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Understanding Sarabandes

Although it is entitled 'Largo', the first movement has all the characteristics of a French sarabande. As well as featuring in dance suites, baroque composers frequently wrote slow movements of sonatas and concerti, and even vocal music, in the style of the sarabande.

The sarabande originated in Latin America and was imported into Spain during the sixteenth century. Sixteenth-century sarabandes were fast and lascivious; to the point that dancing a sarabande was banned by the Spanish Inquisition in the late 16th century. By the seventeenth century, however, the dance had become popular in France, where it completely changed in style, becoming a slow, stately dance of the court in triple time, characterised by often having a strong second beats of the bar at the beginning of phrases.

Baroque composers held the Sarabande in high regard for its abilities to move the passions (feelings) of its listeners. It was often reserved for moments of emotional intensity. Bach, for example, used the Sarabande for pivotal movements of his St John and St Matthew Passions.

In this clip, Nick demonstrates how the performance should reflect the nature of a Sarabande:

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