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 Dance||Country/Meter/How to Play|
|Allemande||Germany, 4/4, Moderate|
|Courante||France, 3/4, Quick|
|Sarabande||Spain, 3/4, Slow|
|Gigue||England, 6/8, Fast|