“What is a Giga?”— “A giga is a unit of data storage capacity!”

About the true Gigue and other baroque dances

Let's say right away that when we talk about a particular form of baroque dance we are consciously simplifying a much more extensive and complex idea. In fact, each dance form, while preserving its own essence, manifests a large variety of moods and musical characteristics. This means it is impossible to make an ultimate description of it.

Unfortunately, for obvious reasons it is not possible for me to deal with this subject with the richness of details it deserves. For those who might have interest in learning more about it, I refer to my website where you can book an online lecture (with power point) on baroque dances.

In order to get the most out of this blog, I have selected some musical examples for you relating to each dance. In addition to that, you will also find a link that will bring you directly to the score of the example itself.

At this point, let the dance begin!


"Lully established (middle 17th century) its form: slow-fast-slow (...) Because of its majestic and vigorous character it requires a very pungent staccato" (The Rules of Interpretation in the Baroque era)”. Imagine the French king and queen entering the great hall of the palace of Versailles to open (therefore with the soundtrack of an Overture) the 'ballet de court': this music accompanied them. Here is its formal scheme:

Slow Part A

• Majestic, in the style of a dotted French Allemande (4/4 o C)

• Finishes on the Dominant

• Refrain

Quick Part B

• Fugato, in the style of the Italian Church Sonata

• Ternary time, Presto

• Refrain

• At the end is added a part in the style of A, with anyway different musical material

In this form some rhythmical figures must be played quite differently than notated.

Here, 3 basic rhythms, in Bach’s notation (BWV 995, Prelude):

This is the realization of the rhythm of the upper voice according to the detailed instructions left in historical treatises (Quantz):

And this is the (unreadable) realization of the other voices also according to their indications:

Perhaps it is now clear why they preferred to write the rhythms in that 'anomalous' way. Better to learn the rules of pronunciation once and for all and apply them when applicable (albeit with inevitable exceptions).

Let’s now play the Prelude of the BWV 995 accordingly: we will obtain a striking rhythmic performance, which will adhere completely to the aesthetics and spirit of the Overture!





moderato to allegretto, 2/2

An enlightening description is that of Rameau-D'Alembert: "The Gavotta can be both slow and lively, in any case it must not be too fast or too slow", and Matthesson: "its mood is of joyful happiness, it transmits a sense of strength and not of haste.".

The distinctive feature of the Gavotte is the steady 2/4 upbeat with which it begins, this can be comprised of a combination of different musical values. Underneath you will see a schematic representation of its articulation and phrasing:

The alternation of ‘proposal’ and ‘comment’ can be repeated as many times as desired.

In the following example is a very famous Gavotte.

J.S.Bach: BWV 1006:



http://petrucci.mus.auth.gr/imglnks/usimg/9/92/IMSLP46914-PMLP99995-Bach-BWV1066FShu.pdf (page 21)


Vivace, in 2/2

"Its character is somewhat lively, so it must be performed quickly and fairly lightly" (Türk). The Bourrè also starts in upbeat, however with only a light 1/4 one (which can again be composed of a combination of different musical values). This is its rhythmic/phraseological scheme:

As in the Gavotte (with which it shares an evident kinship of form) the proposal and comment can be repeated as many times as desired. Here is perhaps the mother of all past and future Bourrés.

J.S.Bach: BWV 996





Moderato, most of the time in 6/4

The Loure belongs to the same family as the Sarabande, the Overture and the Gigue (it was called 'the slow jig'). It is a majestic and austere dance, characterized by the presence of an interval of a third at the end of each motif. The notes that it contains are played with a decisive gesture and with a distinct articulation (see Telemann’s Loure in the examples below), very differently from what one would expect.

In the Loure, similarly to the Overture, the notation can substantially different from the performance.

J.S.Bach: BWV 1006:

Original notation:


All the notes that follow the dotted quarter notes are twice as fast as they are notated and are preceded by a breathing pause.

It is very curios that (only for this dance) a very particular performance of the triplets is required.

