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The Suite

Baroque Dance Suite


The suite is a type of instrumental dance music that emerged during the Renaissance and was further developed during the Baroque Period. It consists of several movements or short pieces in the same key and functions as dance music or dinner music during social gatherings.

Dance music was very popular during the 16th and 17th century and composers were often asked to play such pieces during social functions. As a result, musicians began collecting dance pieces in the same key; these pieces became known collectively as "suites."

By the time of JS Bach, suites were composed of four main movements: allemande, courante, sarabande and gigue. Optional movements include: air, bourree (lively dance), gavotte (moderately fast dance), minuet, polonaise, and prelude.

Each of the four main movements is based on a dance form from another country. Thus, each movement has a characteristic sound and varies in rhythm and meter.

Instruments used to play suites include the cello, harpsichord, lute and violin. Suites were performed either on a solo instrument or by a group of instruments. Notable composers of suites include Bach, Handel, Couperin and Froberger. Listen to Bach's "Cello Suite No. 1 - Prelude" courtesy of YouTube.

The table below gives you further information on the main movements of the dance suite.

Dance Suite Movements

Dance Suite Movements
Type of DanceCountry/Meter/How to Play
AllemandeGermany, 4/4, Moderate
CouranteFrance, 3/4, Quick
SarabandeSpain, 3/4, Slow
GigueEngland, 6/8, Fast

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