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English Suite No.2 in A Minor BWV807

Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750)

English Suite No.2 in A Minor BWV807

1. Prelude
2. Allemande
3. Courante
4. Sarabande
5. Bouree I
6. Bouree II
7. Gigue

J.S. Bach wrote his six English Suites around the year 1715. Their only claim to having any English connection is that they are reputed to have been written for a distinguished and influential Englishman. But their title also conveniently distinguishes them from the composer's French Suites, as the two collections of dances differ considerably in both style and sentiment. Unlike the more capricious and colourful French Suites, which reflect some truly French characteristics, the English Suites are more substantial, sombre and often inward-looking. Yet, at the same time they exhibit the unmistakable rhythmic, harmonic and contrapuntal life-force that was so unique to Bach, expressing both a feeling of cosmic inevitability, through the perfection of form and structure, and a magical and mysterious beauty through the extraordinary originality of their harmonic direction. As with all Bach's music, they present a highly elusive and greatly demanding challenge to the performer, who must convey those wonderfully complimentary elements of head and heart in perfect accord.

Bach composed four out of the six English Suites in a minor key, which gives them a strikingly powerful atmosphere, as virtually all the dances in each of these suites are essentially permeated by the sadder and more elegiac tones of the minor keys. The Second Suite, in particular, contains some of the most meditative and expressive keyboard music Bach ever composed, especially in the poignant Sarabande. On the other hand, as a contrast that Bach probably felt was necessary to offset the predominantly wistful atmosphere, they also include some passages with intricate and sometimes complex contrapuntal and rhythmic figurations, again presenting very considerable demands to the performer. Indeed the Second Suite concludes with a gigue that requires a particularly brilliant virtuosity, and it contrasts considerably with the atmosphere of the preceding movements.

Jon Tolansky

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