Bourrée from Suite BWV996 by J.S. Bach

Placing the Bourrée in a musical context.

When teaching the Bourrée recently, I realised that there can be the misconception that it is a stand-alone piece rather than a movement from a larger work, so I thought that I would write a few words about the baroque suite. The baroque period itself spanned about 150 years, 1600-1750.

A popular movement from JS Bach’s Lute Suite in E minor, BWV 996. The Bourrée is the 5th movement out of six. In terms of difficulty level/ ease of playing, it nestles in at around grade 6 Trinity/ABRSM.


The movements of this baroque suite are:

  • Prelude
  • Allemande
  • Courante
  • Sarabande
  • Bourrée
  • Giga

Renaissance composers sometimes linked dances together, such as the pavan and galliard; Baroque composers extended this idea to form a “suite”. The structure of the baroque suite typically uses a core of four different dances to which others were often added, each of the four dances from different countries.

Allemande, German, 4/4 time. Quite stately, moderate tempo.

Courante, French, 3/2 or 6/4 time, fairly fast, or Italian courante, 3/4 or 3/8 time

Sarabande, Spain, slow triple time with often the second beat emphasised

Gigue, England, compound time, lively, energetic tempo.

Optional movements to be placed before the gigue, included the minuet, gavotte, bourrée, loure and passepied. An introductory overture or prelude (opening piece) might be placed before the allemande.

The core four dances were in binary form – that is to say, two sections. AB. Each section is repeated: AABB (though not in the video excerpt of the Bach Bourrée here). The opening movement, perhaps the overture or prelude, would be more in free-form and have more of an improvisatory feel to it.

Suites were sometimes known by other names, for example, Bach sometimes used the name “partita”, whilst Couperin used the name “ordres” for his keyboard suites.