In music, a suite is an ordered set of instrumental or orchestral pieces normally performed in a concert setting rather than as accompaniment; they may be extracts from an opera, ballet (Nutcracker Suite), or incidental music to a play (L'Arlésienne Suites) or film (Lieutenant Kije Suite), or they may be entirely original movements (Holberg Suite, The Planets).

In the Baroque era the suite was more precisely defined, with the pieces unified by key,[1] and consisting of dances usually preceded by a prelude or overture.[1] The suite was also known as Suite de danses, Ordre (the term favored by François Couperin) or Partita. In the eighteenth century, the term ouverture or overture may refer to the entire suite, as it does with the orchestral suites of Bach.



Estienne du Tertre published suyttes de bransles in 1557, giving the first general use of the term "suite" 'suyttes' in music, although the usual form of the time was as pairs of dances. The first recognizable suite is Peuerl's Newe Padouan, Intrada, Dantz, and Galliarda of 1611, in which the four dances of the title appear repeatedly in ten suites. The Banchetto musicale by Johann Schein(1617) contains 20 sequences of five different dances.

The "classical" suite consisted of allemande, courante, sarabande, and gigue, in that order, and developed during the 17th century in France, the gigue appearing later than the others. Johann Jakob Froberger is usually credited with establishing the classical suite through his compositions in this form, which were widely published and copied, although this was largely due to his publishers standardizing the order; Froberger's original manuscripts have many different orderings of the movements, e.g. the gigue preceding the sarabande. The publisher's standardized order was, however, highly influential especially on the works of Bach.

Many later suites included other movements placed between sarabande and gigue. These optional movements were known as galanteries: common examples are the minuet, gavotte, passepied, and bourree. Often there would be two contrasting galanteries with the same name, e.g. Minuet I and II, to be played alternativement, meaning that the first dance is played again after the second, thus I, II, I.

The later addition of an overture to make up an "overture-suite" was extremely popular with German composers; Telemann claimed to have written over 200 overture-suites, J.S. Bach had his four orchestral suites along with other suites, and George Frideric Handel put his Water Music and Music for the Royal Fireworks in this form.

Handel wrote 22 keyboard suites; Bach produced multiple suites for lute, cello, violin, flute, and other instruments, as well as English suites, French suites and Partitas for keyboard. For Bach especially, the suite form was a base on which to spin more elaborate sequences. François Couperin's later suites often dispensed entirely with the standard dances and consisted entirely of character pieces with fanciful names.

By the 1750s, the suite had come to be seen as old-fashioned, superseded by the symphony and concerto, and few composers were still writing suites during that time. But since the 19th century composers have frequently arranged ballets, operas and other works into suites for concert performance. Arrangement into a suite can make the music more accessible and available to a wider audience, and has greatly helped popularize the music itself, such as in Tchaikovsky's suite from The Nutcracker, or Aaron Copland's suite from Appalachian Spring. Orchestral suites usually consist of one or more movements. An example of this could be Edvard Grieg's Peer Gynt Orchestral Suites I and II, both consisting of four movements. Such suites may consist of

  • an instrumental selection from a larger work such as an opera, ballet, film score, or musical;
  • a sequence of smaller pieces tied together by a common theme, such as the nationalistically inflected suites of Grieg, Sibelius, or Tchaikovsky and The Planets by Holst;
  • a work deliberately referential of Baroque themes, as in the mischievous Suite for Piano by Arnold Schoenberg.

Brought on by Impressionism, the piano suite was reintroduced by early 20th century French composers such as Maurice Ravel and Claude Debussy. Debussy's Suite bergamasque is most likely one of the most famous suites, especially the third movement, Clair de Lune. Ravel is particularly well known for his Miroirs suite for piano and lesser known for Le Tombeau de Couperin, both requiring tremendous skill and dexterity from the pianist.

Other famous examples of early 20th century suites are The Planets by Gustav Holst, a 'Suite for Orchestra' in which each piece represents the astrological significance of one of the seven uninhabited planets then known, as well as his First Suite in E-flat and Second Suite in F for Military Band.

Form of suite de danses

The term suite de danses was the early 17th century name given to a set of dances, which was popularised in the Baroque era.


The Suite de danses would contain the following sections:

  • Prelude
  • Allemande - Literally translates from French as the word 'German'. It is a stately German dance with a meter of 4/4.
  • Courante or Corrente - A Courante is a lively French dance in 3/4 time, while the Corrente is an Italian dance in quick 3/4.
  • Sarabande - A Sarabande is a slow, stately Spanish dance in 3/4 time.
  • Intermezzi - This section consists of two to four dances at the discretion of the composer that may include a Minuet, Bourée, Polonaise, and/or a Gavotte.
  • Gigue or giga - The Gigue or 'Jig' originates in England, and is a fast dance, normally with a meter of 6/8. The Italian giga is rarer than the gigue, and is faster with running passages over a harmonic basis.

Symphonic suite

A symphonic suite is a grouping of orchestral movements or pieces that through some manner, evokes an extra-musical idea. Such ideas could be in the form of stories, or novels, paintings, landscapes, or even poems. Symphonic suites typically followed the same classical/romantic form as conventional symphonies, but have now expanded to encompass an almost bewildering array of musics.

See also

  • Category:Suites


  1. ^ a b "suite - Encyclopædia Britannica" (overview), Encyclopædia Britannica Online, 2006, webpage: BritannicaCom-suite.

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