All of Bach: a project by the Netherlands Bach Society

'French' Suite no. 3 in B minor

BWV 814 performed by Pierre Hantaï
at the Bartolotti House, Amsterdam

Pierre Hantaï guides us through the structure of this suite.

This recording was made in the Bartolotti House, where harpsichordist Gustav Leonhardt used to live. Pierre Hantaï revives old memories.

Lyrical galante

The third 'French' suite alternates seductive melodies with brilliant virtuosity.

In Baroque music, the key of B minor had a melancholy quality. Bach reserved it for a few of his most impressive works, such as the Kyrie in the Mass in B minor.

This third 'French’ suite opens with a delicate Allemande; possibly the most delicate Allemande of all six suites. It is a duet that could almost be played as a solo with accompaniment – on the flute, for example. The opening motif also appears throughout the piece in inversion and in imitation. The Courante is also based on a motif from the first bar, in the bass, which soon takes over the movement of this fast dance completely.

By tradition, this is followed by a stately Sarabande, to which Bach lends a more cantabile air than the French models by Couperin, for example, with which Bach was familiar from his youth. Then we hear two fast sections; in some sources first the very rhythmical Menuet with its contrasting Trio, followed by the Anglaise, and elsewhere in reverse order. Pierre Hantaï chose for the latter. The Anglaise, incidentally, had not come over from England, but from the court of Louis XIV, and is reminiscent of a Gavotte. And finally, the Gigue is all about imitation, whereby the two parts continually chase one another.

The Bartolotti House

We made this recording at The Bartolotti House, at Herengracht 170 and 172. The house at the back of no. 170 was occupied by harpsichordist, organist and conductor Gustav Leonhardt from 1974 to his death in 2012. 

Leonhardt was one of the pioneers of early music in the Netherlands. As a teacher and performer, he was a source of inspiration to many harpsichord players around the world.

It is one of the most impressive buildings in the old centre of Amsterdam. It was built around 1620 as a residence, on commission from the wealthy businessman Willem van den Heuvel, who had inherited a lot of money from a childless uncle by marriage, called Giovanni Battista Bartolotti, who came from Bologna. The Dutch Renaissance-style design was probably done by the Amsterdam city architect Hendrick de Keyser. Over the centuries, the house has been split up and has undergone several modernisations. You can still see many wonderful historical decorative features from the various renovations. The two parts of the Bartolotti House came into the possession of Vereniging Hendrick de Keyser, which now has its office there. 

‘French’ Suites, BWV 812-817

The six works we now know as the ‘French’ Suites (this rather arbitrary title dates from after Bach’s death) have an eventful history. They could also be called Suites for Anna Magdalena Bach, as five of the six pieces are in the Klavierbüchlein (1722) that Bach dedicated to his second wife at the time of their marriage. A remarkable number of versions of these six suites have survived, sometimes in a different order or with a varying number of sections. Furthermore, the notated ornaments become increasingly detailed over the years, giving us a glimpse of the way in which Bach instilled good taste in his pupils.

There is an urge to compare them to the slightly older ‘English’ Suites, which bear even more resemblance to the French style than BWV 812-817 (and both sets are actually German interpretations of Italian models). The more compact 'French' suites do without a prelude, while alongside the regular dances Allemande, Courante, Sarabande and Gigue appears an increasingly varied collection of ‘galanteries’, including Gavottes and Menuets, as well as a Loure, a Polonaise and even an Air. It is quite possible that here we see Bach moving with the times, by integrating elements from the flourishing galante style. All of which he did in intimate circles, as – like the ‘English’ Suites and the Partitas – Bach never published the ‘French’ Suites. This was music for his home.


Suite in B minor

‘French’ suite no. 3

keyboard work

‘French’ suites / Clavier-Büchlein Anna Magdalena Bach



Cast & Crew

Release date 11 August 2017
recording date 10 December 2016
Location Bartolotti House, Amsterdam
Harpsichordist Pierre Hantaï
Harpsichord Bruce Kennedy after Michael Mietke, 1989
Camera, edit and interview Gijs Besseling
Music recording, edit and mix Guido Tichelman
camera and gaffer Danny Noordanus
camera assistant Eline Eestermans
Producer Jessie Verbrugh
acknowledgement Vereniging Hendrick de Keyser

Vocal Texts




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