Orchestral Suite No.1, Movement 1, Overture

Johann Sebastian Bach

Orchestral Suite No.1 (1717-1723)

Movement 1, Overture

  • One bassoon part
  • m. 20-32, 49-71 (35 total measures)
  • Range- (low C–F above the staff)
  • Bass clef only

Performance issues: Phrasing, Rhythm, Note patterns, Accidentals, Articulation

PDF of the excerpts

About the music: Bach composed four orchestral suites, each one for a different combination of instruments. The contents are all similar and perfectly illustrate the suite form: each begins with a French overture and continues with a series of stylized dance movements. The dance movements, reflecting many countries as their point of origin, are chosen to provide variety in tempo, meter, and style. Frequent dance titles are the allemande, courante, sarabande, gigue, bourree, gavotte, minuet, and hornpipe. In Orchestral Suite No.1, the dances are Courante, Gavotte I and II, Forlane, Minuet I and II, Bourree I and II, and Passepied I and II. It is obvious that Bach chose a series of dances to combine both familiar and unfamiliar elements for his audience.

These excerpts are from the overture, the only part of the suite which was not dance-derived. A French overture in design, it begins with a slow portion featuring dotted rhythms and a stately manner, and then features a fast section which is imitative in nature. The short final slow section returns to the opening tempo and style.

It is interesting to see Bach’s meter marking which indicates the half note as the beat unit. Often the 2/2 marking was used to designate a metric feel that was not too fast although the quarter note moves quickly. Since these excerpts come from the fast portion of the overture, they must, nevertheless, be sensed in a moderate duple meter rather than a driving fast four-thus they have a relaxed quality although the notes move quite fast.

The sections marked “Solo” indicate the places where the reed trio plays separately from the strings. The rest of the excerpt is combined strings/winds in texture. “Tutti” is used to show the full orchestra portions, distinct in texture from the winds-only portions. A series of quick exchanges start in measure 67.

About performing the excerpt: Three repeated eighth notes mark the beginning of the main thematic idea. It might be valuable for the student to analyze the bassoon part to identify each time where that thematic idea begins and must be emphasized; this figure appears in both passages taken from the movement. Related to this pattem is the problem of phrasing in this style of music: the line seems an endless flow of notes and the student must decide how to group the notes and where to breathe. In addition, the task of performing in a contrapuntal texture is one that can be problematic for the inexperienced player: one must listen to the surrounding texture as one plays, or even anticipates, how one’s own part will fit in. The flow of notes must be even and matched in articulation despite the varied ranges, wide melodic leaps, and changing orchestral textures. Again, the typical Baroque articulation must be utilized to produce a style that is energetic and detached but not too short,

To insure overall growth in style awareness, this excerpt could be paired with the other excerpt from Bach’s Orchestral Suite No.1, or from his Brandenburg Concerto No.1. Handel’s music also reinforces the same style.

This excerpt was taken and used with permission from Ann Pesavento’s doctoral dissertation: Orchestral excerpts as developmental studies for the intermediate bassoonist: a collection of selected passages. D.A. diss, University of Northern Colorado, 1989. Pp. 360. OCLC#: 21892445. UMI 9016608.