigue – JS Bach (Lute Suite BWV 996)

JS Bach

This Is Why Bach Is One Of The Most Difficult and Challenging Pieces To Play.

My students often ask me what’s the hardest thing I’ve personally played.

I’ve certainly played some difficult music in my time but this “Gigue” from Bach’s 1st Lute Suite, for me, is at least as challenging as anything that I’ve ever played.

Anything by Bach, however, is challenging.

For all instruments Bach’s music is the high point of its repertoire. Some of the world’s great musicians have developed their skills by studying and practising Bach every day.

I remember being transported hearing Yo Yo Ma play the full cycle of Bach’s Cello Suites at the Opera House. Ma had dedicated his life to mastering all six of Bach’s Cello Suites which is why he’s one of the world’s great cellists.

I once heard an interview with Neil’s-Hening Pedersen, the great Danish Jazz bass player, when he was asked how he practiced. He answered that he started his day by playing through those Cello Suites on his Double Bass.

Sting (yes Gordon Sumner of the Police fame) took a year out to learn Bach’s Lute Suites on the guitar.

Some of the world’s great musicians have developed their skills by studying and practicing Bach every day.

Steve Flack

So What Is The “Baroque Suite”?

Firstly, the baroque was one of the great periods of music, architecture and art.

The five great periods of music are:

  • Renaissance , 1400 – 1600
  • Baroque , 1600 – 1750
  • Classical , 1750 – 1820
  • Romantic , 1800’s
  • 20th Century , 1900’s

For architecture:

The high point of the Baroque was Louis XIV of France and his palace at Versailles.

For art:

There are so many great exponents but Rembrandt, Caravaggio, Velasquez and Vermeer come to mind.

For music: three of the big names are Vivaldi, Handel and of course J.S.Bach.

We’ve established that the Baroque was a period and style,

What is a “Suite?

The Baroque Suite was a set of pieces based on the character of the popular courtly dances of the time. They were not meant to be danced to – but listened to.

Louis XIV moved his residence and court from the Louvre Palace (which is now the museum) to Versailles for two very good reasons.

Firstly he wanted to be away from the riots and strife caused by the poverty in Paris.

The second reason was to get the aristocracy into a situation where he could keep an eye on them and stop them conspiring against him.

Louis then devised history’s most elaborate set of entertainments… to keep the aristocrats occupied and diverted to the point of distraction, subsequently they wouldn’t cause him trouble!

There were plays, Opera, Ballets, balls, an endless party and the “sit down to listen to instrumental music concert” was developed, of course it was the Baroque Suite that was what they were sitting down to listen to.

The four main dances of the Baroque Suite:

  • Allemande, which was German dance
  • Courante, a French dance
  • Sarabande, a dance from Spain
  • Gigue , this was from Britain and in English we spell it “Jig”. A traditional Irish band will play Jigs and Reels today.

There were other dances such as the Minuet, Gavotte & Bouree among others.

As we can see this is a big subject! there are people dedicated to studying the Baroque and it’s music but I think that knowing a little background will definitely help us enjoy the music more.


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