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Thread: Structure of Baroque Suites

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    Senior Member Bevo's Avatar
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    Default Structure of Baroque Suites

    Hello everyone. I'm self-taught in Music Theory with the help of the youth minister at my church, who has his Masters in Music Composition, and someone in my Church who knows how to play most standard orchestral instruments. I'm going to be getting a degree in Music Composition myself, but I'm still getting the basics out of the way. Anyways, please don't assume that I don't know much about structure, chord progressions, Counterpoint, or other assets of Music Theory because I've spent a lot of time learning this stuff on my own (even purchasing textbooks) and I'm pretty knowledgeable. Anyways, one of the few major things I've always had a difficult time grasping is the structure of Baroque Suites. I know that the movements are separated and named after dances (Courante, Allemande, etc.) but I can't figure them out structure wise. Are most movements in Binary Form? I've read that, due to them being based off of dances, Rhythm is a key asset. Do most truly follow those Rhythms guidelines? I suppose the best way to ask this question is, if you had to give specific instructions to some who's knowledgeable in Music theory on how to compose an original Suite, what would they be? Thanks in advance.

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    Senior Member HaydnBearstheClock's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Bevo View Post
    Hello everyone. I'm self-taught in Music Theory with the help of the youth minister at my church, who has his Masters in Music Composition, and someone in my Church who knows how to play most standard orchestral instruments. I'm going to be getting a degree in Music Composition myself, but I'm still getting the basics out of the way. Anyways, please don't assume that I don't know much about structure, chord progressions, Counterpoint, or other assets of Music Theory because I've spent a lot of time learning this stuff on my own (even purchasing textbooks) and I'm pretty knowledgeable. Anyways, one of the few major things I've always had a difficult time grasping is the structure of Baroque Suites. I know that the movements are separated and named after dances (Courante, Allemande, etc.) but I can't figure them out structure wise. Are most movements in Binary Form? I've read that, due to them being based off of dances, Rhythm is a key asset. Do most truly follow those Rhythms guidelines? I suppose the best way to ask this question is, if you had to give specific instructions to some who's knowledgeable in Music theory on how to compose an original Suite, what would they be? Thanks in advance.
    I'm not sure, but looking at Telemann's Suites, I don't think there is any 'strict' pattern - it was probably dependent on what the commission intended the piece to contain (i.e. does the patron want a more danceable, or a more lyrical piece?), who the commissioner/ the listening public was (should I write it in an Italian, or a French style? Should I employ conversational elements for the instruments, or focus more on dramatic content?), at what occasion the piece was played and also on the subjective taste of the composer ('I think a faster, emotionally thrilling Allegro would be appropriate after the lyrical Adagio'). But I'm not a music theorist (I know relatively little about music theory) - you may want to consult this book about Telemann, though:

    http://img.maniadb.com/images/album_...342702_1_f.jpg

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    Senior Member EdwardBast's Avatar
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    The standard nucleus of a baroque suite comprises four dance movements, the allemande, courante, sarabande and gigue. Others, like minuets, bourees, airs, gavottes, etc., can be added, usually between the sarabande and the gigue. Keyboard suites often begin with a prelude of free form. All the other movements are binary structures.

    Each dance movement has its characteristic meter and tempo and sometimes characteristic rhythm patterns as well. All movements are in the same key or the parallel major or minor.

    Just listen to Bach's French suites, English suites, and partitas and you'll have a good handle on things.

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    To add to what has already been said, most Baroque dance suite movements (outside of preludes) are in binary form. The first part moves from the tonic to the dominant (or relative major if the main key is minor), and the second part moves back to the tonic, which may or may not be accompanied by a statement of the initial melody. Both sections are repeated, which gives the whole balance and symmetry.

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    Senior Member Bevo's Avatar
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    Hey everyone, thanks for the advice so far. I knew they were in binary form, and I knew what it was. I suppose my biggest question and area of skepticism comes from the Rhythm and meters. I mean, I know movements like a minuetto will be in 3/4 time, but I've read that other movements were at least supposed to follow specific rhythmic patterns. Is this true, and if so what are they? Did composers really abide by these rules?

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    Senior Member EdwardBast's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Bevo View Post
    Hey everyone, thanks for the advice so far. I knew they were in binary form, and I knew what it was. I suppose my biggest question and area of skepticism comes from the Rhythm and meters. I mean, I know movements like a minuetto will be in 3/4 time, but I've read that other movements were at least supposed to follow specific rhythmic patterns. Is this true, and if so what are they? Did composers really abide by these rules?
    Sarabandes commonly use the pattern: q q. e | q h |. Gigues are in compound meter, usually duple. They have other common features including imitative textures (baroque), often inversion of opening in the second part, wide leaps, etc. Allemandes are in simple duper meter, usually moderate tempo, usually with anacrusis. They all have characteristic features.

    In answer to the more general question: It isn't a matter of rules. These characteristic features are just what distinguishes one dance form from another. There isn't much point in writing a traditional suite or calling the movements by the traditional names if one does not understand the character of the dances. If you are really interested, the surest route to meaningful knowledge is to listen to a lot of suites until you can identify the forms by ear.

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    One thing to look at is Anthology of Baroque Keyboard Music with Performance Practices in Baroque Keyboard Music (with Bonus Lecture on Baroque Dance). It's a piano book with a DVD of the editor playing the pieces plus a set of 9 Baroque dances, danced in costume to keyboard accompaniment. OK it may be a bit twee, but it will give you an understanding of what the music is meant for.
    Music begins where words leave off. Music expresses the inexpressible.

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