Original notation:




http://ks.imslp.info/files/imglnks/usimg/7/74/IMSLP512662-PMLP113641-E45929_17-40-DDT061,062_-_Telemann,_Georg_Philipp_-_Tafelmusik._1st_production.pdf (pag.16)


lively tempo, in 3/8, 6/8, 12/8

"No matter what time is notated, the Giga must always be performed very quickly (Muffat) and with a short and light bow stroke (Quantz)." This lively and cheerful dance in ternary rhythm therefore requires a very precise and pungent articulation. It will therefore be appropriate to separate the notes with a breathing pause.

J.S.Bach: Suite BWV 995.

Original notation:





(page 167)


Moderate/slow, ternary tempo

The Sarabande was born as a dance in rather rapid tempo and with an erotic choreography (in Spain during the Inquisition, dancing the Sarabande on the street could even be punished with a prison sentence). Like so many dances originally in fast time, the Sarabande slowed down once it arrived at court (another excellent victim of this slowing down process was the Minuet). The reason is perhaps to be found in the fact that the royals and the courtiers, being able to afford to eat more than enough every day for several times a day, were at that time the only people who could put on the pounds (or kilos). In addition to that, the clothes they wore added an incredible weight to their already bulging figures, thus limiting the fluidity and speed of their dance steps (but increasing our amusement as we imagine them dance).

The Sarabande has 4 basic rhythms:

Following the instructions of all treaties, the performance should be:

But every law has a loophole, and commandments are made to be broken: the treatises always warn us that the rule of halving the value of the eighth after the dotted quarter note is not applied to specific cases where the musical expression would be affected, for example in cantabile passages. Our task as performers is to know how to distinguish these situations of necessary heresy.

As we can see, the second beat is emphasized, but only when it is longer than the first. With 'longer' we refer to three categories.

J.S.Bach: BWV 1012

- the musical value itself:

- the harmonic rhythm:

- the articulation:

The ligature emphasizes the first note of the group, which indicates the values of the following ones. The rhythmic structure of the previous example will therefore become as follows, clearly showing one of the basic rhythms of Sarabande (notation in real sounds on the guitar):

- in this case the dot does not change the value of the last note 'E'-.



http://ks4.imslp.net/files/imglnks/usimg/f/f0/IMSLP35022-PMLP19132-Rameau_-_Nouvelles_Suites_de_Clavecin.pdf (page 65)


In the Baroque era, the French style of composition and performance (very rational, with a well-defined notation and rules of interpretation) totally contrasted with the Italian one, which instead left more space for the improvisational creativity of the composer and performer. At that time, belonging to one faction rather than another could mean social isolation (something very similar, I think, to a Real Madrid fan who in our day would place a flag of his team in the Barcelona Rambla). Well, in no other form of dance this different attitude can be seen more clearly than in the Courante.

Here are the two forms compared:

The BWV 996 offers us a splendid example of FC, with constant changes of meter and with its lulling performance due to the inégalités, e.g. the 'swinging' execution of notes written with equal value:

The Partita BWV 1002 instead offers us two IC, one in continuous flow of eighths and the other (its Double) of sixteenths:

As you see, these are two totally different and irreconcilable conceptions of dance, both in structure and character. The execution must always make this difference clear.

Italian in round of eights



http://imslp.eu/files/imglnks/euimg/5/57/IMSLP480711-PMLP164351-bachNBAVI,2suiteIII(C-Dur)BWV1009textII.pdf (page 69)

Italian in round of sixteenths Audio:


http://imslp.eu/files/imglnks/euimg/0/09/IMSLP480709-PMLP164350-bachNBAVI,2suiteII(d-Moll)BWV1008textII.pdf (from page 62)

French Audio:


http://imslp.eu/files/imglnks/euimg/d/da/IMSLP517575-PMLP99995-bachNBAVII,1ouvertuereorchestersuitec-durBWV1066.pdf (page 16)

Well, that’s all for today, it took a little bit longer than usual but the topic really deserved it!

Dear friend, thank you so much for your attention, if you have any thoughts to share with our community, please do so in the comment section below. Your comment will contribute to the richness of the discussion and will contribute to our community. Thank you very much in advance!!!!


Carlo Marchione

My warmest thanks to Mike Ibsen for the corrections and Dan Brady for the pic (https://nl.pinterest.com/pin/281543696236827/)


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