Dancing with J.S. Bach and a Cello – Bach and Baroque Dance

by Anna Wittstruck, Ph.D. candidate in musicology, Stanford University

Bach and Baroque Dance

So what did Bach know about dance? Richard Taruskin argues that by the time Bach was writing his instrumental suites, the popular dances which originally inspired the components of the Froberger-model suite had long fallen out of fashion in French ballrooms. However, Meredith Little and Natalie Jenne, in their book, Dance and the Music of J.S. Bach, point out that Bach was on a familiar basis with several of the former ballet masters of Louis XIV, and that these French dances were alive and well (some more popular than others) in Germany during Bach’s time.1 After the Thirty Years’ war, French culture disseminated throughout the German principalities. Perhaps there was a geographic trickle-down effect; even if Versailles had moved on to newer dances, the older Baroque ones were still in circulation within Germany, and surrounding Bach. This is not to argue that Bach was writing specifically for dancers, but that Baroque dances were known and embodied by the composer as he wrote music to fulfill the templates of their particular tempos, rhythms, and forms.

  • 1. Bach knew personally three French dance masters in Saxony: Pasch, Hebenstreit, and Volumier. See Little, Meredith and Natalie Jenne, Dance and the Music of J.S. Bach, Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 2001, 13.