Suite (music)

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In music, a suite (pronounce "sweet") is a collection of short musical pieces which can be played one after another. The pieces are usually dance movements. The French word “suite” means “a sequence” of things, i.e. one thing following another.

In the 17th century many composers such as Bach and Handel wrote suites. They were collections of dances: usually an allemande, a courante, a sarabande and a gigue. Sometimes other dances were included as well, e.g. a minuet, gavotte, passepied or bourree. Sometimes the first movement was not a dance movement but an introduction. It may have been called a prelude or even overture. Some of Bach’s suites were called Partitas. The French composer François Couperin called his suites Ordres.

Bach wrote suites for orchestra which he called "overtures". Handel wrote two very famous collections of dance movements for orchestra: Water Music and Music for the Royal Fireworks. These are also suites although they are not given that title. He also wrote 22 suites for keyboard, and Bach wrote "French Suites", "English Suites" and "Partitas" for keyboard as well as partitas for unaccompanied violin and suites for unaccompanied cello.

Earlier composers, e.g. Renaissance composers, had also written suites, but the word “suite” was not used until around the middle of the 17th century. By the 1750s composers had stopped writing suites. They were more interested in the symphony and concerto,

In the late 19th century, the word "suite" started to be used again. Composers who had written operas or ballets with lots of popular dance movements often made an arrangement of these movements for orchestra so that it could be played at concerts. Tchaikovsky wrote the "Nutcracker Suite" which includes the most popular dances from his ballet "The Nutcracker". Some composers used the word "suite" for pieces with movements which had a common theme: Gustav Holst called "The Planets" a suite, as each movement is about one of the planets. French composers of the Impressionist period such as Ravel and Debussy wrote suites for piano.