Bruce Gustafson

in Music

ISBN: 9780199757824
Published online June 2011 | | DOI:

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The French word “suite” derives from “suivre” (“to follow”); thus, it denotes a succession of constituent parts that can be in a specific order or more generally in a group associated with something central. Musically, a suite is a series of distinct instrumental movements or sections with some element of unity, usually intended to be performed as a single unit. The vagueness of this definition stems from the fact that the term has been used for quite different works: from a series of dance-inspired movements in a single key to be played on a harpsichord with a sense of traditional ordering, to excerpts from a 19th-century (or later) opera or ballet to be played as a multisectioned orchestral work. Suite as a genre is more comprehensible if it is subdivided according to performing forces and the element of unity. Thus, one can see a fairly clear development in the Baroque period of the Solo Suite, most frequently for harpsichord or lute, culminating in the hands of composers in the German tradition (the suites of Johann Sebastian Bach have long been cited as the pinnacle) organized around four core dance-inspired movements: allemande, courante, sarabande, and gigue. It should be kept in mind, however, that such suites were often compiled from existing movements either by the composer or by a scribe, and therefore not all suites reflect a compositional concept of a whole multimovement work. The Baroque Orchestral Suite and Chamber Suite, while not always distinguishable from each other, developed in distinctly different ways from the solo suite. In the late 17th century, the popularity of the music of Lully helped create a taste for performing instrumental movements extracted from his operas and ballets as independent works, grouped usually by key, but sometimes according to the parent work. Since such suites naturally began with the overture from an opera, that term was sometimes used as a heading for the whole suite, and newly composed “overture-suites” became a popular genre in the mature Baroque period. Chamber suites of the period were most often in trio texture (two treble lines with basso continuo), but there are such works for larger consorts, which is where the line between orchestral and chamber suites is blurred. Early examples, particularly in England and Germany, sometimes paralleled the solo suite with an allemande-courante-sarabande succession; but the most standardized such genre was in Italy, not using the French name “suite” but called “sonata da camera.” In the Baroque period, “partita” was often used interchangeably with “suite,” particularly in German-speaking regions; in France, François Couperin and a few other composers used the heading “ordre.” As dance-inspired movements gave way to sonata designs in the middle of the 18th century, the solo suite all but disappeared; but in the middle of the 19th century the extract-suite enjoyed a new vogue. In the modern era, composers have tended to use the term in three ways: excerpts from a larger work that are stitched together, a series of movements that are programmatically related (for any medium), or neo-Baroque compositions that usually hark back to the solo suite.

Article.  5293 words. 

Subjects: Music ; Applied Music ; Ethnomusicology ; Music Theory and Analysis ; Musicology and Music History ; Music Education and Pedagogy

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