French Suites

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Harpsichord in a Frankfurt museum

The French Suites are six suites composed by Johann Sebastian Bach between 1722 and 1725. They were written to be played on the harpsichord or clavichord. A suite is a group of dances. Bach did not call them French Suites. That title was given to the group by someone else. They were called the French Suites to distinguish them from another group of suites by Bach called the English Suites.

The French Suites are largely based on Italian models, and are written in the keys of D minor, C minor, B minor, E-flat major, G major, and E major. All six suites open with an Allemagne and are followed by a Courante and a Sarabande. All six suites end with a Gigue (jig). Between the Sarabande and the Gigue are found a variety of dances that include Minuets, Bourrées, Gavottes, and others.

There is no definitive manuscript. The ornamentation varies from one manuscript to another. Two other suites — one in A minor and the other in E-flat major — sometimes appear in the manuscripts. Bach's French Overture is also a suite but is not connected to the French Suites.