BACH Johann Sebastian, Suite in E minor BWV 996

Präludium. Presto

There are four suites by Bach which in the 20th century became commonly known as ‘Lute Suites’. They were adapted for classical guitar and popularised in best-selling recordings by Julian Bream and John Williams. But were they even written for the lute? Bach certainly knew Sylvius Leopold Weiss, the great German lutenist who once challenged him to an improvisation duel – Weiss at the lute, Bach at the organ. Bach also included beautiful continuo parts for lute in works like the St Matthew Passion and some of his cantatas. But four suites for solo lute? That seems increasingly unlikely, and modern scholarship demonstrates that Bach almost certainly composed these suites for the lautenwerck, a harpsichord with gut strings. Although none of those instruments has survived, there is evidence that Bach owned two at the time of his death.

Nevertheless, with some modification, they work wonderfully well on both lute and guitar, and the Suite in E minor is the earliest of the suites having been composed by at least 1712. Like so much of Bach’s keyboard music from the time, the six movements are in the French style, with many similarities to the Toccatas he was writing for harpsichord.

© Tom McKinney 2022


Support from individuals is vital to our work.
Your gifts help us engage the very best in UK and international talent in our concerts, and to run our annual Sheffield Chamber Music Festival.