A new recording from a Bach luminary of our time: the French Suites, returned to their original context as private music for entertainment and instruction.
The title of French Suites does not originate from Bach’s hand: they were called “Suites pour le clavessin” by the composer. To judge from the number of copies made by his pupils, they likely played a significant role in domestic music-making in Bach’s home and in his teaching, and they remain among the most approachable of Bach’s keyboard works for performer and listener alike. As in the English Suites, Bach included the customary sequence of allemande, courante, sarabande and gigue, with additional short movements between the sarabande and gigue. Unlike the English Suites, however, they have no preludes and are generally of a more modest scale, both less stylized and less demanding in technical terms.
Wolfgang Rübsam is internationally known as an authoritative Bach interpreter, from recordings of the organ and harpsichord on several different labels. He has recorded the French Suites before, on the piano. Made in March 2020, this new account is played on the kind of lute-harpsichord that Bach would have had at home for both music-making in the family and for teaching. The touch required and the sonority produced is delicate, subtly shaded and closely related in its effect to the music of Bach’s French contemporaries, whose music he knew well, such as François Couperin, Jean-Philippe Rameau and Louis Marchand.
The cantabile style of playing heard in these marvellous performances is directly inspired by the instrument, a lute-harpsichord built for Mr. Rübsam in 2015 by the acclaimed American instrument-maker Keith Hill.
It was Georg Böhm who introduced Bach to French harpsichord music and the appropriate manner of playing. Thanks to Böhm’s introduction, Bach, the German harpsichordist, was able to perform French dance music of the era of Louis XIV at gatherings of the nobility, thus becoming familiar with the music of his French contemporaries such as François Couperin, Jean-Philippe Rameau and Louis Marchand.
Among the harpsichord pieces which Bach composed in the French style, besides many separate suites, are the English and French Suites (both completed as series in Cöthen and Leipzig in 1718-1725), and the Six Partitas.
Bach included in the French Suites the customary sequence of allemande, courante, sarabande and gigue, with additional short movements between the sarabande and gigue. The dances are based on French models, but have no preludes and are generally of a more modest scale, both less stylized and less demanding technically.
Played by one of the foremost keyboard players of today, Wolfgang Rübsam, on the Lute Harpsichord. The quality of the sound of this instrument is much warmer than a regular harpsichord, as it has gut strings and no dampers.
Wolfgang Rübsam has an immense discography to his name. His more than 100 recordings include organ and harpsichord works from the Baroque and the Romantic era.