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Dance and the Music of J. S. Bach: Expanded Edition
Written by: Meredith Little, Natalie Jenne Published By: Indiana U.P. Published: May 2001 Price: £20.50
The Authors Meredith Little and Natalie Jenne are eminently qualified and experienced to write this book. Little is an attorney practicing law. She taught at Stanford University and Aston Magna Academy and is an author of several articles on Baroque music and dance. Jenne is the Professor of Music Emeritus at Concordia University. She has published a number of articles relating to Bach and regularly conducts workshops on aspects of Baroque performance and in particular, the music of Bach.
The Book This book was originally published in 1991 detailing the stylized dance pieces of the baroque period and the English and French Suites of Johann Sebastian Bach. In the expanded version published in 2001, Meredith Little and Natalie Jenne study further examples of Bach's works that show identifiable dance rhythms but do not have a specific dance title. The book firstly examines the French dance practices of the period established in the court of Louis XlV. The authors then look in detail at the individual dance forms that Bach utilised within his dance suites. To do so they look at the music of other 17th- and 18th-century composers and study the work of theorists and choreographers.
Little and Jenne go into incredible depth defining the dances and relating them to Bach’s works. I couldn’t begin to represent their study here. There is a chapter devoted to each of the dances. Just to give a brief (very brief) idea, the dances are: The Bouree: Bach’s dance suites included a number of bourrées, a lively dance in duple time with an accentuated beat. The Gavotte: The Gavotte is a French peasant dance in duple time. The Minuet: The Minuet is a slow stylish dance in triple time. The Passepied: Similar to the Minuet. The Sarabande: The Saraband is a slow stately dance in triple time with an accent on the second beat. The Courante: A solemn and majestic dance The Corrente: Similar to the Courante but faster. The Gigue: French for Jig The Loure and the Forlana: Slow French dances The Polonaise: A Polish dance The Chaconne and the Passacaglia: Spanish dances.
Although Dance Suites became a common form of composition, Bach composed his Dance Suites in the early 18th century and so should be praised for his innovatism. Little and Jenne have done him justice in their book approaching each dance with clarity and meticulous attention to detail. Their writing is serious and solemn, noble and majestic reflecting the work of Bach.
This book provides an insight into the court dances of the period (a must for everyone who watches period dramas and novels as dance is nearly always featured or mentioned). It also gives a good analysis of not only Bach’s Dance Suites but also the way that he included dance rhythms in many of his works.