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Suite en Mi menor para Laúd, BWV 996

Pla­ce and Date: Wei­mar, c1708-17 (or earlier).

Sour­ces: DSB P 801 (Walther); copy by Hein­rich Nico­laus Ger­ber; B Br 114093 (= Fétis 2960).

Edi­tions: BG 45; NBA V/10.

Move­ments: Pre­lu­de – Alle­man­de – Couran­te – Sara­ban­de – Bou­rrée – Gigue

Two copies of BWV 996 are in the hands of organists‑one a collea­gue, one a stu­dent of Bach‑while the third sour­ce gives the pie­ce in a key­board ver­sion trans­po­sed to A minor. In Walthe­r’s copy some­body has added an indi­ca­tion that the pie­ce is for the lute‑harpsichord, but the handw­ri­ting is unidentified.

BWV 996 is a true lute work. It lies enti­rely within the ins­tru­men­t’s ran­ge, which is lower and sma­ller (res­tric­ted to three octa­ves) than usual in Bach’s key­board music. Many pas­sa­ges con­tain figu­ra­tion more sui­ted to the lute than to the key­board, and the inner voi­ces and even the bass are often bro­ken up in a way that would not be neces­sary in a key­board work. Bach’s har­mony and voice‑leading is, as in the unac­com­pa­nied vio­lin and cello music, enti­rely self‑sufficient.

The E‑Minor Sui­te is clearly the ear­liest of the sur­vi­ving lute pie­ces, although writ­ten in a rela­ti­vely matu­re sty­le. The pre­lu­de is actually a self‑contained pre­lu­de and fugue, but the fugue is rela­ti­vely short. Des­pi­te its bre­vity, the fugue achie­ves con­si­de­ra­ble inten­sity as the tex­tu­re builds to four real parts in bars 46‑54 and again in the clo­sing bars.

The first two dan­ces are wholly in French sty­le, but the sara­ban­de already reveals what was to be his cha­rac­te­ris­tic mix­tu­re of French and Ita­lian sty­les. The last two dan­ces, a bou­rrée and a gigue, seem less clo­se to French models.