Music History is Thrilling!

Baroque Suite and George Frideric Handel


The Baroque suite was evolved from the Renaissance practise of coupling dances together which provided contrast such as the stately Pavane and lively Galliard. The suite was only a formalization of this practise.
Standard movements
Standard movements were the required component of the suite including a variety of slow and fast paced dances.

  • Allemande … The German Allemande was performed in quadruple meter at a moderate tempo.
  • Courante … The French Courante was in triple meter at a moderate tempo.
  • Sarabande … The stately Spanish Sarabande was in triple meter.
  • Gigue … The lively English Gigue was in compound meter.
Additional movements
The dance suite could add some of these additional movements to the standard movements. As the dance suite evolved to being instrumental music for listening pleasure other non dance music was added to the suite such as an Allegro movement.

  • Menuet … The Menuet was in triple meter.
  • Bourree … A lively French dance.
  • Gavotte … A French dance.
  • Air … Meaning “lyrical”, the music produced a song-like character.
Binary Form
Most movements in the dance suite were composed in the structure of a highly developed binary form. Both parts were typically repeated creating an A-A-B-B type form. Each part concluded with a cadence making it easy for the listener to identify the ending of each section. Part A typically included modulation while part B made the necessary shift back to the home key
The dance suite was known as an ordre in France and contained numerous miniature pieces
A double was an ornamented repeat of a movement
A common practise of dance music musicians in the Baroque era was to improvise ornamentation which were not notated in the music

George Frideric Handel (1685-1759)

Handel’s music is known for its powerful rhythmic drive, which is evident in his dance suite “Water Music”. His choruses are built from pillars of sound which are supported by strong chords as is heard in his oratorio “The Messiah”. His experience with writing dramatic music gave him the ability to utilize tone colour for expression. He wrote over 40 operas, including “Rinaldo” but when opera began to decline in popularity the composer did not lose confidence but instead turned writing oratorios. He also wrote some other instrumental music including suites, solo keyboard music, and chamber music.

“Water Music” (Suite in D major, Allegro and Alla hornpipe only)

This grand suite was played for a royal party on the river Thames for King George I on July 17, 1717, Handel’s patron at the time. The entire work comprises of three suites containing a total of 22 movements. The suite in D major has five movements: I. Allegro II. Alla hornpipe III. Menuet IV. Lentemente V. Bourree Typically a harpsichord is used in a dance suite but as this was performed on a barge the harpsichord did not make the journey. The instrumentation consisted of trumpets, horns, oboes, bassoon, strings, and continuo.

I Movement. Allegro.

Tempo: Allegro Meter: 4/4 Key: D major Form: A-B-A Section A. Opens with a fanfare-like rhythm presented in the trumpets answered by the violins playing descending scales Section B. The key has modulated to the dominant: A major. A dotted rhythm is introduced by the trumpets then is repeated by the horns while the strings and brass carry a dialogue. Section A. The fanfare theme has been altered rhythmically this time. The key has returned to D major. A brief Adagio section links the first and the second movement.

II Movement. Alla hornpipe.

Meter: 3/2 Key: D major Form: A-B-A Section A. A disjunct theme is presented in the strings and woodwinds with trills. The theme is repeated in the trumpets and French horns. Section B. Only the strings and woodwinds play in section B; brass has been omitted. Strings are playing a fast moving theme accompanied by syncopated rhythms in the winds. This section is presented in b minor. Section A. The disjunct theme reappears and concludes the movement.

All information on this article is derived from: Joseph Machlis and Kristine Forney. The Enjoyment of Music, Eight Edition, Standard Version, New York: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 1999.
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